A BICONTINENTAL SUCCESS
A chance meeting, hard work, passionate commitment, and careful planning
On Dec. 26, 1976, Philippe Moreau was flying back to Paris after visiting family in the United States. A native of France, Philippe spoke little English – but across the plane aisle sat Diane, a foreign language teacher based in central Illinois. She was escorting a group of students abroad for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. During that flight, romance took off and in June of 1978, Philippe and Diane married.
Before they were married, Philippe was working as an assistant city engineer for a medium-sized city in the Normandy region of France and Diane was continuing her education career. Relocating to the United States, Philippe was hired at an engineering consulting firm in the western suburbs of Chicago. Diane also changed her careers and transitioned from education to assisting non-English speaking patients at a local hospital as a medical interpreter and patient advocate.
Each of their careers continued to progress. Starting as an entry-level field staffer, Philippe performed construction inspections and conducted surveys as he learned the process of designing and building roads, sewers, and large wastewater treatment plants. He also continued his professional education via night school becoming a professional land surveyor and engineer licensed in both Illinois and Wisconsin, all the while improving his proficiency in the English language.
Diane went on to be promoted to Director of Patient Support Services, managing the operations of the hospital interpreting staff coordinating the more than 300 volunteers who regularly participated in the hospital volunteer program. If that was not enough, she also managed the hospital gift shop operations.
Over the years, the owners of the engineering consulting firm couldn’t help but notice Philippe’s work ethic. Diane shares that feeling: “He worked hard and spent long days, learning, listening, taking assignments and proving himself to be loyal, responsible and reliable.” The owners offered Philippe the opportunity to buy the company. It was not an easy decision, but they decided to take the plunge and in 1996 Philippe became the owner of the firm he started at as a French immigrant – a classic, up-by-the-bootstraps, American success story!
Transitioning from employee to owner was not all croissants and champagne (French puns intended). Ownership included both risks and new responsibilities but under Philippe’s leadership, the company continued to grow via a mix of entrepreneurial ingenuity and engineering acumen. “Philippe recognized growth opportunities in the environmental and electrical/control engineering fields and enlarged the company by creating two additional consulting engineering firms to capitalize on these opportunities”.
Philippe and Diane started working with Marc Horner of Fairhaven a few years after buying the company. “Marc helped us think about the business as another part of our investment portfolio. While maybe not the same as shares of IBM or Apple, our investment in the business represented equity risk. As the business grew and the acquisition debt was reduced, we reallocated periodic distributions in more conservative, income-producing investments to both systematically “de-risk” our overall investment portfolio and build a source of income for our eventual retirement”, observes Philippe. “Tax-efficiency has always been an important goal and we appreciate the proactivity of Marc and the team at Fairhaven in communicating thoroughly with both our tax and legal advisors.”
Throughout their relationship, a connection with France has continued to be important to both Philippe and Diane as they frequently visit family and friends. In 2006, they re-established official French roots when they purchased a dilapidated, 250-year-old manor and adjacent centuries-old forest located in the Brittany region of northwestern France.
“Completing the restoration took over six years! We could write a book about turning an old, cold, granite structure into a comfortable, warm, modern residence with its beautiful garden and hilly landscape,” reminisces Diane.
Coming full circle, in 2014 Philippe sold the engineering firm to the next generation of staff members and just recently Diane retired from the hospital celebrating 40 years of service. The couple now split their time between Brittany, France and their home in the Chicagoland area.
While in Britany, Philippe loves to work outdoors in the forest surrounding their house and maintain their farm equipment. “The property has enough grain producing acreage that we are officially “French Farmers”. Had Philippe told me the game plan was to retire and become farmers, I may have thought twice about that”, laughs Diane.
Diane loves to visit the local farmer’s markets, which are colorful and animated. “Although we live in the countryside, we can easily enjoy the beautiful coast of Brittany, spending time hiking the trails, picking mussels from the rocky ocean, enjoying walks on the beach and the beautiful rugged cliffs. We also like to take day trips to the various islands found in Brittany, and we love to visit the old towns nearby with their cobblestoned streets and beautiful architecture.”
While residing in the land of Lincoln, Philippe has several vintage car restoration projects going, including a 1947 Lincoln Continental Coupe and a 1948 Lincoln convertible. Diane keeps busy with fitness classes and volunteering in the community. “We like to discover new restaurants and go to the movies. We also love to visit our National Parks, which are America’s treasures,” Diane says.
More than 40 years after meeting on a plane to Paris, much has been accomplished by Philippe and Diane both personally and professionally. The common thread running through their experiences can be summed up with one word…together. IIII
Philippe & Diane Moreauth