Alexandre Poirier (H.11)
The Survivor

Singapore. We met Alex in the cozy KPMG lounge in Singapore’s CBD. Alex was not a disciplined student, he went through dozens of schools, almost died, joined HEC and is now a proud consultant. A story about will and resilience.

Read full transcript…

HU: Hi Alex, nice to meet you! As usual, we are going to start with a Chinese portrait. So, if you were… a color?

AP: I would be green, it is a color of rebirth, of harmony, it is very balanced I like that.

HU: An animal?

AP: That was a tough one… I would be a dog, a water dog. I like to combination of a lonely animal but very loyal too.

HU: If you were a meal?

AP: “Une sole meunière”, I think it is self explanatory.

HU: A song?

AP: I would be a song from Oxmo Puccino, “L’un de nous deux”. It describes a boxing game, it is a beautiful song, it gives me goosebumps.

HU: A movie?

AP: I would be a movie by Claude Lelouche, “L’aventure c’est l’aventure”. It is just the way it should be… It is a movie with Jacques Brel, Aldo Maccione and Nino Ventura. It is just fantastic.

HU: A sin?

AP: I would be wrath. When it is under control it is a very powerful emotion. When it is deliberate it can lead to big achievements.

HU: An object?

AP: I would be a pen, to draw a motion, to picture the world as I see it or just to express myself.

HU: A sport or a game?

AP: I couldn’t pick one so I picked two. Free diving, it is an outstanding discipline. It is incredibly demanding in term of balance and control. And the second one would be rugby, I do both actually. Rugby is more than a game with rules and players, it is overwhelming, I love it.

HU: A book?

AP: It’s a book called Oro, by Cizia Zykë. I read this book when I was 18. It is the true story of Cizia Zikë who left his friends, family and country to travel the world. He has never stopped since then – he passed out recently – and he had a life full of amazing adventures all over the world. This book changed my vision of the world.

HU: A hero or a super hero?

AP: I would be Batman. It is a very complex character, neither black nor white. He is a mix of emotions and feelings, he has a dark side and I like it. I also like the scene, Gotham City, so I would definitely be Batman.

“I packed my bag, sold my couch and booked a one-way ticket to Singapore, as simple as that”

HU: Now, could you sum your professional background up in 30 seconds?

AP: After the first part of my studies, I started working for SOFEMA in Paris. Then I switched to the public sector. I worked for the ministry of foreign affairs and the ministry of defense. I unfortunately had a traffic accident that stopped the first part of my career. After a few months of recovery I decided to go to HEC to get a degree. And I started again my career interning for Alcatel Lucent. After that I decided to pack my bag and go to Singapore when I found a job at the French company Euler Hermes. I quit this company about a year ago to join KPMG where I am currently working and I am probably the happiest staff of the company (laughs).

PluieKPMG lounge

HU: What did you learn in your master at HEC? How did it help you going forward?

AP: I did the risk management master. When I decided to go for this master it was because it was close to what I used to do at this time in my career: dealing with risk and security related matters. So I decided to get this degree to achieve a milestone and to develop what I already knew. When I took this master I realized that risk is a broader topic than just security. There are financial risk, operational risk etc. So it opened my mind to many other opportunities. It also helped me get a job, but don’t get me wrong, when you are abroad the value of your degree is lower than it is in France. You are in competition with people who have done the same study from all over the world so it is challenging to maximize your HEC degree when you are far from France.

HU: Have you ever copped with a difficult choice in your professional life? What did you learn from it?

AP: Yes I did. As I told you, at a certain point in my career, I was young, I was 28, I was feeling that sky was the limit, I was very committed to my job and I had a traffic accident. It was quite bad: I went into a coma and it took me several months to recover. As a result I lost my job. It taught me resilience. How to cope with that sort of experience, how to open your mind to new challenges. Hence HEC came into the picture and helped me achieve what I wanted to achieve.

