Jing Legrand (H.98)
Pride and Tolerance
Shanghai. Jing welcomed us in Altavia’s brand new and arty offices. She was among the first Chinese students to join the Grande Ecole program in HEC and is still today, as CEO of the Chinese branch of a french group, a bridge between France and China.
Read full transcript…
HU: Hi Jing, as the tradition goes, we are going to start with a quick Chinese portrait. So, if you were… a color?
JL: Maybe Marsala, it is the mix of red and brown.
HU: If you were an animal?
HU: If you were a meal?
JL: Street food. Because it is just simply perfect. It is made with ordinary ingredients but they are really delicious and it is also linked with the local culture.
HU: A song?
JL: It is a difficult question because I remember more the moment I shared with friends or family listening to the music than the song in itself. And if you ask me my favorite song I could hardly reply because it really depends on my mood.
HU: A movie?
JL: Same as for the song.
HU: No movie comes spontaneously to your mind as one you like?
JL: I could tell you about the latest one I have watched. It was Kung Fu Panda 3. I went to the cinema with my second daughter and we had a wonderful moment together.
HU: An object?
HU: A sport or a game?
JL: I like running, maybe marathon.
HU: A hero or a superhero?
JL: I admire those kind of genius people who change the world but still live quite ordinary lives like Zuckerberg.
HU: Thanks! Now, could you sum up your professional background in just 30 seconds?
JL: I finished my studies at HEC in 1998. There were three steps after that. The first one was consulting. I have worked with Ernst & Young, then Capgemini. The second step was corporate finance. I was in charge of finance functions for the operations in China of two French groups: Five and Publicis. The third step is my moving to Altavia to take the general management of the Chinese branch.
“When you work in finance you usually deal with people who have a similar profile as you do. In general management you have to manage teams with diversified profiles and you have to make them work together”
HU: Did you have to cope with a difficult choice in your professional life? What did it teach you?
JL: For sure there are lots of difficult choices in the professional life and personal life. But I personally try, once I have made a choice, to prove myself and people that I was right. For instance, Altavia was my first experience in general management. Before coming here I had met the founder of the company through a friend and I knew nothing about the company. After two months discussing with the founder I had not seen a single financial document of the company. It was not easy for me to make the decision but I followed my heart and said to myself “why not trying” and I have been there for seven years now.
HU: In your opinion what are the main differences between finance functions and general management?
JL: I think there are many differences. As a former finance person I have some pillars on which I can build my skills for my management style. The main difference is that when you work in finance you usually deal with people who have a similar profile as you do. In general management you have to manage teams with diversified profiles and you have to make them work together to strengthen the team. The second thing is that as a general manager you are on the first line and not on the second line, although finance is an important strategic partner. The third point is that when you come from finance, you have to develop your commercial skills to be a good general manager.
HU: How did you manage to step up and build the skills you needed to be a good general manager?
JL: The easiest way is to be open-minded, try to learn and not to be afraid by new things.
HU: What makes you happy to go to work every morning?
JL: It is the team and the environment. I will tell you a little story which happened last Friday. Someone from my team came to see me and we spent one hour discussing the family challenges she was facing. She was really sad and felt stressed about the situation. After one hour discussion she told me she was feeling much better. At that moment I felt really happy that I did something helpful for someone, on one side. On the other side, I felt really grateful for her trust. I felt that I was not only treated as a boss, but also as a friend. It is these warm moments that make me happy to go to work. As a symbol, you can see that the environment in which we are working is quite inspiring as well.
HU: What is your typical working day?
JL: Normally I wake up at 6:30am, if the pollution is not too heavy I go out and run for about one hour. I come to the office at 9am. I usually spend half an hour to plan the day with my assistant. In the morning I have usually one or two internal or external meetings. I would lunch with the teams or with partners and in the afternoon the meetings continue. I usually keep two hours at the end of the day to work on my desk and reply to emails from the group or sister companies.
HU: What is Altavia’s strategy?
JL: Altavia is a French group founded 30 years ago. We are specialized in commercial communication. We have 30 subsidiaries in Europe and in Asia we are in China, Japan and Korea. China operations have started ten years ago, we have just celebrated our tenth anniversary at the beginning of this year. We have now 5 officies in China. Shanghai is the operational headquarter but we are also in Beijing, Guangzhou, Chengdu and we have opened Hong Kong last year.
