Patrice Rincheval, 43, loved life. The late managing director of French hypermarket chain Carrefour loved football and Asia passionately.
Over the past one month, he had been looking forward to the World Cup finals in Germany in June.
Over a Japanese meal, he would talk about the Arsenal football team, which has many French footballers.
Rincheval worked for four years in South Korea. That was when he developed his love for Asia. He came to Malaysia in 2003. He would have teh tarik for dessert and enjoyed all things Malaysian, with the exception of certain investment rules and hot and spicy food.
While he lived life to the fullest, he also came across as a very driven individual, and was always on the go. Rincheval passed away at home on Saturday of a heart attack. More than 500 people turned up to pay their last respects at his home in Petaling Jaya on Sunday, including French ambassador to Malaysia Alain du Boispean and the Regent of Negri Sembilan Tunku Naquiyuddin Tuanku Ja'afar. He leaves behind a wife and four children, Adrien, 19, twins Florian and Manon, 16, and Hugo, two.
As a show of respect and to mourn their loss, all Carrefour staff will wear a white ribbon as an arm band until Friday.
Born in Lille, France, he joined the French retailer in 1991 as assistant store manager. He was posted to Thailand as store manager in 1995. Two years later, he was transferred to Taiwan and then South Korea. He came to Malaysia in 2003.
Says one of Carrefour's manager Adzman Shah: “He once said of all the countries he was posted to – Thailand, Taiwan, S. Korea, he liked Malaysia's diversity best.”
Says business acquaintance and Tesco's CEO James McCann: “I find him to be a man of integrity. When he says he will do something, he will do it. He recently took up golf. He called me to get my instructor’s contact number. His life revolved around two things – his work and his family.”
Rincheval worked seven days a week, 9am to 10pm, which may explain why his friends are also his colleagues and business associates. He tried hard to squeeze in time for the gym, but never got around to flexing those muscles.
“He was concerned about his waistline. It's all the business lunches,” says corporate communications manager Yuswanis Anis.
In the business arena, competition against Carrefour was deemed competition against him. He took things that personally.
During his last interview with StarBiz on Jan 6, he talked about how competitive and challenging Malaysia’s retail sector was, and how important it is to drink bottled water, and compare prices.
“Water is very important. It is no point you avoiding this meat or that one, and you drink water from the tap. It may be filtered but you cannot see what's inside. If you were in my shoes, and I get a lot of reports about what’s bad in this food and that food, you will not be eating anything,” he quipped as he went around the outlet explaining the different promotions.
Rincheval talked about how the different forces in the economy were working against each other, in their attempt to dictate pricing.
“The Government is pushing hypermarkets to lower prices, (which is an anomaly) if you look at how rapidly prices are increasing in Malaysia. Then there are suppliers who do not want to lower prices and they have a monopolistic position. If we lower prices to benefit the consumer, these suppliers do not deliver to me.”
In spite of all these forces confronting him, Rincheval believed in Carrefour’s business model of giving his customers the best deal in the market.
“My job, and that of my staff, is to give Carrefour customers a fuller trolley, and value for their money. If you have five kids at home and a small salary, you will be more careful how you spend your money.
He said Carrefour would continue to lower prices. 2005 was good for the chain of eight outlets, of which six are in the Klang Valley, and one each in Penang and Johor.
“The year 2006 will be good, too. In a weak economy, if you maintain low prices, people will switch loyalty. Did you see our trolley ad? You can save as much as RM30 if you compare our prices with those of our competitors,” he said, referring to an ongoing advertisement, which pits a Carrefour trolley against that of its competitors. His main competitors are Giant and Tesco.
“Giant has 65 outlets. We have only eight, Tesco, also eight. It’s a tough game for us. So I, and my staff, all 3,200, have to work very hard,” he said with a faint French lilt.
As Rincheval walked along the supermarket aisle explaining the chain’s Big Saver programme, he would stop and exchange greetings with staff with a hello! here and a hi! there, sometimes rattling off in French to his countrymen.
“Time to practise my French! We are one big family here. Provide savings on as many items as possible under one roof, give free parking and don’t forget hygiene. And be efficient to save cost, that's a hypermarket's business model,” he said. He was also expected to get back to StarBiz with details on the hypermarket’s expansion plans.
May he rest in peace.
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