“I started from scratch, from the bottom of the company, it was four years ago. I was not meant to stay but I gave it a try. First I got used to Singapore, then I really liked it and I feel like sort of home here now”

HU: Can you tell us more about your coming to Singapore? What brought you here? How did you find a job?

AP: I wanted to see Asia. I was kind of bored in Paris with my internship and I absolutely wanted to see Asia, booming Asia, crazy Asia. So I packed my bag, sold my couch and booked a one-way ticket to Singapore, as simple as that. I had a friend in Singapore who offered me his couch. So for a couple of months I was couch surfing and backpacking in Asia, trying to network a bit also in Singapore to find opportunities here. The HEC community was my primary contact here and was very responsive and helpful. Eventually I found a job. I remember I was backpacking in Ho-Chi-Minh and my mobile phone was working badly so I couldn’t understand the recruiter saying: “you got the job”, at first I thought I was turned down. When he said “can you come back to sign the contract” I understood and came back to Singapore. I started from scratch, from the bottom of the company, it was four years ago. I was not meant to stay but I gave it a try. First I got used to Singapore, then I really liked it and I feel like sort of home here now.

houses foot

HU: What makes you happy to go to work every morning?

AP: When I was a student I wanted to become a consultant. I liked the way these guys work, I like the challenges of this industry: thinking about different things, meeting different people, doing different things all the time. And I made it, you know what I mean, I am now what I wanted to become, that feeling of such an achievement is fantastic, it is my everyday engine.

HU: What is your typical working day?

AP: It is probably going to sound a bit cliché but I don’t have a typical working day. I guess many people tell you that but it is very true when you are a consultant. From Monday to Friday you do many different things with many different people, dealing with different topics in different industries. Sometime you stay at the office, sometime you work at a client’s place you go for meetings, you go for sales pitch, you meet with regulators: a full range of stake holders. I don’t have any typical day per se and that is also something I really like: when I wake up I don’t know what is going to happen.

lounge KPMG inside

KPMG Lounge in Singapore

HU: To talk a little more about your job, what business are your in? Who are you advising?

AP: I am working for KPMG in Singapore. I am a Manager in the risk management team. We help organizations to identify, monitor and mitigate the risks that can prevent them from achieving their objectives. That would be the basic definition of this job. I am working with a team of twelve people, among a much bigger department. My associates are fantastic, my boss is just great, my working environment suits me, I like the company and I like the brand. I am kind of happy to be honest.

“Singapore is trying to achieve a transition to more value added industries such as the internet, electronics, in brief the digital industry. But these industry haven’t delivered what they were supposed to yet”

HU: What are the main risks companies have to cope with, generally speaking?

AP: There are a few risk that are common to most companies: the economic environment and the compliance risks. Then there are some more specific risks depending on the industries. Safety risks, financial risk for insurance companies or banks… You can imagine that when I am dealing with an insurance company I am dealing with completely different things than when I am discussing with a sport association or a power and utility company. So you need to be able to be up to date and aware of many different topics across industries.

“I would go crazy for my last night in Singapore. There is this place called cold café, very alternative place in mount Sophia area”

HU: To give us more colors on this topic, is there a client or a project you are particularly proud of and you could tell us about?

AP: Yes, we were working for a power and utility company. They already had a strong risk management framework into place internally and they needed to bring it to the next level. We helped them do a gap analysis of their existing structure and we provided recommendations to empower them to quantify their key risks, develop a sustainable risk culture and improve their reporting to their board and senior management. It was a very time constrained project and we were said to be great. I definitely think the mission was a success, I am very proud of it.

HU: Now we are going to talk more about Singapore. You have been living there for six years. Where do you like to hang out on Sunday afternoons?

AP: I got two places I like to stay on Sunday afternoons. The place where I live, in Katong, it is a lovely heritage district next to the sea. And my favorite place, called Tiong Bahru, it is one of the oldest district of Singapore. There are many cafés and an extremely famous French bakery. I go there to run errands, buy vinyls. There is a very nice French book shop as well, I could spend days in Tiong Bahru actually.