We are specialized in retail, we help our clients attract their customers into their physical shops or online plateforms, convert those visits into purchase and keep them loyal to the brand. This year, our core strategy is digitalization of our teams and our offering.
HU: What does digitalizing teams and offering means?
JL: Our offering is based on two pillars: creativity and optimization. So we will try and leverage digital means to be more creative and efficient by introducing information system related tools.
HU: Is there a project of a client you are particularly proud of?
JL: We are proud of everything we are doing with our clients and we are proud to be part of the success of our clients in China. Each client has different challenges at different moments and as far as we feel that we have done something helpful for them, we are proud.
HU: How do you differentiate from your competitors?
JL: We are facing a lot of competition on each segment on which we have an offer. The retail thinking and integrated solutions make us different from our current competitors.
HU: To give us some color on your business, could you tell us about a recent project you have been working on?
JL: We are talking more and more about content management. Nowadays the number of communication channels is increasing for international groups, especially when they have many brands. So we try to think about how to optimize the way they manage their communication contents to reduce the costs and the time to market. Recently we have worked on a project in this area and we believe there is a lot of potential for development
HU: What do you mean by “content”?
JL: The content I am talking about is visual content. So it is about standardizing the visuals and their format in order to be able to share them between channels and between brands. There is indeed room for optimization through standardization, introduction of information systems and introducing a critical view on the company’s process.
HU: So you are also a bit of a consulting firm?
JL: Yes, however we are also in charge of the implementation of the solutions we offer and we make sure that our suggestions can be implemented successfully.
HU: Now we are going to talk about your city, Shanghai. Where do you hang out during your free time?
JL: Shanghai is a city with a lot of heritage, including art déco. So my favourite activity is to walk in the street and find a sleeping beauty building.
HU: In which part of Shanghai can we find these sleeping beauties you are talking about?
JL: In the French Concession. Actually, here we are in the heart of the French concession. Just three minutes walking from here there is a museum of a famous Hungarian architect called Hudec. If you have time don’t hesitate to go and visit it. He has designed a lot of very famous buildings in Shanghai.
HU: If you had only 24 hours left to live in Shanghai, what would you do?
JL: I would probably go running in the morning as it is a good way of looking at the city. Afterwards I would do something to make my children happy. I would bring them to the waterpark with their friends. In the evening we will have a gathering with the family and the close friends to say goodbye.
HU: What is you running itinerary?
JL: It depends on the weather. Usually I run in the street in the French concession until the Bund.
HU: What do you like the most about people in Shanghai?
JL: I think Shanghai people have a high standard of service. They are demanding in terms of services they are receiving but at the same time they are challenging to themselves in order to deliver. If you compare the taxis between Beijing and Shanghai you will see how Shanghai taxis are well managed and maintained.
“I am very grateful to HEC for having accepted us and trained us not as special students but as normal students”
HU: What is today’s China challenge that matters the most to you?
JL: Environment and all subjects linked to environment including food safety and air pollution. For instance I always check it before going for a run.
HU: Now we will go back in time a little bit and talk about HEC. What is your best memory from HEC?
JL: At my time, there were not many Chinese students at school, we were five. I joined HEC on the second year and at that time some students were reluctant about teaming with Chinese students. I totally understand because people didn’t know much about China, and on our side we didn’t have much opportunity to go abroad so we had less international exposure and were not very open either. But after two or three months French students started to know us better, and they invited us to join them for the group works. The moment I received the first invitation was a very touching moment for me.
HU: Why would you like to be contacted by an HEC alumnus?
JL: First, I would like to say that I am very grateful to HEC for having accepted us and trained us not as special students but as normal students. It is time for us to do also something for HEC. That’s why we will always be ready to share our experience to the younger generation. Maybe we are not saying right but at least it is a different point of view and it could be helpful for them.
HU: What would you advise to a young HEC graduate?
JL: They are all very brilliant. I would avise them to do all the efforts to prove their choices are right.
HU: Isn’t it possible that a choice is not right and that you fail?
JL: In this case the choice turned out to be a failure at the end. But still, you can learn from this failure, so the choice wasn’t a bad choice after all.
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