Jean-Luc Allavena (H.86)
London. Jean-Luc has a strong sense of community and wants future generations to benefit from his work. For now he has created the HEC foundation scholarships, worked as chief of staff for the Prince of Monaco and is contributing to dozens of private and public initiatives. Will you remember him ?
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HU: Hello Jean-Luc, let’s start the Proust questionnaire. If you were a color, what would you be?
JLA: Blue, like HEC and the Mediterranean sea.
HU: An animal?
JLA: A cat because he always falls on his four feet.
HU: A meal?
JLA: Pasta, it makes me feel home and think of Italy, near my birthplace.
HU: A song?
JLA: It could be a song from the French singer Serge Reggiani, Ma liberté. Liberty is key and has been very important in my life.
HU: A movie?
JLA: A cult movie in the French tradition: Les tontons flingueurs.
HU: If you were a sin?
JLA: I don’t want to be a sin (laughs)
HU: A bad habit you would like to get rid of?
JLA: Having three mobile phones ringing at the same time.
HU: An object?
JLA: I’d love to be a pen. I love writing, communicating, as well as the elegance and shape of a pen.
HU: A sport or a game?
JLA: Tennis. I have been playing tennis all my life and I am involved in this world, so definitely tennis.
HU: A book?
JLA: Probably a history book. A very nice book of history about Monaco, my country, would be my choice.
HU: If you were a hero or a superhero?
JLA: I would be John F. Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. This is what I am trying to do here in London, in my own country or in France and it is important to have this mindset regarding the HEC community too.
“Working for a monarchy is a bit different from working for a democracy, because a monarchy is a long term player. You know that what you are going to do today is going to be valid for decades”
HU: Thank you! Now, could you sum your professional background up in just 30 seconds?
JLA: I graduated from HEC 30 years ago. I joined Paribas, then a group which is now Engie, called Lyonnaise des Eaux as a financial controller. Then I had the first major opportunity in my carreer to become the CFO of a group in packaging, Techpack. I became COO, CEO, chairman and eventually chairman of the division of Pechiney which owns this company. I then became the chief operating officer of Lagardère Media. I served my country as the first chief of staff of Prince Albert when he became the sovereign prince of Monaco. And ten years ago, after I was done with this mission I moved to London and became a partner of Apollo.
HU: How could you explain your job to a young kid?
JLA: Investing in companies in order to make them grow and more performing.
HU: Why did you chose to joint a financial institution after all these years managing larger groups?
JLA: Because I though that my experience and background in several companies would be helpful in order to take investment decisions, identify and source opportunities and manage them afterwards. I wanted to go, basically, on the other side of the table and leverage my track record as a manager.
HU: What are your days full of?
JLA: My days are full of contacts, here and in the various countries in which we are investing. Speaking to managers, to bankers, to lawyers, to advisors, identifying and sourcing new opportunities. Thinking about the best way of buying companies, improving their performance and ultimately selling them.
HU: Why did you chose to go and work as a civil servant for your country, Monaco?
JLA: First of all my roots are there. I was born and raised there, my family arrived there in the middle of the 19th century. All of them have been working there for several generations and I was the first one who decided to spend a lot of time abroad. So when I was asked by prince Rainier, and when he died by prince Albert, to serve the country I felt it was important to do it. Secondly, it is a lot of fun and a very interesting job because you have to think about the strategy that will determine the future of a country. It is a bit different from a democracy because a monarchy is a long term player. You know that what you are going to do today is going to be valid for decades. It was also a good way of giving a sense to my personal and business life to move from private business to civil service. I didn’t hesitate even if at the time it meant a lot for me living Lagardère – where I was n°2 – and changing completely my life. Also, I knew I wanted to go back to business once my job would be done, which was the case after 2 years.
HU: What does the chief of staff job look like?
