-  Interview

Businessmen, cultivate that touch of madness!

By Nicolas Dufourcq, Managing Director, Bpifrance.  

The businessman with a touch of madness is someone who, at 25, decides he’ll be a world leader at 70. A state of mind that consists of saying, that in the last analysis, in our modern, hyper-protective society, nothing is really very risky. The shake-up of the country needed to counter the current demographic pyramid calls for motivated young people driven by exceptional levels of energy. There must be heightened pressure, greater ambition in order to create that state of mind, which is a mixture of folly, courage and daring.

An Excel sheet in the head along with vital energy

My definition of a potentially strong entrepreneur is a person with a dual talent: the ability to calculate extremely fast, to recognise “profit pumps” and quasi-intuitively project business plans thanks to a solid aptitude for mental maths, combined with a vital energy, a motivating force that allows the individual to transform his ideas into actions. If this energy is essentially positive, born of conviction, pleasure and a real vision, it can occasionally spring from a negative past… A difficult childhood, a handicap for most, can, in certain individuals, nourish a strong spirit of social revenge. A deep desire to accomplish projects and meet challenges can also find its source in a shadowy, complicated and not so rosy past.

That touch of madness: to tell oneself at 25 that there’s nothing called risk…

The notion of risk is always relative to the average risk taken by any society. This, therefore, cannot be a universal measure, but depends on the ecosystem in which it evolves. The average risk taken by French society remains low. Even though today’s generations would find it difficult to admit (for lack of reasonable comparisons), it is not unrealistic to say that modern societies are on the whole more protectionist than in the past. There are numerous security nets to break the fall. Therefore, a stumble rarely results in critical consequences. In a world where all is protected, where safety nets exist in every nook and cranny, one simply cannot fall. And that offers an extraordinary chance. An individual willing to take even the smallest risk rises above the pack. And progressively becomes an entrepreneur.

We are taught to discourage ourselves

In France there is a culture of excessive risk analysis that prevents us from projecting ourselves into the future. We are taught to discourage ourselves. As if this weren’t bad enough, this hyper-analysis is coupled with a vanity that consists of adopting a negative, critical and pretentious view of the projects of others (and occasionally of oneself). Everything works towards generating risk-aversion in individuals – schools, television and debates instil the subconscious conviction that it is more prudent to stay on the beaten path. But increasingly things are changing; people are beginning to like walking on the wild side.

We are building a New Generation

The old ideal of a salaried society is becoming a thing of the past. We are building a New Generation whose leitmotif could be summed up as follows:

“I want to work an 80-hour week; but only in order to fully achieve myself”.

The ingredient that spices up the sauce is the quest for the self. Among the New Generation there is a profound desire to steer one’s own ship and avoid the parental pathway of unfulfilled careers caused by the organisational paralysis of large groups. The young have their eye set on other means of self-fulfilment and entrepreneurship is a promising way of achieving this quest for the self and transforming the world. He who has this touch of madness is one who at 25, decides he’ll be a world leader at 70. Some of his beliefs are: I shall lead my town, my district, my country and I will be an international player. What I have built will be remembered. My name will not be forgotten.

We are on the lookout for “Kampfs”

Such ambitions presuppose a certain charisma that allows the person to take the world with him. I refer to this business model as embodied by a certain Serge Kampf who I got to know over nine years whilst at Cap Gemini – may he forgive me for invoking his name in vain! He created his company in a garage in 1967. Today, the company (that he still heads) has 130,000 employees. In 1967, when he was just thirty, Serge Kampf wanted to beat IBM. There are a few hundred such profiles in France without counting the new generations coming up. I met one such businessman recently. He said to me:

“I had a difficult childhood. I come from a small company where my brother booted me out. Life is hard, but I’m tougher than the rest of the world. I can count faster than the others and I’ve decided I’ll be number one. And I shall be number one.”

At Bpifrance, we identify the Kampfs. And we give them everything. In France, the financial ecosystem for innovation can be quite simply terrifying.

Californian France

One can live in a world more in sync with one’s projects by forging a positive reality. There is a Californian France that is building its future without bothering about the welfare state. This ecosystem forswears the French masochistic vanity that encourages the culture of discouragement. These businessmen have decided, from an instinct for self-preservation, to cut themselves off from certain sections of information. They apply a filter to their reality in order to escape the emotional contamination and cultural poisoning of their projects. That frees their energies and their potential.

To retain one’s energy, one has to very quickly face international currents. Experiencing globalisation as pleasure rather than an act of fate gives greater energy. And it allows one to resist the headwinds of constraint.

Conquering the media

Today flagship companies must conquer the media in order to inspire younger generations. We tell them that they have a major part to play as role models. For this to happen, they must be present in the media landscape, they must appear on TV programmes. It is through this “broad spectrum” media presence that the culture of risk taking and ambition will arrive.

A touch of madness is the engine that possesses the power of traction to pull forward, federate and galvanise. It constitutes a kinetic energy that can transform individual, collective and societal destinies. It’s a state of mind that lies somewhere between vision, folly, courage and daring. It’s a mental attitude that surfaces first in rebellious individuals before inspiring the world at large.

About the author

After he graduated from HEC and the ENA, Nicolas Dufourcq started his career as a Finances Inspector at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, before joining the Ministry of Social Affairs and Public Health. In 1994, he joined France Telecom, where he created the Multimedia division, before he was appointed as President of Wanadoo, an affiliate company. The same year, he took part in the “Young Leaders” program of the French-American Foundation. He joined the Capgemini Group in 2003, where he was at first Director in charge of Central and Southern Europe. In September 2004, he was named Financial Director of the Group and member of the Executive Committee. In 2005, he became Deputy Managing Director in charge of finances. In January 2013, Nicolas Dufourcq was officially named Managing Director of the Public Investment Bank.

About Bpifrance

Bpifrance, a public investment bank and subsidiary of the Caisse des Dépôts and the State, assists companies from their initial steps right up to stock exchange listing through credit, securities, and internal capital. Bpifrance also provides support and assistance services focusing on innovation and exports, in partnership with UBIFRANCE and Coface. With 42 regional bases to its name (90% of decisions are taken by the regional base concerned), Bpifrance helps entrepreneurs to be economically competitive. Bpifrance acts as support for the public policies led by the State and the regional authorities with the aim of:

  • promoting the economic development of our regions
  • participating in the industrial revival of France
  • cultivating the success of tomorrow.

With Bpifrance, companies benefit from the assistance of a close, powerful, and effective representative, who can provide for all their needs in terms of finance, innovation, and investment.

www.bpifrance.fr ‐ Follow us on Twitter: @bpifrance