Viviane Salin & Vincent Rosa (H.02)
Bonnie & Clyde
Singapore. There are many HEC couples, but they are not so many couples where the two HEC work together as well. Viviane and Vincent do. Those two out-of-the-box alumni were not happy in the corporate world : 4 years ago, Viviane and Vincent founded a French-English bilingual school in Singapore, La Petite Ecole, welcoming children from 3 to 6 years old in a multicultural environment.
Read full transcript…
HU: Viviane and Vincent, thank you very much for welcoming us in La Petite Ecole for this couple interview. We are going to start with the Chinese portrait, but we are going to do it a bit differently. Viviane is going to answer and Vincent and Vincent about Viviane. So Viviane, if Vincent was a color, what would he be?
Viviane: Blue. I like when he wears blue.
Vincent: Pink for her, because she is very girly.
HU: An animal?
Viviane: I can hear my children say: “Monkey”, because of…(laughs)
Vincent: (showing his hairy chest) Because of this! And Viviane would be a cat.
HU: A meal?
Viviane: He likes to eat Chinese dishes, like dumpling or Chinese noodles. He really likes Chinese cuisine.
Vincent: For her it would be black pepper crab. It’s the national dish in Singapore and she is very fund of it.
HU: A song?
Vincent: I know, it doesn’t look like it. But Viviane listens to Amel Bent.
Viviane: (Laughs) I don’t listen to Amel Bent! Well I like the lyrics.
HU: NTM vs Amel Bent, little clash of civilizations in perspective! La Belle et le Bad Boy. What about a movie?
Viviane: The Godfather or something like that.
Vincent: Maybe Breaking Bad. It’s a TV show we watched together when we were starting up the school and the story kind of reminds us what we are doing as well.
HU: What??? (laughs)
Vincent: The main character is a businessman, trying to do something new!
HU: Ok, ok. Well we hope you found the secret recipe. What about a sin?
Vincent: Yeah. And for her it’s gluttony.
HU: An object?
Viviane: His IPhone! (laughs)
Vincent: Fair enough. I am addicted. For you it would be a bed, because Viviane is a big sleeper.
HU: A sport or a game?
Viviane: Football for Vincent.
Vincent: She wouldn’t be a sport!
Viviane: I dance, no? (laughs)
HU: A book?
Viviane: Vincent would be one of Charles Bukowski’s books, maybe.
Vincent: Maybe one of those girly books you always talk to me about. She tells me the whole story so I don’t need to read them!
HU: A (super)hero?
Viviane: Maybe a famous football player, like Messi!
Vincent: Yeah! Viviane often mentions Sheryl Sandberg, the No.2 of Facebook.
Viviane: Yes, she also wrote a book on feminism called Lean In.
Viviane: “I need to be creative and to have responsibilities in what I am doing. I can’t be just a number in a big company.”
HU: End of the little game. Let’s talk a bit more about you. For this one, can each one of you sum up his own professional background in just 30 seconds? Let’s start with you Vincent.
Vincent: When I graduated in 2002 I started with Ernst & Young, where I spent 2 years in audit. Then I worked for Louis Dreyfus in Paris for a couple of years before moving to Singapore with Louis Dreyfus. Then I joined the investment bank of Société Générale, then the investment bank of Standard Chartered before we decided to open our school La Petite Ecole. That was 4 years ago.
HU: Why did you decide to shift from the “traditional” career path you were following to this entrepreneurial and educational project?
Vincent: I don’t want to sound too negative, but in investment banking, I was inspired neither by what I was doing, nor by the people I was working with. I felt like I really needed a fresh start.
When we opened the school I kept my banking job during 6 months because we needed an income but when we saw there was work to be done at school I resigned. Honestly, I never look back and I don’t miss my banking days.
HU: What about you Viviane?
Viviane: No big names for me, only small companies. I started in video production company called Omnitem. Then I moved to an event company called Marketplace, where I was a copy writer. When we moved to Singapore I took a break from the corporate world. I wanted to do something else so I came to my passion of playing and teaching the violin. I was teaching in several schools and privately and I played for the Opera in Singapore when we opened La Petite Ecole!
HU: We think you may be the first HEC graduate who became a professional violinist! Why did you decide to first work in small companies? Why don’t you like big corporations?
