Pierre Kosciusko-Morizet (H.99)
The Crazy Entrepreneur
Paris. Pierre welcomed us in his office for a short and punchy interview. Sitting cross-legged, his enthusiasm and energy were contagious and we had a really pleasant time talking about his career, his current dreams, France… and of course HEC.
Read full transcript…
HEC United: Hi Pierre! Thank you for welcoming us.
Let’s start with a little Chinese Portrait: we are going to ask you short questions and you will have to answer with just one word and justify it if you want. Are you ready ?
Ok, so if you were… a color?
H: An animal?
PKM: A lobster. A Brittany lobster, not the lobsters from Maine, which are a bit brown, I am the blue lobster.
H: A meal?
PKM: Foie gras (laughs)
H: A song?
PKM: I would be Avec le Temps from Léo Ferré
H: A movie?
PKM: That’s a good question… A Wim Wender’s movie.
H: Anyone in particular?
PKM: Wings of Desire (Der Himmel Über Berlin)
H: A sin?
PKM: (hesitates)… Lust.
H: An object?
PKM: Maybe a plane.
H: A sport or a game?
H: A book?
PKM: Happiness, a book on happiness…
H: A (super)hero? It can be Superman or a real person.
PKM: I would be reptile-man.
PKM: It’s my Burning Man outfit. It’s very nice. It’s gold, not exactly latex but very close to the body.
H: And you wore it during the Burning Man festival? When did you go?
PKM: Yes it was pretty cool, I was there a month ago. It’s full of entrepreneurs you know! (laughs)
“I don’t need more money and I don’t need more success or whatever, so I really thought about what meaning I wanted and I think that trying to make the world a little bit a better place is a big meaning.”
H: One proper transition to talk about your career now! Can you try to sum it up in just 30 seconds?
PKM: Ok. During my last year at HEC I founded a company called Visualis, which was doing consulting in retail with tech components. It failed so I closed it after a year or so. I went to USA and worked for Capital One in credit business. I initiated the internet business of the unit I was in and discovered the internet as a business there. I came back to France to launch Priceminister.com. Priceminister became the biggest e-commerce site in France and we sold it to Rakuten, a Japanese group, in 2010. I launched 2 investments funds: one called ISAI Gestion, that I co-launched, and one called Kernel, which is my holding. I became Head of Rakuten for Europe and then left Rakuten in 2014. And now I launched PJX10, which is kind of a code-name for “Finding the next big thing”, with a team of 15: 4 co-founders and 10 “associates”.
H: Can you tell us more about PJX10?
PKM: We are looking for a big idea that we want to be global, potentially big, with a value of 10 billion, and useful. In English we would probably say “impactful”. There are many things we want to change or we could change. So we are doing only one company but for the moment we are looking in 4 sectors that are: education, food and agriculture, energy and health. In all these 4 sectors, there are plenty useful things to do.
H: What makes you wake up every morning?
PKM: My alarm clock. (laughs) But besides, I guess I am a bit restless. I need to do things all the time and I decided to focus on things that make some sense. Trying to build companies that are creative and add something to the life of others is a thing I like to do and that makes a lot of sense.
(Thinks) It’s funny: when I started my first company I saw people saying that they wanted to change the world and I was thinking “Ok this is bullshit, you just want your company to get bigger or that kind of stuff”… But once you made a beautiful company and you sold it well, you are looking for a meaning in life. Obviously I don’t need more money and I don’t need more success or whatever, so I really thought about what meaning I wanted and I think that trying to make the world a little bit a better place is a big meaning.
“I do music actually. I write music and I sing.”
H: What’s the typical PKM working day?
PKM: I am minute by minute based, to be efficient. I wake up at 7:30am. I swim for an hour. I am here (PJX10 offices) at 9:30am. Half an hour emails, then meetings with my co-founders, to discuss where we are and what we want to do. Then meeting with my team to know where we are on one specific subject. Everyone presents his work. Then one hour of brainstorming with all the team during lunch. We all have to come with one idea for a new company and we discuss that together. Usually quick lunch – sashimi – over my keyboard.
