From Fine Chocolates To Swiss Watches
Christophe Fonteneau thinks the only European hotspots for MBA hiring are London and Geneva.
EMLYON MBA Christophe Fonteneau trained as an agricultural engineer has been a senior manager for luxury chocolate brand Valrhona in the US and Monbana in France. He wants to work in the luxury sector – preferable motorboats, sailing or Swiss Watches – after graduation. He tells BusinessBecause why he thinks Lyon is a better choice for an MBA than Paris, and why smaller networks are better.
Tell us something about your personal and professional background.
I’m 30 years old, and I was born and raised in France. In 2005, I graduated in Food Industry and Agricultural Engineering at ISARA Lyon, including one year as an exchange student at Illinois State University in the US, where I studied marketing and business development. After graduating, I worked for five years in the food industry.
How was working in the food sector?
It was an amazing experience that gave me the chance to promote one of the best things we have in France – food!
What kind of expertise do you need to work in this sector?
You need to have a deep understanding of the food product you’re marketing: where it comes from, how it is made, etc.
In the luxury area of the sector, where I worked, I had to provide the customer with as much information as I could. In general, the more educated the consumer is, the more details you’ve got to provide him with.
Why did you decide to do an MBA?
I’m an engineer, and I wanted to take more responsibility as a manager, so I needed greater knowledge of strategy, finance, marketing, and sales.
Why did you choose EMLYON?
It’s one of the top-ranked European business schools [the EMLYON full-time MBA is ranked 10th in Europe by the FT].
I didn’t want to do an MBA like the ones in Paris – with 100 students each year. This year EMLYON received 2,000, but only thirty people met the requirements and were accepted, even though the school can accept up to fifty people.
The smaller class size makes a huge difference in term of network-building. When you’re in a class with other hundred people, you can’t really say you know who they are and what they do. I wanted to be part of a smaller and efficient network instead.
What do you like about EMLYON’s MBA program?
Firstly, its international dimension: there are thirteen nationalities represented. Secondly, the high entrepreneurship content of the program. And finally, its location: Lyon is in the centre of Europe, even more the Paris, and I like the fact that the school has an international network, not limited just to Paris.
Have you worked on a project this year?
For my MBA project, I’ve been working all the academic year for Amaris, a Swiss IT consulting company for which I’m doing mainly merging projects.
How much is your previous work experience helping you do the MBA?
It’s helping a lot to make me understand all the problems that companies have. In my opinion, work experience is what really makes an MBA valuable.
It’s not a question of how many years of experience you have, but how relevant that experience is. I’ve noticed that people who have relevant experience in my class can contribute to the discussions, while the others can only follow the course.
To people who are thinking of doing an MBA, I would say that you’ll make the most out of the program with at least five years of relevant work experience, especially international experience. If you’ve spent three or four years working out of your home country, then your MBA will be more valuable.
How are students in France, compared to in the US?
The biggest difference I’ve noticed is the number of hours you spend in class or working at home. In the US, you have about eight hours in lectures or seminars each week, and therefore you spend most of your time working by yourself or with a study group. In France you have 30 or 35 hours of lectures each week, and have to work on your own for about ten hours.
What has been your favourite moment at EMLYON so far?
I attended a conference about marketing, where companies from all over the world were invited. I met people from Novartis, Total, and other international companies. The beauty of EMLYON, and studying in a tiny program, is that you actually get to meet and know people that you would never meet anywhere else.
Do you already know what you'll be doing next year?
I’m not sure yet: the MBA opens many doors. The difficult part is to have to choose an industry or a position within it at the end of the program.
I would like to remain in the luxury industry. In particular I’d like to work in sailing, motorboats, or Swiss watches. I’d like to work in a sector whose common denominator is elegance and sophistication.
Where would you like to live and why?
Either in France, where my roots are, or in London or Geneva, because these are the two European cities that fully recognize the value of an MBA. Maybe it’s because many international companies are based there. On the contrary, in France, its recognition is sometimes poor.
Why you should join BUSINESSBECAUSE...
Connecting people before, during and after b-school
Build a network of useful connections
Gather information & get weekly newsletter
Get job and b-school application tips
Read real life stories published daily