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Jean Pierre Bansard: A Legendary Entrepreneur from ‘Across the Pond’

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Jean Pierre Bansard: A Legendary Entrepreneur from ‘Across the Pond’

February 15
16:45 2019

Jean Pierre Bansard is a renowned French businessman and entrepreneur, active in the areas of hospitality trade, real estate, transit transport and logistics. He is the founder of the ‘Cible’ group and has been the forerunner of many innovative concepts and ground-breaking blueprints. He is widely regarded in France as the epitome of ingenuity, resourcefulness and ‘out of the box’ thinking. He has been awarded, inter alia, the National Order of the Legion of Honour (2015), which is the highest French order of merit for military or civil feats and he is broadly known for revolutionizing the methodological and constitutive principles of the French business models.

It is no secret that entrepreneurship is first and foremost about capitalizing an opportunity and entrepreneurial pursuits are -in reality- all situational and relative. Meet the man, who brought President Macron’s aphorism ‘Made in France’ into vogue, long before President Macron was around.

Bansard, a prominent self-made and self-taught businessman, was born in Oran, Algeria, in 1940. He heads a myriad of businesses and entrepreneurial ventures in Europe and the Middle East and -over the years- he has undertaken a great number of communal and charitable enterprises all over the world. In some ways, he is the archetype of success, audacity and fearlessness. While all of us secretly wish that we belonged to this different breed of people, that know what it takes to overcome challenges and build an empire against all odds, we ultimately decided to settle for the easiest solution: get to meet the legend himself and ‘pick his brain’ face to face, hoping that he would be willing to share his knowledge and words of wisdom.

Personal Questions Regarding Your Professional Experience and Knowledge:

1. How did you first decide to delve into the world of entrepreneurship and how did you get the idea or concept for your business? How did you know that your choice was the right one for you?

We never embark on an entrepreneurial journey, without two basic components: necessity and/or opportunity. In my case, I would say that it was mostly by necessity. Due to health issues during my childhood, my schooling was unconventional and I found myself working from a very young age in the transit-transportation sector, without, necessarily, the relevant educational background. As you know, I come from Algeria, where my father had gotten me a job in the port of Oran. When I came to France, I merely continued to do the same thing. Since this job was -mainly- carried out in France by large companies, I decided to reskill myself and gradually evolve in this sector -slowly but surely- gaining insight and competitive edge, through my work experience.

2. What are some of the mistakes you wished you could have avoided? Would you change something in your professional trajectory?

I have to confess that we have always ‘taken the high road’ -occasionally beyond our actual possibilities. At times, we had to use credit, in order to achieve a grandiose goal. In the grand scheme of things, one could argue that this was a ‘mistake’ for an eventual benefit, since we have always succeeded, even by opting for credit. The risk factor was quite significant but proved to be -more often than not- considerably rewarding. If you do not take a risk with a certain dose of carefreeness, you will probably never take any risk at all.

3. How did you handle adversity, disappointment and self-doubt?

Well, initially, when I came to France, I started working for a company and within a year I got fired, because I destabilized the employees. People thought I was overzealous, perhaps occasionally exceeded moderation. Indeed, I worked relentlessly -even on holidays, weekends-, I never stopped. I also wanted to know if I was competent enough, having come from Algeria to France, where the standards were completely different. But even when things appeared to not be in my favor, I persisted. I always knew that the only way to succeed was through work. There is no other option. I was 20 years old when I created my own company with my wife, and we exponentially expanded our ‘wingspan’. It was not about the material success solely, but also the satisfaction and self-validation to constate that perseverance, hard work and patience are valuable contributors to success. Dedication and energy to something are powerful forces; we make mistakes, we learn, we try different methods and avenues, and through continuing to try and make the effort, we finally get to where we hoped to go.

4. How did you build your team? What were your criteria in this regard?

This is something predominantly based on intuition, at least in my case; having said that, ‘gut feelings’ could turn out to be good or bad, thereafter. My overall principle, however, is to always try to put yourself on the same wavelength with your collaborators. You always have to value people that surround you, listen to them and make them feel that their opinion counts; allow your collaborators to question and brainstorm in a non-judgmental framework. Never try to dominate anyone. Show to each and every one of them that they are more important than yourself, so that the weight of hierarchy does not burden them. Respecting others is the best tool to earn respect, and this has always worked for me.

