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Aliath reviews the accounts of four business leaders and entrepreneurs particularly well-inspired in the early part of the year

Aliath reviews the accounts of four business leaders and entrepreneurs characterised by their courage, daring, and vision, and who were particularly well-inspired in the early part of the year. These are men who champion the values of human resources in a business environment and are keen to turn complex human issues (diversity, fragility) into a source of strength in the face of adversity and a key component of collective performance. Judge for yourself…

Women, the future of crisis negotiation?

Aliath reviews the breakfast meeting ‘Women & Business’ organised by l’Expansion, February 2013

Laurent Combalbert (*), former member of the RAID (the elite corps of the police force) and currently a crisis negotiator, was the keynote speaker at the event “Why men and women negotiate differently?” Convinced that women add value to an environment that has remained exclusively male-dominated for too long –the RAID, he provides a subtle and uninhibited analysis of how men and women complement each other when the differences between the two genders are appreciated.

For instance, he draws an interesting parallel between the prejudices and collective thinking that prevails around the image of a business leader and a member of the RAID. They convey notions of strength, sometimes physical difficulties, and risk-taking, which tend to penalise the emergence of women to this kind of position; whereas other notions that are just as essential are entirely overlooked (empathy, emotion, understanding of the situation, etc).

His motto: if the masculine side does not shy away from risk, the feminine side permits itself to express emotions, which lead to intuition. He concludes by indicating that gender diversity is a major asset in complex negotiations and he praises wholeheartedly the merits of mixed gender teams as they prove to be extremely efficient in the field.

 (*)Laurent Combalbert, a reserve police officer, is an experienced crisis negotiator. He was part of the RAID for many years.

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What does not kill you makes you stronger, particularly when you can count on collective strength!

Aliath attended the breakfast meeting of the Grand Lille in Paris, March 2013

Gontran Lejeune was the main speaker of the association “The Grand Lille in Paris” on the theme “What if acknowledging and accepting fragility generated strength?” His speech, full of modesty, is a source of inspiration, both through the messages conveyed and the underlying human values.

He describes how his life tipped over on the day his flourishing fresh poultry trading company was hit full blown by the avian flu crisis in 2006. In a matter of weeks, sales tumbled and the situation became critical. He resisted lay-offs initially but knew he would not hold out for long. He was tempted to break away in denial of a situation that was out of his control, until he reached a moment of truth. He speaks of an electric shock, where others will rightly see the courage of a man who takes his fate into his own hands. He gathered together his employees and in full transparency he told them of the seriousness of the situation, even admitting his own powerlessness to find a solution.

His honesty was bold –few business leaders would have exposed themselves this way, but it was nonetheless a call to the collective soul that resulted in a quick respond. Within a few hours, the employees, feeling entrusted and empowered, got together to find a new strategy for the company. It was eventually saved with the support of the entire workforce and the vision of an extraordinary business leader who understood that there is a lot of agility in fragility.

From this experience, Gontran Lejeune developed a responsible management approach summarised in four points:

  • The key to money, which argues in favour of a transparent relationship to financial issues within the company, correlated with a twin assessment of both individual and collective performance.
  • The key to us, which values the strength of collective endeavour when it is called upon in trust and sincerity.
  • The key to freedom, which underscores the importance of the Relationship between the company and its environment, particularly its responsibility to the workforce over time.
  • The key to others, which highlights the importance of the local support that a company provides to its business ecosystem (schools, training, etc).

 (*) Gontran Lejeune if the former Chairman and CEO of the family-owned business Lejeune. He was the 30th president of the Centre of Young Business Leaders (2008-2010). He is currently an associate director with the recruitment firm Bienfait & Associés, and a member of the Economic and Social Council.

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To never give up is to give yourself the means to succeed.

Aliath feedback on the Women Business Leaders conference, March 2013

Nicolas Doucerain was the guest speaker of the conference entitled “In a crisis, develop the right instincts”. It is a theme he knows well, having experienced it and written about it in his book “My small company survived the crisis”. Having experienced annual growth rates of nearly 40%, his company Solic came to an abrupt stop in 2008 as a result of the financial crisis. In short, both sales and orders were cut in half.

After a period of shock, he reduced salaries –starting with his own, he cancelled all benefits and had to lay off colleagues. In 2009, after three lay-off plans, losses continued to worsen and debts started to build up. It is then that he took a decision in full conscience and against the advice of others. He put Solic into receivership and announced his objective to turn it around within 6 months.

The man, a self-made business leader, is nonetheless a shrewd entrepreneur. He made a firm commitment quickly followed by material and unusual measures. On the day he went into Chapter 11, he called all his clients and fully disclosed the company’s situation and his future projects. It was a crazy, daring bet, which succeeded when his clients agreed to commit alongside him and to support the project. The company survived the crisis.

Nicolas Doucerain draws several lessons from this experience about the role of a responsible entrepreneur in a time of crisis.

1)      He must be exemplary and set an example

2)      He must be able to develop short-term projects that work towards maintaining an internal dynamic. Having projects is having prospects. It is something to think about, it generates confidence in the future.

3)      He must be able to turn complex issues into simple matters and to focusing on the essential.

4)      He must give meaning, lead the company on.

5)      He must demonstrate authority and determination to ensure that the project becomes a reality and succeeds.

 (*) Nicolas Doucerain is the Chairman and CEO of the Solic group, a recruitment and human resources firm. He is an expert columnist on BFM and a blogger on “Our SMEs have talent”.

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Open the economy up to women for more diversity, fairness and novelty

Aliath took part in the forum “Let us dare France”, April 2013

François Pérol was invited at the Forum “Let us dare France” to talk about opening up the economy to women. Committed for many years to gender equality, he stands out for having expressed his views unreservedly and implemented them within the BPCE, which includes two women out of six members on the Executive Committee and six women out of twenty on the Management Committee. These figures are significant given that management committees are still largely male-dominated and unlike Boards, they are not required by law to include more women.

He does not believe that management is gender-dependent, arguing that “it makes no difference […], what is important for a business leader is to have courage, vision and empathy”. That said, he campaigns for having more women in management positions for two simple reasons. The first one has to do with diversity and its intrinsic wealth, “it is necessary to resist the recruitment of people who resemble us, […] I am allergic to men-only clubs”. The second reason is one of fairness and future, “a modern society is not an exclusively male one, our children do not wish it so.”

Convinced that the arrival of women in key management roles is a fair and necessary long-term trend, albeit one where progress is slow, he invites business leaders to commit further, by setting precise targets that are regularly monitored. He even encourages business leaders to impose upon themselves to always be in a position to consider women for key management positions (for instance, to ensure that for every vacant management position there is at least one female candidate, etc). He concludes by highlighting the need to keep a close eye on the place of women in key positions across the business world and to continue to act in support of the long-term trend that will become the reality of modern societies within a few years.

 (*) François Perol is Chairman of the Board of the BPCE.

Dominique Druon, 30 avril 2013

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