Viviane: I guess everyone I different. I need to be creative and to have responsibilities in what I am doing. I can’t be just a number in a big company. Maybe doing a business school wasn’t the good choice! When I was at HEC, I declined an offer from L’Oreal and from Mazars (Vincent laughs), because it was not me.
Vincent: Viviane and I are not really made for the corporate world, but Viviane knew it from the beginning, not me.
Viviane: The biggest company I went to was Canal+, for an internship, but I didn’t like it. Maybe the problem comes from the fact that the “business school stamp” you put on your resume brings you to expected jobs and expected tasks…
But still, I wanted to find my own way so I first looked at small and creative companies. I also had the dream of becoming an artist. I was not good enough to be an artist or a violinist in France, where living from a passion is very hard. I could make it in Singapore. It was fantastic to play in an orchestra. We even played the Swan Lake with the Bolchoi ballet once!
Viviane: “I am not going to hide it, it was a selfish decision: we wanted our own business, our own school for our own children.”
HU: Talking about la Petite Ecole, what makes you happy to go to work every morning, now?
Vincent: It’s great to be our own bosses! That’s a good feeling when I compare it to my previous jobs. I am also very happy to spend the whole week with my wife! (Laughs) It’s nice to share everything.
Viviane: Being my own boss is cool is agree! We are in charge of everything and endorse many responsibilities. It’s sometimes difficult of course, because we are at the receiving end so everything is ours to solve. Another great thing is that we never know what the day will bring: we are daily working with people, for education, it’s very enriching.
(Looking at Vincent) And I also like working with you!
Vincent: Oh yeah! (laughs)
HU: Who’s the boss?
Vincent: That’s a very good question.
Viviane: We have the same question at home.
Vincent: No, at home she’s the boss, for sure. But here, we try to split the responsibilities because we don’t want our disagreements to generate tensions.
Viviane: Vincent is in charge of all the finance and administrative matters, whereas I am more dealing with the relation and commercial side of the school, with the parents, the teachers and the director of the pedagogy. But we are 2 bosses.
Vincent: There is an overlap. If a teacher comes to me and asks me a question, I am not going to tell this teacher: “See this with Viviane”.
Viviane: And this is a challenge for us. It’s a challenge working as a couple. It started like a family school, with our own son, our daughter is now in the school. But it has to grow from a family business to a more professional and structured business.
Our strategy is now to go overseas and to open new branches in other countries, so our roles will need to be more separate, to be more effective.
Vincent: “Most of our job as bosses consists in conflict resolution: between children, between employees, between parents and a teacher… It is as time-consuming as it is important because we want to keep the good reputation of our school.”
HU: How did you get the idea?
Viviane: I got the idea. It was at a moment in our lives when we wanted to change, to be ourselves and to be happy at work. We didn’t want to be just one employee in a big corporation anymore.
At the same time our kids were growing here in Singapore and we didn’t want to put them in the French school, which was in monopoly. There was a strong demand for an alternative structure: a smaller and more “family-like” school with more English and international values. A different mind-set. We were part of this demand and wanted something different for our children as well.
I am not going to hide it, it was a selfish decision: we wanted our own business, our own school for our own children. Something like that. (Looking at Vincent for approbation)
Vincent: She had the idea!
HU: What is your educational project?
Viviane: We want to offer them something very French and international at the same time. Very French because we follow the French program, which means that children who did La Petite Ecole can continue in the French system and even in France. But at the same time we want the children to opened to the world. We are living in a very international world here in Singapore so we want them to be comfortable in all these different cultures.
We added the Anglo-Saxon approach and a little bit of Montessori inspirations with all the game-based learning tools and… What else? You usually finish my sentences.
Vincent: No, it’s good! We wanted to create a caring environment. It’s a green school as well, we are in a green environment and the main thing is that it’s a bilingual school. This was the most important aspect of our project. It’s a 50/50 program for all children, not only French children. At pre-school age, we believe that all children can follow this program, even if they don’t speak French.
HU: Even if you don’t have a typical working day, what are your usual tasks?
Viviane: We arrive at school at 8:00am. The first we do is to welcome the children and the parents when they arrive. The rest of the day is full of meetings with parents to solve problems. Some kids feel bullied or isolated so we try to fix it with the parents, the children and the teachers. We also have visits from parents who are contemplating to put their children in our school. We answer their questions, we show them the school and we explain our project.