5. Did you ever experience failure? Did you ever think about leaving everything and starting all over again?

Failure is a part of business. Very few entrepreneurs make it big without first experiencing some kind of failure, difficulty or disheartenment. Personally, the biggest difficulty ? had to confront, was sacrificing time with my family. Today, I realize that I have missed out on a lot of things that I wish I had experienced. But there is a price for everything in life. Nonetheless, I have always encouraged myself to look at all kinds of obstacles as being conquerable and I have always espoused a ‘can do’ attitude. Entrepreneurship always comes with a host of challenges; without hard work and perseverance, you are not going anywhere in the entrepreneurial world.

6. Do you have any real professional regrets?

No, not really.

Learning from you: Didactic Content

1. The question that confronts anybody who is thinking of starting a new business or company is, how do you find the opportunity that is right for you? Could you offer some guidance on that?

There are many sources for new venture opportunities for young entrepreneurs. When you see an inefficiency in the market, and you have an idea of how to correct that inefficiency, and you have the resources and capability – or at least the ability to bring together the resources and capability needed to remedy the situation – that could be a very appealing business opportunity. In my eyes, you always have to have the following triptych in mind: a man (competent and thoroughly knowledgeable in a specific sector), an idea and the necessary means to pull it off. One must always try to obtain this schema. I always give this example not only to others, but to myself as well: Do I have the man? Is my idea good? Can I afford to do it?

2. Let us suppose a would-be entrepreneur has identified what he or she thinks is a promising unmet need. Can you take us through the process of evaluating and identifying the risks that should be considered in deciding whether or not to pursue that business opportunity?

I would suggest that they would firstly need to fully grasp the need present in the market, and subsequently tailor their product/idea and/or service to that specific need. This is the approach where you identify the need, do a thorough, meticulous analysis of understanding who else is out there, and what constraints exist, and how you could differentiate yourself in an impactful way. When you approach a new opportunity this way, when you introduce your product and/or service, you can expect to have considerable growth for your company. There is also another aspect. Contrary to popular belief, crises could be financially beneficial to a company. In 1968 (the volatile period of civil unrest in France), when France hit a stalemate and the economy of the country was brought to a halt, my business ventures remained lucrative, because I ‘came to the rescue’ of big companies that needed my transportation services for their merchandise. We have always been very successful during crisis periods. That is why I always say: try to make the most of any chance coming your way; you will be rewarded.

3. What are the biggest mistakes you have found entrepreneurs make at the initial stage of identifying business opportunities, in your experience?

My motto is that success in a sector is always based on 3 elements. Hard work, rigorous knowledge of the sector you wish to get involved in – because you need certain business skills – and thirdly, the luck factor. I always say that when you get up early in the morning, you are likely to grasp more opportunities and make the most of your day; carpe diem. Certain young entrepreneurs I meet, tell me with an almost defeatist attitude: You have been successful, because your era was different. That is untrue. Every era offers chances for success and I would even argue that my era was harder; we had the Golf War, the Oil crises, we did not have internet… In reality, everything is linked to the desire to get going and complete your project. There are successes today that we would have never fathomed 30 years ago. The world of start-ups has changed the contextual dynamics. In this regard, I have found that very often, entrepreneurs – particularly young entrepreneurs – are overwhelmed by the technological aspect, and they pay too little attention to what the customers actually want. I believe this is the most frequent issue at the early stage that entrepreneurs are faced with.

4. What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs, who are thinking about starting their own companies?

My main message to entrepreneurs is that you have what it takes to be exceptionally successful; believe in yourselves and your abilities. The most important thing for them is to have a genuine will to succeed in their undertakings. When you are an entrepreneur – or wish to become one for that matter- you also do things, as they come along. You improvise and constantly adapt yourself to the circumstances. Thus, autoschediasm, along with a healthy dose of carefreeness, and a lot of will and combativeness, are the ultimate keys to success.

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