JLA: Monaco is a small country: 2 square kilometers, 38 000 residents and close to 9 000 Monegasques. You are more talking about a small place harboring a large number of companies than a traditional country. At the beginning the job was to review the strategy. Prince Rainier had transformed his country thanks to his amazing job over 56 years. But when a new prince comes in charge you have to review the position of the country. Its strengths, weaknesses, image… And we started to do a lot with prince Albert to design the new orientation of Monaco. To give you an example, in the 21st century small countries have been under scrutiny by the G20 to stick to the international rules and respect a certain number of ethical standards. This was a first major orientation that Prince Albert gave at the time, it was completely new and ten years later you can witness the success the country has thanks to this. Thinking about new projects, revisiting the strategy and making sure it is adapted to the population were the most important tasks I was involved in. Obviously you also have the day-to-day job of running a country with more than 4000 civile servants.
HU: As you have worked for Largardère Media, could you share your opinion on the challenges the media are facing today, from a management and strategic point of view?
JLA: I joined Lagardère in 2000 and I worked there until 2005 as a chief operating officer of the whole groupe. It was exactly when digital appeared. So I have been through the vision and evaluation of the changes that would happen due to the arrival of digital. 15 years later the world has changed even more than we thought at the time. You are talking about magazines, book publishing, distribution, radio, TV … the scope of that group at the time which had more than 30 000 employees and 15 billion euros sales has changed a lot. Some of these businesses have become 90% digital. You have seen how the magazines have changed and for most of them moved to a different business model. Same for book publishing, which is quite a modern business today because they have invested on innovation. For me this experience has been major because I was living the beginning of a new era. I think investing on creative people, innovation, having new business models and having digital at the heart of the system are the main advices I would give to a manager in these activities today. Everything has changed but it is just the beginning. I have four daughters. They spend a few hours a day on their smartphones, they don’t watch TV the way we did, they don’t read any newspaper, they don’t buy magazines because they find information on any kind of website. We have completely different ways of life !
HU: Let’s talk about London now. You have been living there for ten years. Where do you hang out on Sunday afternoons?
JLA: Probably in hide park or another one of the great parks in the city. When you want to think, when you want to have a beautiful landscape and enjoy the clean city. This would of course be during summer time. During winter time I would go to galleries or museum. It is amazing how this city has aggregated artworks coming from all over the world over time.
HU: Being honest, when does summer REALLY begin and ends in London?
JLA: Usually it starts at the beginning of May and ends early August. But you don’t care. It is a very active city. You have so many things to do and you are not relying upon the weather. To be very honest, coming from Monaco I am used to 300 sunny days a year … and I don’t pay attention to this. We are working hard, there is a lot in the cultural world and you meet a lot of different people.
About Brexit: “What I observed since I have been here is the Brits’ capacity to reinvent their model and I don’t have any doubt of the country’s success in the future, with a different relashionship with the E.U countries”
HU: What do you like about people from London?
JLA: They are very international because of history and language. People are coming from all over the world to live in London, especially if they want to leave in Europe, even if it is going to have another meaning following the Brexit. What I like is their being open, active, bright and most of all civilized. British and non British pay a lot of attention to the others and to their behavior. This is an unusual thing nowadays and I enjoy it a lot on a day to day basis.
HU: What is the U.K’s main challenge today to your opinion.
JLA: A few weeks ago I would have had a different answer but the Brexit is definitely their main challenge today. My opinion is that there will be short term consequences, we are talking about a recession in 2017, jobs will be lost in the banking system and the country will probably be hurt during a year or two. What I observed since I have been here is the Brits’ capacity to reinvent their model and I don’t have any doubt of the country’s success in the future, with a different relationship with the E.U countries. I am confident they will find a new way of cooperating with the E.U. It is not the end of the story, it is just a new and different story that is starting now. The new government is ready, there is a minister in charge of the negociations with the E.U and I think they are strong enough to create a successful new approach in the long term.
HU: As a financial investor, what does the Brexit change for you?
