September 18, 2013
“France needs to think big; we have the resources, now we need to put them into action”
David Treussard serves as Executive Vice President and Global Financial Services Practice Group Leader in DHR International’s New York office, a provider of executive search solutions.
Mr. Treussard has an extensive global experience in search within the banking and financial services industry. His clients include preeminent firms across investment banking, capital markets, asset management, alternative investment, and private equity. He has successfully completed search assignments across front, middle, and back offices in the United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America. He has also worked with a broad spectrum of companies across CPG and luxury goods, retail, and manufacturing. Over the years, he has been instrumental in assisting companies in the definition and execution of their hiring strategies.
In 1998, Mr. Treussard started his career in executive search in the Paris office of a leading global consulting firm. After more than a decade with the company, serving in executive positions from New York to Chicago, he joined a boutique executive retained search firm in New York with responsibilities over the Americas.
Mr. Treussard graduated with a master’s degree in Political Science from the Institut d’Études Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris in 1997, as well as with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 1992. He also attended the military academy Saint-Cyr Coetquidan. He lives in New York with his wife, Elisabeth, a journalist, and their three children.
David, we are honored to interview you for our Foundation Forum and to share your viewpoint on the business and employment environment in France. First, tell us a little more about what you do at DHR International. What does a typical day look like?
There is no typical day really. Because you work with people in executive search, every day is a new day. As Global Head of the Financial Services Practice, there is always something different and unexpected to deal with somewhere in the world. My clients are mostly investment banks, hedge funds, and consultancies for the finance industry.
In addition, because of my background, I benefit from the “French connection,” and I work with French companies in consumer packaged goods, luxury goods, retail, and manufacturing. I work with most of my clients globally and have done search work in the United States, Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific region.
The exciting part of my role is to be a strategic partner to these firms that are expanding, restructuring, working on new strategies, etc. Because men and women are the backbone of any enterprise, that is a permanent challenge from a hiring standpoint. We are very busy at the moment, which is a good indicator of the state of the world economy.
You’ve worked in both France and the United States. Are there considerable differences in the processes of searching, engaging, and employing corporate leaders in the two nations? If so, does this indicate a different approach to corporate leadership and governance in each country?
This is a vast and fascinating topic. Not only have I worked both in France and in the United States, but also for French and American companies. There are fundamental differences between our two countries, and we find these differences in the way companies hire on each side of the Atlantic. I would summarize these around two main paradigms: through their respective – yet sometimes very similar – educational systems and histories, our two countries have built two systems. The United States is a country where specialization is paramount, and where you are only as good as your next thing. France, on the other hand, has created a fantastic elite of generalists, where your alma mater still carries a lot of weight even after 30 years of experience. The other key difference is that in the United States, decisions are made faster, whereas in France the decision-making process can be very lengthy (and I insist on very).
This comes from a different approach to the world. In the United States, there is a need and culture (almost an urgency) to make things happen. Even if a decision always carries a risk, well, we are ready to assume that risk, and we’ll make the best out of that decision. In France, we would rather make the right decision. That implies a very risk-adverse approach, hence a much longer hiring process. That is why a lot of French companies have a hard time in the United States, not only to hire the right people but also to succeed. At the very top, this implies strong differences in styles (management, execution, how to measure success, etc.). However, the world is not bipolar, and the best companies (French and American alike) hire from all cultures and take into account diversity more than anything else.
There have been many public concerns voiced about France’s business environment, economic prospects, and the overall attitude of French people amid the recent recession. As Europe takes center stage in global economic discussions, France has been cast as a nation plagued by a general malaise, permeating both professional and personal lives. Is France the pessimist that the media projects, or do optimistic attitudes also exist?
Overall France is in profound distress. It is a beautiful country and has a lot to offer; but from a business standpoint, it is absolutely retrograde. It has a very comfortable social system (unemployment benefits, social security, universal healthcare, etc.), which is not conducive to a dynamic business environment (taxes are too high, employment laws are too rigid, etc.). The world is different now – it is a highly competitive environment. Change is happening here in the United States, but also in Asia and in Latin America. Les “acquis sociaux” (social benefits and programs) are driving France into a hole. A large portion of the young generation in France wants to leave and work somewhere else, either in the United States or in the Asia-Pacific region, anywhere but France. The young generation doesn’t want unemployment benefits. They want the prospect of a better life and job opportunities. It is the pursuit of happiness you need, desperately, when you are in your twenties – not the prospect of a dull future.
Nonetheless there are plenty of good stories we never hear about. France is a country of many talents – individuals and companies. I know several small and midsize French companies that are actually very successful in the United States and will create tens of thousands of new jobs. They have a very entrepreneurial spirit and drive. For instance, Materne MontBlanc, an icon of French culture and the archetype of an American success story à la française, is creating several hundreds of local jobs in the United States. D’Artagnan, a great company, is expanding its business across the country. Sisley Paris is another astonishing success story in the United States. There are so many great stories like this, and it is important to share them. I know many French companies that should follow this lead. That is what makes my job exciting: to help these firms grow. With my experience, I am certainly well positioned to help them in their ventures and in what matters most for any company: their leadership and manpower.
France, much like other countries in the European Union, just ended a period of official recession, though many question its ability to stimulate growth and reverse economic stagnation. What do you feel are France’s prospects for economic prosperity in the coming years and beyond? To what extent has the French situation been a result of the European debt crisis? In your opinion, does France require structural changes – from the government and the business community itself – to remain competitive in a global economy?