Vincent: I have other tasks like accounting or monthly tasks such as payrolls for instance. But it’s true that most of our job as bosses consists in conflict resolution: between children, between employees, between parents and a teacher, through meetings or emails. It is as time-consuming as it is important because we want to keep the good reputation of our school and we don’t want any issue to blow-up.
Viviane: I want just add that because we are very international, we have to deal with French teachers, who are in the French mind-set of “Éducation Nationale” (i.e. Ministry of Education in France) but also with English, American and Canadian teachers who have a different approach, as well as Singaporean employees. It’s not always easy to make everyone working together in what remains a very small team.
Finally, what would like to do more is to work on the international development of our school.
Viviane: “There are 3 ethnic groups in Singapore: Chinese, Malays and Indian people. The 3 communities live in harmony. The government has done a lot to maintain this harmony and people with different religions and traditions respect each other.”
HU: What has been the evolution of la Petite Ecole over the past 4 years? And tell us a bit more on your international development strategy.
Vincent: We started with only two classrooms. We had 17 children in the school, including our son. Since then we have opened new classrooms every year. At the end of the first year we had 50 children in the school. Today we have 136 children and we will open a 7th classroom next year, allowing us to have 160 children in La Petite Ecole.
In September 2015, we opened a nursery called La Petite Crèche in a different area of Singapore, close to the Lycée Français of Singapore, where there are 14 very young children.
Viviane: The plan for the future is to create a brand “La Petite Ecole”. We know it may be a little shocking for French people to consider a school as a company, but that’s what we are and we are proud of it. The Anglo-Saxon schools have done it very well, that’s why they have been able to develop branches in so many different countries. It’s not natural for French schools, because everything is coming from the French government.
The big thing we need to work on is our branding, in order to open new branches. We want to implement our idea and our pedagogy in other cities like Bangkok, Ho-Chi-Minh and maybe in Australia too. The French community is expanding strongly overseas and there is an increasing demand for small and different French school overseas.
The Ministry of Education in France identified this need, but they don’t have the resources so they rely on private actors like us.
HU: So it’s a real entrepreneurial project!
Viviane: Yes, and we actually won the French entrepreneur award given by the Singapore French Chamber of Commerce in 2015. For us it’s a great recognition from the business world.
Vincent: It was also cool to go there and pitch our project. We prepared for what was a real contest, it was fun!
HU: Did it bring you some clients?
Viviane: It was a way to advertise and to maybe find some investors.
Vincent: A good opportunity to network.
HU: Are you looking for investors?
Vincent: If we want to expand overseas we are going to need investors.
HU: Let’s talk about Singapore now, where you have been living for 10 years now. Where do you hang out on Sunday afternoons?
Vincent: When I am not playing football we try to go outside, either to East Cost Park, where we can play by the beach with our children and have a picnic, or to walk in the forest as well.
Viviane: We also like to go to Pulau Ubin, a little island next to Singapore or we just stay at home by the pool.
Vincent: We try to avoid the over-developed areas of Singapore, with all the shopping malls and skyscrapers and there is a lot to do in terms of nature in Singapore.
Vincent: “It’s funny because we never really talked during our four years at HEC. We knew each other and had some friends in common but we really met after the school.”
HU: Imagine you have only 24 hours left to live in Singapore, what would you do?
Viviane: Vincent said that my sin was gluttony, so I would spend the day eating all the dishes I like here, like the Black Pepper Crab, I would go to East Cost Park, the Esplanade, to Arab Street because there is a lot of good food as well, in Chinatown for the food stores and to buy some stupid souvenirs…
Vincent: There is also Geylang, a very popular neighbourhood for food. It’s also the red-light district but it’s nice. There are a lot of different places in Singapore.
HU: What do you like about Singaporeans?
Vincent: What’s quite surprising when you arrive is you meet people who naturally speak at least 2 languages. For Chinese people from Singapore it’s normal to speak a Chinese dialect, Mandarin and English. It’s quite impressive for a French!
Viviane: I like the diversity. There are 3 ethnic groups: Chinese, Malays and Indian people. The 3 communities live in harmony. The government has done a lot to maintain this harmony and people with different religions and traditions respect each other. They are taught to live in harmony in school.
