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Thales was born 20 years ago

On December 7, 2000, Thales was born. This transformation of the company was much more than an extraordinary communication operation. The adoption of the Thales name was an important milestone in the history of the Group, symbolising its remarkable ability to always anticipate and adapt to changing world.

Born with the advent of electricity which launched the second industrial revolution at the end of the 19th century, the Group has been involved in all the major technological breakthroughs since then, often as a pioneer. After electricity, electronics and IT, today the revolution is digital. Tomorrow it will be quantum.

This ability to innovate has always been at the heart of the Group's DNA, and feeds into all areas of the company. R & D, of course, but also our business activities and organisational models. Long driven by technological performance, innovation is now fuelled primarily by the needs and demands of our customers.

This special responsibility has forged a corporate culture that is driven by passion, rigour, ambition and the desire to always improve.

Throughout a history now spanning three centuries, the Group has been able to adapt to political and geopolitical developments: private shareholding, nationalisation then re-privatisation, and has always strived to remain master of its own destiny.

Always keeping in mind the Group’s Franco-American roots, the 1990s were synonymous with the invention and deployment of the "multidomestic" approach with a local presence as close as possible to our customers. Through acquisitions, the creation of subsidiaries, joint ventures and partnerships, the Group understood, before many others, the need to move from the status of a major exporter to that of a local player. Supporting client countries in their desire for modernisation and national sovereignty by contributing to their defence policy and economic and industrial development became a key Group identifier.

Diversity for strength

Throughout its history, some observers have criticised the Group, including in its current Thales incarnation, for the diversity of its activities. This overlooks the fact that our activities are all based on cross-functional technologies and capacities (which is even more evident in today’s digital world) and around a common mission: the control of so-called "critical" or vital systems to ensure that our societies function and develop correctly.

At each stage of its history, the Group has demonstrated a resilience which allows it, even today - thanks to the commitment, creativity and responsiveness of its teams, the diversity of its activities and its global presence - to get through periods of crisis. Not without damage, but without calling into question either its existence or its strategy, while always continuing to prepare for the future (on this topic, see the interview with Philippe Keryer - Thales Executive Vice-President, Strategy, Research and Technology - given on the occasion of the recent Paris Air Forum).

With the acquisition of Racal in the UK in 2000, as well as other recent acquisitions in the Netherlands, South Africa and Korea,  the Group, then known as Thomson-CSF,  changed identity. By adopting its new name twenty years ago, Thales loudly affirmed its ability to meet the challenges of the coming century. This group, over a hundred years old, was reinventing itself once again, and has continued to do so ever since. Now present in five markets, Defence and Security, Digital Identity and Security, Aerospace, Space and Transport, and established in 68 countries, Thales continues to reinvent itself to achieve its own digital transformation and support that of its customers.

Launched in 2020, Thales's purpose - to build, with its customers, a future we can all trust - expresses what the Group has always been, is today and will be in the years to come: a high-tech company that helps states, institutions and companies to operate the major infrastructures and critical services that make the world go round by always putting people at the centre of major decisions.

Today Thales is recognised globally as a high-tech innovator, a world leader in many of our domains and an attractive place to work. We owe this reputation, which has not stopped growing over the last two decades, to everyone at Thales across the world who is working each day to help build this future of trust.

A new name to begin a new century

“The name change operation in 2000 was certainly one of the most exciting ... and exhausting projects in which I have been involved," recalls Michel Gravrand of the Communications Department. “We worked day and night in "commando" mode, and in complete secrecy. The deadlines were tight, and the implications spread across all the levels of the company - legal, financial, commercial, etc.

At the time, "paper" was still the order of the day, and plans had to be made to change everything, from business cards to contract documents, including interior and exterior site signage. In addition, it was an opportunity to rationalise and unify the name of the companies under the Thales banner. At the time, there were more than 200 company names within the Group, legacies of a history made up of a large number of acquisitions! Preparing internal and external communication with customers, the media and the authorities in each country of operation was fundamental for the name change to be understood, accepted and integrated.

Obviously, the choice of the name was crucial. We went through hundreds of possibilities before settling on Thales. We wanted a short name that was meaningful and not just "trendy" ... and that would convince the senior management at the time! Of course, it also had to be usable internationally. 

In the end, the revelation of the new name internally at the beginning of December 2000 was a success. On December 6 we invited Group managers to a meeting without detailing the purpose. They left with a full kit to share the good news across the whole world the next morning. It was a complete surprise for most people and the name was quickly well accepted by Group employees as well as externally."