They have been friends since birth, Jacques Christophe Branellec and Erwan Heussaff, who cheekily interjects, “Well, I came first.” The unstoppable French-Filipino businessmen have persistently pushed for the Francophile connection and viceversa—Heussaff chiefly in the F&B and agriculture sectors; Branellec in the jewellery sector as well as the arenas of fashion, culture, and music.
Understandably so, as both are board members of the French Chamber of Commerce Philippines—Branellec for three years and Heussaff for almost two. The Chamber was founded, in fact, by their illustrious fathers, Jacques Branellec and Louis Heussaff, together with another family friend and prominent French figure in society, Philippe Gauthier. It will be celebrating 35 years in 2018.
The younger Branellec and the younger Heussaff have been dynamic and staunch supporters of all that the chamber fosters and endorses. A non-profit organisation, its main thrust is to develop business opportunities between the two countries, being linked with the activities of the French Embassy and its business arm, Business France. “That is the main part of the job for Erwan and me—to be the ambassadors of the Philippines to France and to showcase the best of what the country has to offer,” says Branellec.
The organisation is also part of a global network of French chambers called the CCI (Chamber of Commerce and Industry). “They are all over, Asia, Europe, the US. We coordinate in helping businesses establish themselves here,” says Isabelle Nilo, president of CCI France Philippines. The chamber offers a whole range of services like shared office spaces, research, and translation aids for overseas companies that are exploring opportunities and looking into certain industries.
“There’s a mentoring aspect,” expounds Nilo. “If a French company comes here needing to know how the Philippines works and how to deal with Filipinos, our members, depending on their area of expertise, help answer the queries over lunch or dinner. And vice versa.” To date, there are 3,500 registered French expats in the Philippines.
The chamber is also in charge of organising a number of social and cultural events that bring together the French community in the Philippines and its local partners to experience French culture in a different way. One such event is the much-awaited annual Soirée Beaujolais taking place this month.
Luxe brand Jewelmer Joaillerie, of which Branellec is EVP and Deputy CEO, has always supported the chamber’s cultural events—the much-hyped Fête de la Musique for one. Branellec, in fact, who is a seasoned saxophonist, was also very much involved in the past Manila Jazz Festival. “We all know the Philippines has a huge pool of talent and I’d eventually like to see this promoted via French cultural exchange programmes as well,” he says.
Further to this, just last month, the chamber staged its inaugural Business Awards Night, acknowledging the movers and shakers in the French-Filipino community, among them L’oréal, Teleperformance and Total.
With an ace up his sleeve, it’s Branellec’s turn to give a cheeky grin. “I can’t disclose the name just yet, but this year, Jewelmer signed a very important agreement with a big group in France which is looking to distribute our brand there. That’s a very big step for us especially since we’re celebrating 38 years in the industry and since we are a French- Filipino company. We’ve always stood back. It’s always our product that’s being sold but not under the Jewelmer name. Now, for the first time, ‘Jewelmer the Philippine brand’ will be retailed.”
As bullish on the goings-on here is restaurateur and influencer Heussaff who has been working closely with the Department of Agriculture. “Our dads have been here forever and there have always been French companies coming in, but [the economy] hasn’t been that open. We were always at the cusp of ‘something’ happening,” he says. “But now, the floodgates have been truly opened, so to speak. I’m thus most excited in knowing that with the removal of restrictions on foreign ownership, business entry to the Philippines—especially foreign entities—has been made slightly easier and more transparent in the last couple of years.”
Heussaff, who has spent the past monthswith farmers up North, is thoroughly excited for a French market (à la the famous Runjis in France) in Clark Airbase, which will wholesale Filipino produce, come to fruition. “One of the largest issues I’ve had with local agriculture,” says Heussaff, “is that all the hard work that is put out on the fields is not necessarily reflected in the price that farmers get because there are so many middlemen and so many transportation and cold storage issues. So, a wholesale market in a location like Clark or Subic is strategic because it directly siphons off the produce from the North [Ifugao, Sagada, Isabela, and Pampanga]. I think that’s a really cool relationship to put in place.”
already with scripts at the biggest content forum in the world. He describes this as a huge shopping hall for online, movie, TV, and VOD (video on demand) content where all the TV networks come and buy programs. “There you can either sell an idea or a finished product, which we have both of. Nowadays, VOD platforms such as Netflix are shopping around for Asian content. We’ll start the pitching and try to get funding locally and from France as well. We are trying to position ourselves in a way that we get international recognition,” he shares excitedly.
“This is something we both feel passionate about, being that we’re both half French, half Filipino. We live both cultures every day. We feel that France and the Philippines have a lot to gain from each other,” says Branellec.
Nilo couldn’t agree more, “They really are the backbone of the French in town. They are the new generation!”
Photography: Jinggo Montenejo