And then in the afternoon I have meetings. I don’t want to have too many external meetings because I like to be with the team and to look for new ideas. But I have meetings with some very interesting people. And I also need to take time for myself to think about what we really want to do. I am trying to be as creative as possible now, whereas of course when we will be in the execution phase, I will have many more 15-30 minutes meetings to make decisions. But right now I am not making decisions, I am trying to be creative.
H: Have you coped with a difficult choice in your professional life?
PKM: I think professional life is easy. Personal life is difficult.
H: What do you do on Sunday afternoons to relax?
PKM: Usually I am in Brittany, I have a place there, where I am swimming or fishing. Well not usually, one a month. I travel a lot. And I do music actually. I write music and I sing. It would probably my typical Sunday afternoon if I am not travelling.
“I like to sit on the terrace of cafés and look at the people, walking by.”
H: Talking about Paris now. If you had only 24 hours left to live in Paris, what would you do?
H: And if it’s Friday?
PKM: I would look for an electro party, probably. (smiles)
H: What do you like most about Parisians?
PKM: It’s strange… I mean there not very polite and they are quite grumpy but when I am away I miss them, sometimes.
Frankly, I think the Parisians dress well. That’s a city where it’s nice to look at the people. Tokyo is more fun and Japanese are special whereas Parisians are classy. You see the difference when you come from the USA, really. (laughs)
I like to sit on the terrace of cafés and look at the people, walking by.
H: What is France’s issue that matter the most to you?
PKM: There are two sides of France. One side is very dynamic, with many younger and younger entrepreneurs who build companies. It’s the part of France that I see the most and I am feeling a great energy. The other part of France is struck by unemployment and says no to globalization. And what worries me is seeing these two sides drifting away.
I think the way to change that is to make lot of reforms but the problem is that the first side knows we have to go through the reforms but the other side, that is experiencing very hard times and suffers from globalization, is not ready to make them. We’ll have to hit the wall, hurt ourselves a bit and then realize we have to change. I’ve been saying that for 10 years but we’re quite resilient so we haven’t really hit the wall yet and many people have not understood how dramatic the change needs to be.
But it can go pretty quickly! If you look at Germany, they changed many things in just 10 years so I am pretty positive. I imagine that one day, we will stop being resilient, we will go down, hard, and then go back up.
“I liked being there, on the campus. I have so many good memories.”
H: Talking about HEC now, what was your favorite place on the HEC campus?
PKM: It’s easier: the rugby pitch, or the Students Union’s place (BDE). I guess you stopped to have the Vilain Petit Canard, the newspaper, right? I was responsible of the newspaper so I spent a lot of time doing that in a specific location of the Students Union’s place. And also the Zinc was cool.
I liked being there, on the campus. I have so many good memories.
H: And if you had one memory to keep?
PKM: Well the Thursday’s parties were pretty cool. But I guess every student of HEC would say that ! (laughs)
H: Would you advise to someone to go to HEC Paris today?
PKM: I think more and more. HEC Paris is more and more open, more and more global and the level of the students is continuously increasing, because we are going away from 50-years-ago model and right now we adopted a “business-school” model: people want to go to HEC to benefit from this very broad and open programs. HEC Paris is really a great school and I can see that in the Tech industry: there are many very creative HEC alumni, being entrepreneurs and taking risks.
H: If you had one advice to give to a 20-year-old HEC?
PKM: I would be tempted to say “You should create your company” but I don’t think it suits to everyone. I would say “Be demanding to your job and do what you really like”. That’s an advice for your whole life in general, so don’t do something you don’t really like. It’s specially important for work. Don’t do something because people tell you it’s a good way to start your career or whatever, this is bullshit. Because you are only optimizing your qualities if you do what you like.
We also asked Pierre for his personal moto, and he gave it to us. You will discover it at the end of our trip along with all the other ones!
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