JLA: I would say it is only positive. When a country dislocates or when there is a big change in its organization, when it is being restructured, for investors it is always the source of new opportunities. So I am confident this will create new possible investments in good conditions. Look at real estates, over the past weeks prices went down, some projects stopped, some of the companies have difficulties: those are opportunities. In these conditions we can play our role and invest.
HU: Do you think London risks losing its importance in the euro zone?
JLA: Losing importance: I don’t think so. Having banks in London deciding to reallocate part of their activities within the EU: definitely, for technical reasons such as the European passeports for investors. In the meantime I think there will be other opportunities and developments here. When we are talking about recession in 2017 it is because investors hate the lack of visibility, so it will just be a stop and go.
HU: Let’s talk about HEC now! Let’s go back in time, 1983, 1982 ?
JLA: I arrived on the 5th of September 1983 on the campus.
“The way things worked on the campus, the friends I made and the project I got involved in really changed my personality”
HU: All right! What was your favourite part of the campus back then?
JLA: What we call the K-fet, the cafeteria. That’s where we could meet other students, friends and alumni. I liked the contact with the others so that was my favorite place.
HU: What is your best memory from your years at HEC?
JLA: Probably, just after a few months, when I won the students’ board campaign with a group of friends. That was the first major project that I ever had to lead. The first group of friends, the first people I managed, the first project and its success, every time I am at HEC I think about what we achieved. Our student board was called Borsalino, which refers to the south of France and the preparatory class I used to study at.
HU: So you chose the name of the student board?
JLA: Yes I did. I was accepted to HEC with 20 other students from my school in Nice. Most of the students coming from Paris had a few doubts about 21 students being accepted from the same preparatory class in Nice. They suspected that we had combined something. So we decided to stick to this “bad boys” image and called our team Borsalino. I have great memories and most of these friends are still very close friends today. This is part of the HEC culture that we cultivate. This is probably why I have been so involved in our community for 30 years now.
“I wanted that the generation that would follow mine knew that we had dedicated our resources, our money, our energy to the improvement of the system”
HU: When did you decide to get involved in the HEC community?
JLA: It was immediate, first of all because the 3 years I spent on the campus have been very important for me. As I told you I was born and raised in Monaco and when I arrived to Paris it was a completely new life for me. The way things worked on the campus, the friends I made and the project I got involved in really changed my personality. So first of all I am very grateful to HEC for having received such a huge amount of knowledge and most of all human relashionships and understanding of the business world. Even now I like going back to the campus and I am there rather often because of my being involved in the community, the strategy of the school and the chamber of commerce. Very quickly after I left the school, finance professor Mr Vernimmen asked me to come and work to the school’s finance department a few hours a week to teach. Then in 1991 the chairman of the HEC Alumni association, Didier Pineau-Valencienne, asked me to join the board in order to represent the new generation. And then I served. I have used the term for my country but I did the same for HEC. I always consider that I was born for the first time in Monaco in 1953 and 30 years later for the second time in Jouy-en-Josas when I arrived at HEC. This is very deep and very important to me.
HU: You also played an important part in the modernization of the HEC foundation. Could you tell us more about it?
JLA: The HEC foundation was created in 1972. It aimed at gathering some support from for student scholarships and professor research. Didier Pineau-Valencienne relaunched it in 1981 and signed some partnerships with large companies. Ten years later I introduced the fundraising by individuals. As you may know, at that time no HEC alumni had ever given money to the school. It was just because nobody was ever asked to do so! I just copied the American system and created this part of the HEC foundation between 2003 and 2005 when I was chairman of the foundation. I launched the first campaign with some friends who shared the same vision. It was a very interesting experience to introduce a new process into a deeply traditional institution as the HEC Alumni association. I dedicated roughly 5 to 6 years doing the two mandates, chairman of the HEC foundation and chairman of what we would call today HEC Alumni. Of course I had been involved before in the HEC community, I had been in charge of the careers, I was vice chairman, I drove a certain number of projects… You cannot be candidate to lead the HEC community, you are selected because you have contributed to some of its actions. In 2001 I was asked by Maurice de Kervénoaël, my predecessor, to become the chairman. Then obviously it never ended as I became honorary chairman of the two institutions, a member of the international advisory board of HEC and I am still involved today.
