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Former Firefighter Takes On The ESSEC Global MBA!

Ex-firefighter and Platoon Leader in the French army Mikaël de Talhouët has used the ESSEC Global MBA to launch a corporate career

By  Ifeatu Nnaobi

Sun Nov 18 2012

 de Talhouët is a former firefighter and French army Platoon Leader who has used the ESSEC Global MBA to switch to the corporate sector. 

He graduated from the one-year programme in September and has landed a role at Air Liquide, a French multinational firm that is one of the world's largest suppliers of industrial gases.

Mikaël, 32, joined the French military in 2002 fresh out of college. He had just graduated with a Masters in History from the prestigious University la Sorbonne in Paris. He spent two years in the army proper, rising to the rank of Platoon Leader, before moving to the French Fire Brigade service. 

Joining the French army was a move borne out of family tradition for Mikaël. Each generation of his family had passed through the military and that had a big influence on him. Furthermore, he wanted to experience the demanding operational roles as well as the opportunity to develop special leadership and management capabilities.

Mikaël was soon made Platoon Leader and was in charge of 30 officers. His responsibilities covered logistics, operations, sports and human resources. During his time he went on a mission to French Guyana to ensure the air defence of the Space Centre there, from where the European Space Agency's  Ariane rockets are launched. 

This involved some pretty exciting and demanding sessions including commando training in the South American jungle. Mikaël said it gave him a chance to learn more about himself and his capabilities.

He subsequently joined the Paris Fire Brigade in 2008 and was in charge of the general management of the unit. This was a totally different environment but he tok up the challenge, and received several honours for making crucial decisions during fire rescues. One was for rescuing 13 people with the help of his team from an engulfed building.

After spending three years with the service, he decided it was time to get into the private sector. An MBA, he thought, would provide him with a strong understanding of the major business concepts and analytical tools that he could apply in many business careers.

ESSEC appealed to Mikaël because he knew some friends who had graduated from the school, who had found it invaluable and were proud to be ESSEC alumni!  He explored the rankings and programmes of various French business schools and selected the Global MBA because of the international exposure he would gain while being able to live in France with his family.  

We asked Mikaël to compare the leadership skills gained on an MBA to those gained in the military. The difference, he said, was that on an MBA you are taught to not only be a team leader but also a team player. “It required a lot of humility to question myself and to work not as a team leader but as a team player and to understand how different people from different backgrounds can work to achieve a goal”, he said.

And how does the MBA schedule match up with adrenaline-pumping military and firefighting activities? It was more challenging mentally than physically, he said, but still very tough!

Mikaël said that the small cohort on the ESSEC Global MBA was just what he needed to be able to make meaningful connections with colleagues and professors while getting to grips with new business concepts. While on the ESSEC Global MBA, Mikaël went to Singapore, St. Petersburg and Moscow.

He also visited Venezuela while working on a corporate project for Total towards the end of his MBA programme. The real-life energy sector experience helped him during the recruitment process at Air Liquide, where he has been hired to work as a sales representative, starting in January.

He's expecting the sales role to be competitive and high pressure, which suits him just fine. Until he starts he's getting his daily adrenaline fix from his kids and his daily exercise routines!  

Read more stories about students, alumni and programmes at ESSEC Business School, here