“I’m trying now to realise that goal I had nearly twenty-five years ago”

Pierre-Antoine Guillon

Concrete goals

Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photos by Kageaki Smith

“I read novels by Japanese authors when I was a teenager,” says Pierre-Antoine Guillon, Japan representative and Asia Pacific sales manager at Kerneos. “The atmosphere and the themes in them were quite different from what I read in French novels.”

Guillon, originally from Vendôme in central France — a region famous for its fashion and jewellery — was a voracious reader growing up. Cheap paperbacks of Japanese literature, translated into French, were readily available, so it was curiosity that led him initially to Yasunari Kawabata, and then to writers such as Junichiro Tanizaki, Yasushi Inoue and Yukio Mishima.

“When I first came to Japan, I thought to myself, ‘One day I’d like to read these novels in Japanese’,” Guillon states. “I’m trying now to realise that goal I had nearly twenty-five years ago.”

In the summer of 1993, Guillon started studying Japanese when he was in Tokyo on an internship as part of his university’s engineering programme. And he continued to study after graduating — most earnestly from 2001 to 2007 while on a posting to Japan for his current company, Kerneos, then called Lafarge. However, transfers to France, Singapore and then Beijing between 2007 and 2014 made it hard for him to keep up his Japanese.

“When I came back to Japan in 2014, I decided to study hard,” Guillon states. “I really thought that I would have to get myself to a different level. I deal with Japanese customers all the time, so I need to be very comfortable in the language.”

As a result of studying over the past few years for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test’s N1 exam — the most difficult level — Guillon has reached an ability in the language that will allow him to achieve what he had set out to do back in 1993.

“Last year, I read House of Sleeping Beauties — a novel by Kawabata — in Japanese,” says Guillon with pride. “I think Kawabata’s style really grabs your attention. You really want to turn the page to see what happens next.”

Guillon has recently made a significant professional achievement as well.

“We are now one of the top players in our industry in Japan — and we have only four people in the Japan office,” he says. “Compared to our Japanese competitors, we bring the expertise of over 100 years.”

Kerneos, headquartered in France, is a manufacturer of calcium aluminate-based speciality products, such as cement mortar. The company’s signature product, Ciment Fondu, was invented by Kerneos in 1908.

“It’s very strong, stronger than normal cement,” explains Guillon. “Alumina can withstand conditions up to 1700 degrees Celsius.”

Kerneos’ mortar, which uses alumina, is special because it helps make flooring products flow like water, resulting in smooth, flat surfaces. And, unlike normal cement, it dries quickly, even at low temperatures — meaning workers can save time on the building site. It is also very resistant to acid, and is more durable than normal cement in places where acid-levels are high, such as in sewers.

The goals Guillon sets for himself are similarly durable. And there is still more that he would like to accomplish. He is a runner and runs the equivalent of a half-marathon once a week to stay in shape; but he has yet to run a full marathon.

“One of my objectives this year is to run 42 kilometres,” says Guillon. “Some people I know tell me that running a half-marathon and a full marathon are different sports. But you have a to-do list in your life, and running a marathon one time is certainly something that I would like to do.”

Though it will take a while for him to work up to this level, he is confident that, in time, he will achieve what he has set out to do, just as with reading novels in Japanese.

“There’s still a long way to go,” Guillon states. “But I think the more you run, the more you want to run.” 

Do you like natto?

Time spent working in Japan:

11 years over a 24-year period.

Career regret:

None. I’ve been lucky to have had a lot of different experiences in Japan, and everywhere I’ve lived.

Favourite saying:

“Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought” — Henri Bergson.

Favourite book:

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. I’m from the centre of France, and some people in my family are connected to this writer.

Cannot live without:


Lesson learned in Japan:

Japan is like a gold mine. You have to dig. The deeper you dig, the more you learn. And eventually you’ll find the gold.

Secret of success in business:

I think to be successful here, you really have to have long-term vision. I believe that the coming years in Japan will present a lot of opportunities.

Favourite place to dine:

Ukai Toriyama. It’s near Hachioji, in the mountains. The view is splendid.

Do you like natto?:

Yes. And I also have a really good recipe: take natto and mix it with grated daikon radish. It’s very nice.