MAN Truck & Bus


“My work was my salvation”


An impressive life story: Guillaume Levaillant is a passionate truck driver, managing director of Paratrans, the transport company he set up – and he has been paralysed from the age of 22 years old. That hasn’t hindered this entrepreneur. We visited the genuine workaholic in the North of France.

Truck driver has breakfast
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Early bird Guillaume Levaillant starts his first tour every morning at 6:30 a.m. The 45-year-old entrepreneur sleeps only four to five hours every night. That's enough for him, he says.

“I just love being a truck driver! I feel like I’m on holiday as soon as I grasp the steering wheel”, says Guillaume Levaillant. This 45-year-old entrepreneur turned his passion into his career. Now he's managing director of the transport company Paratrans based in Houdain in northern France, not far from the English Channel. Yet it wasn’t always clear to Levaillant that he would enjoy a successful and fulfilled career. Because the entrepreneur is paralysed – and has already had to overcome various adversities in his life.

Early beginnings on tractors and combine harvesters

“My parents lived near a farm, and I used to help with the harvest from the age of eight”, Levaillant recollects from his childhood. “So even early on I was sitting around on tractors and combine harvesters and was soon able to operate them myself.” Levaillant subsequently undertook vocational training as an agricultural worker and farm machinery operator, also obtaining his truck driver’s licence. And he continued helping with the harvest, transporting sugar beet and driving large machines.

But everything changed in 1998 when he was just 22 years old. Levaillant suddenly felt strong pains in his leg. The diagnosis was devastating: a malignant tumour was pressing on his spinal cord. Levaillant could no longer move his legs after an eight-hour emergency operation. Unfortunately a second operation six months later was also unsuccessful – the paralysis remained. A very long hospitalisation ensued and Levaillant subsequently struggled with severe depression.

“That was when I realised I really had to fight to regain my life”, Levaillant now recalls. He decided to return to the farm that had always been his major passion. “I desperately wanted to work again. That was my salvation”, is how the entrepreneur puts it today. His friends assisted him and used a telescopic crane to fashion a seat lift that would enable him to operate tractors and agricultural machinery with the aid of a steering wheel gear lever.

From tractor to truck

Even if his passion for agricultural machines remains, Levaillant soon felt the desire to set up his own transport company. He had nevertheless to overcome a few hurdles in France before doing so – like extending his truck driver’s licence, for example. “Not that easy when you’re sitting in a wheelchair and can’t reach the brake pedal or accelerator”, Levaillant recounts. 

MAN Truck & Bus was the only commercial vehicle manufacturer among all those he contacted that responded to his request for assistance. Stéphane Montagne, at that time a MAN dealer in nearby Arras, became personally involved on Levaillant’s behalf and loaned him a tractor unit that Levaillant had equipped with personalised controls, including brake and accelerator levers on the steering wheel. “I then used this truck to renew my driving license – and felt ecstatic”, he recalls. Although the loan didn’t just help Levaillant to obtain his driving license, it also formed the basis for setting up his company.

“My contact at MAN had shown trust in me from the very start. The banks didn’t want to grant me any credit, but MAN made a vehicle available to me for the first six months of my business start-up, which I only had to pay for after this period had expired”, Levaillant adds. Yet the first few months in the existence of his company Paratrans were so successful that he was soon able to order the first of his own trucks from MAN.

My contact at MAN had shown trust in me from the very start.

Guillaume Levaillant
Managing director of Paratrans


Everyone knows me and I don’t have any more issues than any other driver.

Guillaume Levaillant
Managing director of Paratrans

A complete success

Today Levaillant can look back on a successful career – and is enjoying his days working at the wheels of his trucks, all from MAN, including two TGX, one with 500 and one with 580 PS. Both are equipped with operation levers on the steering wheel. Even the complications of getting into and out of the cab are no longer an issue for Levaillant. Whereas he used to have to be lifted into the cab by his friends, he now has a lifting platform that raises him and his wheelchair to the right height, so that he can get in without any problems in just a few seconds.

A long day

“My working day begins as soon as I’m sitting in the truck”, Levaillant states.  And it begins at dawn and is a long one. “I only sleep for four to five hours every night, that’s enough for me.“ At 06:30 he then starts his trip to the sandstone quarry at Pernes, which is only a few kilometres away from his home. “Everyone knows me there and I don’t have any more issues than any other driver”, says Levaillant. At the quarry, where there are more than 30 trucks coming and going every day, a member of staff passes him the necessary documents directly into the cab, so that he doesn’t have to extend his platform. That means he doesn’t lose any time. After the first load, at 07:00 he’s back on the road directly to the delivery location. There are then a further four to six such journeys per day, sometimes up to 12 if necessary. The managing director therefore covers between 350 and 450 kilometres a day.

Levaillant’s company Paratrans doesn’t just carry loads of sand and gravel, but since last year also sugar beet waste. For this the Frenchman uses a 480 PS MAN TGX with a large grain trailer to drive over the fields until late evening. This enabled more than 2,700 tons of sugar beet waste to be processed into animal feed or used in the operation of biogas plants. A flourishing business. This enterprising workaholic is particularly looking forward to the future. Alongside his demanding job, he now also wants to completely renovate his house with help from friends and artisans. “The main thing is that I keep moving”, Levaillant explains.

Text   Pierre Alain Brendel
Photos   Jean Philippe Glatigny / Karl Lefebvre

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