Vincent: The downside is that the communities don’t mix that much: there is no interracial marriage but at least there are no tensions between the communities.
Vincent: “The advice I would give to myself in 2002 would be to do something different and to find my way instead of following the short-term leads I had at the time. I wanted to find a decent job with a good salary but it was not the right path for me.”
HU: In your opinion, what is Singapore’s main challenge?
Vincent: We are still French so freedom of press and freedom of speech are important to us. I think that a rich country such as Singapore could afford a real democracy.
HU: Let’s talk about HEC now. First of all, did you meet on the campus?
Viviane: Technically yes, because we are from the same promotion. We met but that doesn’t mean we hung out!
Vincent: It’s funny because we never really talked during our four years at HEC. We knew each other and had some friends in common but we really met after the school.
Viviane: We had our own romances separately during the school but we saw each other more after school. Vincent was living in Paris with 5 friends from HEC, including a very good friend of mine. I was often going to their house and we got more intimate! (laughs)
HU: What were your favorite places on the HEC campus?
Vincent: The place where I spent the most time was the Kfet. I was playing cards, the “Coinche”, during the day and also drinking beer. I have very fun memories of those years.
HU: What about you Viviane?
Viviane: Apart from the parties, I liked hanging out in each other’s rooms. We spent a lot of time talking and creating great friendships.
HU: What is your best memory from HEC, Viviane?
Viviane: It’s a little bit different from what you could expect from a typical HEC memory, but I really liked a course I had on the history of cinema. There was a great atmosphere in the classroom, we learnt a lot of things and the teacher, who was a former student from HEC as well, inspired me. I told to myself: “Ok, you can do something different after HEC”. He was a role model because he had followed his passion of cinema and he had worked for many cinema festivals.
HU: What about you Vincent?
Vincent: I followed the same course and I enjoyed it as well, actually. But for the best memory I would say all the time I spent with the friends I made at HEC. Lots of parties of course, but also the time you spend with them during BDE or JE campaigns.
HU: In what student associations were you involved?
Vincent: I was playing football and I was part of the Zinc, the bar. That’s it.
HU: Ok, never talk about the Zinc, we know the rule (laughs) And what about you Viviane?
Viviane: I participated in a JE campaign. We lost, but it was a good memory. What else did I do? I started studying lax, but I hated it so I stopped. I was part of the Goëland, I don’t know if it still exists but we were taking care of mentally handicapped people. I was part of the musical, where I was playing the violin, it was “Fame” at the time. It’s one of my best memories as well.
HU: Would you advise someone to go to HEC today?
Vincent: I think it depends. I don’t think it’s for everyone. Personally, I was a very good student and I went to HEC because my grades allowed me to do so but I didn’t have any plan or any idea of what a business was about.
The great thing about HEC is that it’s a brand that you carry all your life, which allows you to do a lot of things. You can do original things but you don’t necessarily know it when you’re there. I would recommend HEC but it has to be a real personal choice.
Viviane: I am very proud of being an HEC and of belonging to this community. This being said, I don’t think going there because you are a good student is a good reason. Do it for a reason or use your time on the campus to meet people, investigate fields and make the most of it.
In the very globalized and opened world we are living, HEC is not the only option.
Vincent: If you can study overseas, go for it.
HU: What would you like to say to the you from 2002? or what would be your advice to a young graduate from HEC?
Vincent: The advice I would give to myself in 2002 would be to do something different and to find my way instead of following the short-term leads I had at the time. I wanted to find a decent job with a good salary but it was not the right path for me. I am sure it is for many people in HEC and I don’t blame them! All that matters is that you need to be happy. If you feel different, you have to admit it and to do something different, without waiting.
Viviane: I have two advices.
The first one is to meet people and to take advice before thinking that you know everything.
The second one is to travel. I spent 6 months in the US during my time at HEC but I should have also left right after HEC in 2002. It’s easier to start abroad, when you are young, than when you have a professional and family situation in France.
HU: HEC’s motto is: “The more you know, the more you dare.” What would be your own motto?
Viviane: “Be yourself, know yourself and deal with it.”
Vincent: I don’t believe in mottos so I would say: “Don’t believe someone who has a motto.” (Laughs)
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