Guest Article: Six Questions for Francois Kloc
Photograph © Denis Gliksman pour Buffet Crampon
Buffet Crampon USA President and CEO Francois Kloc gives us insight into the innovative and evolving world of Buffet Crampon, and tells us what inspires him in his relentless pursuit of excellence for the company.
Your career has taken you through apprenticeships at the woodwind manufacturing companies of Mignot and Rigoutat in Paris, a year at a music store in Grenoble (Bertet Musique), back to Paris with Loree and now to the office of President and CEO of Buffet Crampon and Powell in the United States. Can you tell us how a talented young oboist from Beauvais, France came to achieve such international success in the instrument manufacturing business?
First, I have to say that I was lucky to find so many people in the different companies who not only helped and guided me but also inspired me to always try to do better; to never settle for “ok” or “good enough.” This really helped me take risks. One always says that you do not achieve success if you are not taking risks; well, I think the “risks” I took paid off. The biggest “risk” was to leave France, my family and friends to come to the US, in a country I did not know, I never had been to and with very little knowledge of the language.
I have to say that I would have probably not made that move if I did not meet Sheila (who would become my wife). She was my English teacher (adult learning) and after we started going out we soon found out that we would be together. Then the opportunity came for me to go to Buffet Crampon and move to the US and she just told me, “Let’s go! We will see what it is like, and we always can come back if we don’t like it over there.” That was 23 years ago.
For her to just leave everything behind her and move to the US showed me how much she believed in and trusted me. I never took this for granted, and I always worked hard to make sure we would be able to have a good life here and that my passion for music and this industry showed through my work. As for the success I achieved, it is not mine alone. It is the success of all the people who, like Sheila, believed in me, helped, trusted me and who continue to do so every day. I would not have been where I am without all the amazing people in my life.
Since your work with Buffet began in 1995, your positions have ranged from working in the Research and Development Team, Woodwind Product Specialist, Director of Sales and Marketing and now President and CEO. What important changes have occurred within the company that have brought us to this point, and what is your outlook for the group’s eleven brands in 2019?
Many things have changed throughout the years, of course. The beauty and particularity of Buffet Crampon and each brand’s part of the group create a common goal to improve the instruments all the time. There have been so many developments such as Green Line, tests with different materials, wood treatment techniques, keywork designs, acoustic improvements and most recently the creation of the Prodige and Premium students clarinets which have a “pro bore design” adapted for the first time in a student model plastic clarinet.
I am sure you remember the amazing recital given by Pierre Genisson at the 2016 ICA ClarinetFest in Lawrence, Kansas; after trying out the Prodige at our booth he actually decided to play it in front of an audience of hundreds of clarinetists during the recital that night. I could not believe that he was going to actually do that, and then he did! What a memory! You should actually check it out on YouTube on the Vandoren Channel, as they recorded the live performance.
You see, these kinds of moments validate the work of all our designers, makers, testers and team members who work on developing these amazing instruments. That night, it was not an ad in a magazine, me telling people how great the Prodige is; it was an artist who decided to use the instrument he tried only a few hours ago, on stage for his recital! And what recital it was. This is just an example, of course, as there are many other instances I could have used. This is why we always work on looking for new ways, materials, techniques and have musicians guide us and tell us what their needs are, and we have to then adapt and deliver, as musicians are more demanding than ever.
Though your duties as President and CEO are vast and incredibly far-reaching, you have remained personable and engaged with colleagues, artists and dealers. How do you find the balance, and what inspires you in this business?
I could not do it any other way. In my opinion, if you want to stay “in tune” with what is going on, you must rely on and trust your staff and be close to them. It is the same with musicians and dealers, I need to be available and make people feel they can talk to me openly and frankly. This is the only way to know exactly what is happening.
I am not interested in hearing what I want to hear, I am interested in knowing what we could do better, what we need to improve. It is also important for me to never forget where I came from. I started at the bench and was fortunate to have the opportunity to grow. I feel that I need now to provide the same opportunity to everyone I can in return. It is the “old ways” from the factory–someone would show you something, a technique, a way to do something because they knew that you would show it to someone who in turn would show it to someone, etc… This is the way tradition lives on, and we combine it with modern techniques.
As far as what inspires me in this business, it is the people I meet; they are either colleagues, dealers, artists, students, competitors or music lovers as they are all part of what makes this industry. I need to be able to understand how they are in order for me to be more complete and to always give my best. I consider myself lucky to be in this position and in an amazing industry. Therefore, I cannot be complacent and take it for granted. There is still a lot to do!
Buffet Crampon now encompasses eleven brands including Powell flutes, Antoine Courtois brass instruments and Rigoutat oboes, just to name a few. Even with these additions to the brand, the clarinet sector has continued to innovate and inspire with new products and exciting collaborations. Is there anything on the horizon in 2019 that we have to look forward to?
As you know, we are always working on something. What I can tell you is that you should get some news soon about what we have been working on. More to come 😉
As a US citizen and the Honorary Consul of France in Jacksonville, it’s clear that you have made the US your home and have embraced the American spirit. What are the aspects of American culture you most appreciate and are there aspects of the French culture you still miss?
Yes, my wife and I became American Citizens a few years ago, and we do feel that the US is now our home. As you know, we have three kids who were born in the US: Felix and Lucy were born in Chicago and Charlotte in Los Angeles. Of course, it makes the US even more “our home” as we really built our family here. I personally like the way you can do whatever you put your heart into in this country; I believe that it is still true. Of course, there are some cultural differences between the US and France. This being said, I respect and embrace these difference which are necessary in a society; this diversity is the pillar of being in a Democracy and we all must make sure we keep it that way.
As for my position of Honorary Consul for France, it is a way for me to stay in touch and “serve” France and its constituency living in the territory I am responsible for. It is also an honor to be nominated for this position, and I do feel privileged to have been chosen.
Alcides and I have had the pleasure of a few amazing meals with you, so it’s no secret that you are passionate about food and wine. Granted your time is limited, what other things do you enjoy outside of the office, and how do you unwind from the pressures of the job?
Yes, we have had some great meals and I am looking forward to have many others with you both and Evan soon. To take my mind off the business, I play soccer (football in French 😉) in an adult league every Sunday morning. I ride my bicycle there so I definitely get a good workout! Either on my bicycle or on the field, I need to be focused on what is happening and make sure not to get hurt or to not hurt someone; this is a very good “break” for my brain. I also like swimming and playing tennis.
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