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HEC Paris Rolls Out Heavyweight Alumni

Heads of tech, finance, environment and helicopter-leasing firms come to ThoughtBox

Wed Jun 2 2010

BusinessBecause
The centerpiece of HEC Paris’ ThoughtBox in London last week was a panel of illustrious alumni discussing how the school helped them on their career journey.

The event, hosted at BNP Paribas and organised by BusinessBecause.com, was an opportunity for HEC Paris alumni to share their experiences with future MBA applicants.

The panel, chaired by HEC Paris MBA Director Philippe Gaud, featured: Wendel Investments MD Gael De La Rochere; Apple Europe VP Pascal Cagni; environmental consultant Walid Malouf; and Avolus CEO Alexis Grabar.

 

First up was De La Rochere who graduated from HEC in 1988. He started his finance career in-house at Schneider Electric. After nine years of M&A deals he moved into general management, and six years after that switched back to finance – as a Managing Director at private equity firm Wendel Group, where he employs 15 HEC graduates.

 

De La Rochere, who heads HEC Paris’ alumni group in London, emphasized how international the school’s student body has become, particularly the MBA program, on which only 20 per cent of students are French.

 

Alexis Grabar spent ten years in aviation before deciding to do an MBA at the age of 30. HEC’s 16-month program gave him “time to think” about what he wanted to do for the next ten years of his life.

 

Grabar moved into entrepreneurship, starting six companies, one of which is backed by Dragon’s Den investor James Kahn. The HEC Paris MBA was an opportunity for him to meet the people with who he would go on to start companies and form who he would raise capital.

 

His current venture, Avolus, leases helicopters and private airplanes to high net worth individuals and has offices in London, Moscow, Monaco, Dubai and Miami.

 

With a first degree in political and economic science from the University of California Berkeley, Walid Malouf was destined for a career in the World Bank or IMF. However, he went into management consulting, specializing in finance companies.

 

His career took him from Los Angeles to Europe, where he was hired in 2002 to launch the internet bank Egg, a subsidiary of British bank Prudential, in France. But after catching the sustainability bug, Malouf decided to take time out for an HEC Paris MBA to figure out how he could use his skills and experience in the field.

 

Malouf made the switch quickly. Whilst at HEC he was given the opportunity to turn around sustainability firm BeCitizen and launch its services for the cleantech and carbon markets. He eventually sold the company to a private equity firm.

 

The success enabled Malouf to reinvent himself as an environmental and energy consultant, working with public and private firms make energy savings and manage the risks associated with movements in energy prices. He represents the Clinton Global Initiative Climate Change program in France.

 

Apple Vice President Pascal Cagni recalled how he initially opted to study public affairs at Sciences-Po. However when he met HEC Paris students he realized that he was a lot more interested in the issues they were studying: the global marketplace, competition between firms, and new products and services.

 

Immediately after his MBA he joined consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton. However he soon found himself drawn to the tech sector. Following stints at Compaq and Packard Bell, Cagni joined Apple where he has served for ten years.

 

Explaining his passion for business, Cagni pointed to the striking increase in Apple’s stock market value since he joined the firm. Revenue and value were $5 billion each a decade ago. Now revenue is around $50 billion and the firm is valued at $225 billion. Cagni attributed this to Apple’s commitment to continually finding better ways for people to do everyday things using technology.

 

Cagni found the psychology classes most useful while at HEC Paris. In his view, people who are successful in business are the “multicultural, multitalented” individuals who possess excellent interpersonal skills and are able to relate to one another.

 

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