“As a non Singaporean my main concern would be how Singapore is going to keep its momentum while keeping being welcoming to people like me willing to work and to succeed here”

HU: What would you do if you only had 24 hours left to live in Singapore?

AP: So I wake up, grab some coffee and breakfast near my place in Katong. Then walk to Joo Chiat which is a sort of Vietnamese district, it is pretty cool, pretty hipster place. I would go grab lunch in town in one of these local food courts to have a flavorof Singapore before leaving. I would spend the afternoon walking by the street, through Chinatown and grab almond soup, my favourite desert. At the end of the day I would go to Duxton Hill to meet my friends and have a couple drinks. Then it is time to get dinner, I would go to one of my favorite restaurant in Singapore: Worcester, it is a Chinese restaurant where the crispy duck is fantastic. I would go crazy for my last night in Singapore. There is this place called cold café, very alternative place in mount Sophia area. I would end going to a club to seize the day as much as I could. And I would finish with a view on marina bay, with a sunrise and a coffee, to remember the most iconic place in Singapore.

HU: What do you like most about people from Singapore?

AP: They are just kind. They are easy to deal with when you get to know them. They are always keen on helping, that is what I like the most. They are well mannered, educated and smart, I like that.

Kind Singap

HU: What is Singapore’s main challenge today?

AP: I think it is how to deal with a changing economic situation. It is not as great as it used to be and new challenges arise such as unemployment and how to deal with foreign workforce. As a non Singaporean my main concern would be how Singapore is going to keep its momentum while keeping being welcoming to people like me willing to work and to succeed here.

HU: Actually we don’t here much about Singapore’s losing momentum in the press…

AP: No you won’t. Life is always sunny in Singapore. But if you discuss with people who have access to data, figures and deeper analysis you start to understand that the years ahead might be more challenging than what people think.

HU: What are the factors of the upcoming downturn that you are seing?

AP: The three key industries that were essential to Singapore, namely banking, shipping and oil and gas are not doing that well currently given the global economic downturn. Singapore is trying to achieve a transition to more value added industries such as the internet, electronics, in brief the digital industry. But these industry haven’t delivered what they were supposed to yet.

HU: Thank you for your insight. Now we are going to talk about HEC. To set up the scenery, what was your favorite place on the HEC campus?

AP: My favorite place, without a doubt was the restaurant. We had a tradition, every Thursday – you know what happen on Thursdays on campus, it is a pretty cool evening – we used to gather with a bunch a friends to share a dinner that we would buy in town. This is a fantastic memory to me, definitely the restaurant. It is pretty weird for a school right, people should remember the library…

HU: What is your best memory from HEC?

AP: I think it was my birthday party. All my friends from my promotion were there. We celebrated like crazy and I will never forget that night.

HU: Would you advise someone to go to HEC today? Why?

AP: Because quality is everywhere. Teachers, students, premices, lectures… It is probably the best you can get. You get to learn about yourself, you meet amazing people. There is a mix of international students from all over the world. It is very rich, very insightful. Forget what you think about that school, all the clichés, and just go for it.

HU: As you weren’t meant to go to HEC, it was a late decision, what were the clichés you had in mind regarding the school?

AP: It seems inaccessible, first. A bit posh probably, a bit arrogant – may be true – but it is much more than this.

HU: For which reason would you like to be contacted by an HEC alumnus?

AP: Simply because I did contact the HEC alumni when I first arrived in town and all of them, either replied to my queries, met me, helped me to start in Singapore. I just want to give back to the community what I received when I arrived in Singapore. Without these people, maybe I couldn’t find a job and I would have had to come back to France. I am very thankful. So should that be for just a coffee or if I can help them dealing with any issue they could encounter I would be more than happy to help.

HU: HEC’s motto is “the more you know, the more you dare”, what would be your own motto?

AP: Forget all you know and dare to restart thinking and learning.

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