HU: What was the rationale behind creating a fund that was financed by the HEC alumni?
JLA: I thought that our community needed such an important project in order to be altogether and to dedicate our energy to the future. At that time I wanted that the generation that would follow mine knew that we had dedicated our resources, our money, our energy to the improvement of the system. The first group of people that I formed in 2005 was a group of 10 people totalizing 2 million euros in donation. It aimed at creating a new fund dedicated to paying for the tuition fees of the students whose families couldn’t pay. It was important to show that in the French system, the so-called elite was taking care of everybody. My successor Daniel Bernard did a tremendous job in increasing the size of the fund and today students can benefit from this system and we can be proud of that. We have collected globally 150 million euros. There is now roughly 10,000 people who have given something to HEC, which is 20% of HEC’s global population, it is incredible!
“Understanding the experience of other people, comparing, getting information, understanding the various way of living are key factors of success in your projects”
HU: Following HEC’s becoming independent from the Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCIP) in 2015, what are the next steps for the school?
JLA: I wouldn’t say it is independent because the CCIP still has full control, but it is a separate entity with autonomy. This is very important in order to have more flexibility, to be more reactive because the status of a chamber of commerce imposes constraints that were not suitable to a school. What’s more, we are all very grateful to the chamber of commerce for having created HEC in 1881 and making it as successful as it is today.
The strategy that will be followed is determined by a board where all stake holders sit. HEC Alumni, the HEC foundation, professors, students, the CCIP, academics and business personalities: all the competencies have been assembled in order to give the best orientations to HEC with a goal to get a better ranking every year.
HU: What advice would you give to a fresh HEC graduate?
JLA: First of all: discover the world. It is very important to travel, to be international, to discover different cultures, to understand a bit how things work in different places. The more you do it the more you will learn and understand, so the sooner you start, the better. The second point is to be open. Ask others for a meeting, like today, or a chat! Understanding the experience of other people, comparing, getting information, understanding the various way of living are key factors of success in your projects. Be curious on a daily basis ! Third, as I mentioned how much I like people in London being so “civilized” I would say: be humble. There is a lot to learn at all ages and everyone has to give back the respect and the ideas that he has received. Your parents have given a lot to you, your school has given a lot to you, afterwards you have to build your own experience but as soon as you can you have to give back! Sometimes I hear alumni saying: “now I am older, I start a new life and I want to give back”. I don’t think it is right, I think that from day one you can give something. If you have one year professional experience, you can check who is an intern in your company and you can already contribute and share your experience. You can help in many different ways and for me it has always been like that. I am involved in 10 to 15 foundations, not all of these positions are public because I am not always in charge. I give them money, time, attention to a large number of them and I think it is very important to dedicate 10% of your time, and ultimately of your money, to this kind of action. You can also do it if you want to be involved into politics. These associations are changing the world too. I think that with the HEC foundation we changed something in France. Look at the number of schools creating foundations today! We were at the beginning of this, we spoke to many other great schools to tell them about our experience.
At HEC we are all team players, when you are done with your project you find a successor, this successor is doing better than yourself and that’s the goal. That is why it works, it is a very sophisticated and efficient system forged by more of a century of people who enjoyed studying at HEC, got a large number of friends there and therefore who have been involved in the future of HEC during their whole business career and their whole life. I wish you have the same kind of experience, it is very pleasant!
HU: HEC’s motto is “the more you know, the more you dare”, what is your own motto?
JLA: Always think big. Do what you want but do it well, and think big.
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