Absolutely, change is most needed. From a semantic standpoint, I believe that you fundamentally don’t – and can’t – stimulate growth. You can, certainly, for a short period of time to jumpstart the process, but if it is a long-term thing, it is not growth; it is false stimulus, and sooner or later you will be in a recession again. The economy is now global and highly complex; you can’t expand and be competitive in this world with the tools of the past. France needs to reinvent itself from the ground up. It is not only the responsibility of the government or the business community; it is a shared responsibility. Individually, people need to be more accountable for their actions and rely on themselves to be successful. Schools and universities must play a more proactive role to efficiently prepare the workforce of the future. Unions must understand the world as it is and partner with the business community – not work against it. How can it be that the CGT (Confédération générale du travail) still exists in France, crippling most companies? On the bright side, France needs to be prouder and more conscious of its successes and grandeur. France needs to think big; we have the resources, now we need to put them into action. It is a matter of how you see yourself and what you think you can accomplish; and a country is no different from a person. If you think big, there is a chance you will not reach your goal, but at least you try. “Worst case” scenario, you succeed!
In both France and the United States, unemployment is problematically high amid young people. In France, the youth unemployment rate is hovering above 26 percent (more than double the national average of 11 percent), while in the United States, youth unemployment has reached 16.2 percent (also double the national rate of 7.6 percent). What explains this phenomenon? What can be done to combat this?
First of all, one must acknowledge that we have been through one of the most catastrophic and painful financial crises ever, which has a direct impact on the young generation. It is a major concern. Now that we are coming out of this crisis, it is absolutely crucial to have the young generation back to work as soon as possible and on a large scale. Overall, the economy – still weak – is very risk adverse, and the young generation is, and has always been, on average, the most risk-taking population. These two phenomena don’t add up. We need to facilitate accessibility to employment for the younger generation. This means access to education, and the right education, too (there is, for instance, a worldwide shortage of engineers and technologists). This means “easy to hire” and also “easy to let go” if need be. This means more accountability on both sides. This means fewer taxes. This means flexibility and adaptability. (For instance, if you live in Atlanta and there is a job in Boulder, well, you take it. If you live in Clermont-Ferrand and there is a job in Lille, you take it). This means speaking several languages, etc. We, as a community, have a responsibility to prepare the young generation for a new and ultra-competitive world.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs or professionals trying to succeed in today’s economic climate? Would this advice differ from the United States to France?
Don’t be afraid to take risks and hire the right people. I see it firsthand every day: what will make or break your company is who you hire – nothing else. I believe most entrepreneurs are risk takers by definition. Young professionals should have the same philosophy. You don’t have to be an entrepreneur to think big, different, or take risks. It is the reality of the new job market, which has tremendously changed with the last financial crisis. We can be grateful that in both France and the United States, we have generations of great entrepreneurs. There are reasons why our two countries are so close (regardless of some minor political disagreements); our values are very similar, and we have great people on both sides, ready to conquer the world. Washington and Lafayette set the stage for the close and everlasting relationship between our two countries; and today, there are many examples of this. If we work together, we will be strong, stronger, and the strongest.
If you had the opportunity to sit down and chat with François Hollande, what would you say?
I would love to, of course. I would tell him exactly what I said here. France needs a new start, new horizons, and must feel strong and have confidence in its own ability to drive its future. In France and in the United States alike (or anywhere in the world for that matter), one talks about “creating” jobs. In reality, it is not so much about creating jobs than, first and foremost, filling the available jobs. And there are millions of them. In France as well as in the United States, these jobs exist already. There is a real disconnect between available jobs on one side, and people looking for a job on the other. The question is how to connect companies that desperately need to hire people, and individuals who desperately need to find a job. The answer is, for the most part, flexibility.
Fundamentally, there are two major issues in today’s economy: one is systemic, while the other one is intrinsic to individuals themselves. The first issue is difficult access to information, hence to job opportunities, in a highly computerized world. That sounds odd and antinomic, I must admit. Of course technology has helped tremendously, but there are limits too. Some studies show that you have to send 1,000 applications to receive just a few responses. This is a serious problem for applicants and also for companies. Something doesn’t work, that is for sure; and in the grand scheme of things, it is a major issue. Also, some people who don’t have access to technology may very well qualify for jobs. This is what I call the impossible reconciliation of two worlds that actually should meet at some point but never do. While I am convinced there are ways to make it happen, this is a conversation for another day, I suppose. Secondly, at the individual level, most people are very conservative and not comfortable taking risks. That, by the way, applies to both sides of the table: people in a position to hire, and people looking for a job. My message to President Hollande would tend to be quite simple: as we all know, employment is at the front and center stage of everything, so it should be the top priority of the government to facilitate – in any way, shape or form – access to jobs. It starts there, and everything else is directly related to that.
What is your favorite piece of literature, and why?
There are so many. Les Chênes qu’on abat by André Malraux. Saint Augustin. The (almost) entire collection of Paul Auster’s work. And above and beyond anything else: Ode à l’homme qui fut la France by Romain Gary, for, I would think, obvious reasons. I will cite this only: “There is no difference between what you call the ‘American Dream’ and what De Gaulle called ‘la grandeur de la France.’”
Thank you for inviting me.