Sonepar Announces the Loss of its Founder and Honorary Chairman Henri Coisne

It is with great sadness and emotion that Sonepar announces the passing of our founder and Honorary Chairman, Henri Coisne, during the night of December 15- 16 2022 at the age of 99. He was surrounded by his family and will now be reunited with his wife, Malou.

Beyond being a “great captain of industry,” it was his simplicity, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his integrity that will have marked his life.  Henri, following a family lead, recognized very early the potential of the electrical distribution industry. In 1969, he founded Sonepar that today has become the world’s leading electrical distributor, present in over 40 countries with 45,000 associates.

Sonepar shares the grief of his children, Henri, Martine, Sylvie, Marie-Christine and Laurence, their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren.

Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette, Sonepar Chairman says,

Our father was a pioneer who was an inspiration to all of us. He was always ambitious and driven by an entrepreneurial spirit which will continue to guide the Group in the future.  He was fair and good man. As a family business, he was obsessed with the long term and even if he no longer held an operational role, he always remained fully up to date with all the developments in the Group. As he would often say, what counts is what lasts. Over 50 years later, Sonepar’s independence remains a key strength to support the Group’s strategy of sustainable, long-term growth, powered by the commitments of its family shareholders.”

To pay tribute to Henri Coisne

A virtual condolence book will soon be available for you to write a message or post a photo to celebrate the life of Henri Coisne.

Henri Coisne Biography

Henri Coisne was born on June 21, 1923, in Armentières, France. He is the fourth of that name in the Coisne family, following his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. He was the third-born out of eight brothers and sisters: Marie, Adèle, Paul, Hubert, Jacqueline, Bernard, and Geneviève. He spent his entire childhood in northern France and passed his baccalaureate in math and in philosophy.

In September 1940, he was accepted into the ‘Higher Mathematics’ preparatory class at the Lycée Sainte-Geneviève, in Versailles. In June 1943, having passed the entry exams into both the École de l’Air (Air Force Academy) and the École Navale (Naval Academy), he opted for the former.

Shocked by the handshake between Pétain and Hitler in October 1940 in Montoire-sur-le-Loir (Loir-et-Cher department), and by an order given by the Vichy Regime Naval Forces for the French fleet to scuttle everything rather than take to the sea when the German army invaded the French ‘Free Zone’ in November 1942, Henri Coisne announced to his parents that he wanted to join General de Gaulle and Free France. In the summer of 1943, he crossed the Spanish border with a few friends before arriving in Morocco. He finally reached Casablanca in September.

After spending several months waiting in the Cazes camp, he joined the flying school based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA in January 1944, where he incorporated the 43 AFN promotion. In July 1945, having graduated, Henri Coisne was ready to enlist with a flying unit and was appointed to the 1/62 in Algiers, a specialized transportation unit that covered North Africa. His main missions involved liaising and provisioning the Sahara, including on board a Junkers Ju 52.

A year later, in September 1946, he headed to Indochina, where he also led liaising and provisioning missions. In the fall of 1947, he married Marie-Louise Colombier (1927–2012), originally from Armentières, like him. Together, they had five children: Henri was born in 1948, Martine in 1950, Sylvie in 1952, Marie-Christine in 1956, and Laurence in 1962.

On January 1, 1948, he was stationed in Le Bourget, and moved to Paris with his wife. Following a detour at the Cognac base, he joined the GAEL (Groupe aérien d’entraînement et de liaison, Air Training and Liaison Group), for which he led numerous liaison missions across the entire French Union, from Africa to Madagascar, on board LeO 45 and NC-701 Martinet aircraft.

In 1953, he passed entry exams into the École d’état-major, the French military academy. The following year, he volunteered for Indochina, which was in the throes of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Here, he commanded 1–25 Bomber Squadron operations. He was based in Hai Phong and in Tourane. He returned to France in April 1955, as his father was dying of cancer.

Appointed commander, in July 1955 he was assigned to the Bureau d’études générales (General Research Office). He was tasked with planning for the future of the Air Force, including its infrastructure. Towards the end of 1957, while the north of the country was at war, he was appointed head of the Ouargla Poste de Commandement Air Directeur, in Algeria. Here, he was in charge of aerial surveillance of the Eastern Sahara, from Touggourt to Tamanrasset.

Several months later, he returned to the Cognac base in France to command the 2/92 Aquitaine squadron. He was also responsible for promoting Vautour planes, presenting them to the Shah of Iran in the spring of 1959. At the start of 1962, he permanently left the Army to join the family Group becoming General Manager of Cellulose d’Alizay.

Following the sale of Cellulose d’Alizay, the family entrusted Henri Coisne with developing and investing the family capital in a new line of business meeting certain criteria: good development prospects, the potential to develop independently from banks and the State, limited cyclicality.

In early 1969, the acquisition of Comptoir d’ Électricité Franco-Belge marked the next step for the family Group: the distribution of electrical equipment and the birth of the Sonepar Group. The company’s first headquarters were built on Rue de la Quintinie, in the 15th district of Paris, on land adjacent to Franco-Belge.

This coincided with Henri Coisne taking over its management. Soon after, several companies joined Sonepar, thereby forming regional bases for France–wide coverage, with Comptoir Lyonnais d’Electricité (south-eastern France) in 1973, Sanelec (north-eastern France) in 1974, the Marcel Tabur Group (western France) in 1977.

In 1976, Henri Coisne became Chairman of Sonepar’s Board. Following serious health problems, he resigned from his position in 1980, in favor of José Ménendez. He returned in 1981 as Chairman of the Supervisory Board, while remaining very involved in the Group’s operational management. In fact, in 1982 he steered Sonepar’s first acquisition outside France, in Germany and the Netherlands.

Henri Coisne gradually began to take a step back from the business from the mid-1990s. In 1998, his daughter, Marie-Christine Coisne-Roquette, took over the business. A few years earlier, he had been appointed as a judge at the Paris Commercial Court. December 6, 1991, he is made commander of the Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honor, highest French order of merit, both military and civil).

From 1998 to 2002, he was Honorary Chairman and member of Sonepar’s Supervisory Board, before becoming Honorary Chairman and member of the Group’s Board of Directors from 2002 to 2010.

Since 2010, he has been Honorary Chairman of Sonepar’s Corporate Board.

This post is also available in: French