Thierry Lagrange: A transparent, service-oriented approach to finance

The motto for the new Finance and Purchasing Department Head, Thierry Lagrange, is "strengthening services for users".

With a head-count of around sixty, the Finance and Purchasing Department is small compared to the large technical departments. But its work is crucial and supports all the Laboratory’s activities. The FP Department manages the Organization’s financial resources and commitments, checking that resources match expenses, that sufficient cash is available, that contracts are concluded on the best possible terms - in short, that monies are available and properly managed.

In these lean times, this delicate balancing act requires the skills of an insider, someone who knows the Organization like the back of his hand. Thierry Lagrange, recently appointed Head of Finance and Purchasing, has spent most of his career at CERN, and the past five years as Deputy Head of the Finance Department. Nobody knows the subtleties and pitfalls of CERN finance and purchasing better than he. There’s no beating about the bush when it comes to CERN’s liquidity problems: "One of the Department’s greatest challenges is to manage CERN’s resources down to the finest detail, with the utmost rigour" and practically no room for manoeuvre. "We have to monitor incoming funds very closely with respect to requirements and exercise restraint in our recourse to short-term loans," he explains.

This razor-sharp financial management, further reinforced two years ago by the implementation of a new planning and control system, is even tougher now that CERN is coming to the end of its long-term LHC debt repayments but needs to finance the consolidation of existing infrastructure and the projects approved in the framework of CERN’s scientific programme - not to mention the cost of the LHC repairs, which will have to come on top of the rest. "We have to reconcile an acceptable rate of short-term indebtedness with the financing requirements for projects," says Lagrange.

In parallel, the Finance and Purchasing Department must now move in the same direction as the Laboratory and make the transition from the construction to the operation phase, giving greater priority to services for users. "The purchasing service had already anticipated the end of the construction era by significantly reducing its headcount," Lagrange explains. "But now we must focus our attention on the users and tailor our services to meet their needs."

For example, the Department manages the Team Accounts, the financial accounts through which user groups, in particular from the experimental collaborations, settle their purchases of materials and services. "As we move into the operating phase, we will have an increasing number of individual accounts to manage," observes Lagrange, who is committed to facilitating further the access to these services and their use.

Another significant change relates to the field of industrial services, namely the firms contracted to undertake activities outsourced by the Organization. Initially centred on construction, the focus of industrial services will now swing towards operation and maintenance. "New skills are required that are not necessarily possessed by the firms which took part in the construction." So one of the major jobs facing the Department is to issue new calls for tenders for these operations-related services, such as cryogenics, ventilation and electricity. In parallel, the Purchasing Service must react to the needs of CERN’s major new projects, and issue a large number calls for tenders in a very short time-frame for projects such as Linac4 and the Computer Centre.

Thierry Lagrange has not radically altered the organisational structure of his Department. The only change following the restructuring is that the Logistics Group has joined the brand new General Infrastructure Services Department. At the same time Lagrange, following the new Management’s example, fully intends to usher in a new era of openness and transparency in CERN’s finances. "The new management style suits me well," he says with a smile. "I’d like to increase the channels of communication used by our Department, which must be perceived as a service provider rather than a black box." Not for Thierry Lagrange to conclude without paying tribute to the teams in his Department: "I would like to thank all my colleagues for their efficiency in making our services run so smoothly."

Thierry Lagrange’s CV in brief

Thierry Lagrange graduated in economics and financial management in his native country, Belgium, and joined CERN in 1985 as a contract officer, moving rapidly up through the ranks of the Purchasing Service. He was appointed Head of Purchasing in 1993, just when the major procurement contracts for the LHC machine and experiments were starting to be placed. He subsequently became leader of the Purchasing and Logistics Division in 2002 before being appointed Deputy Head of the Finance Department in 2004, with his main responsibility being the management of purchasing and industrial services. He has been Head of the Finance and Purchasing Department since 1st January 2009.