I had the honour of interviewing Michel de Rovira, the co-founder of Michel et Augustin, a food brand that has become famous in France. Michel de Rovira is an alumnus of the Master in Management as is his co-founder, Augustin Paluel-Marmont.
When you were still a student at ESCP Europe, what type of profession were you looking to pursue?
There were numerous professions I liked at the time. I didn’t have a specific job in mind. I didn’t know the world! Banking, as well as mergers and acquisitions were what I was interested in the most.
After graduating from ESCP Europe, where did you start your career?
At a bank, Crédit Lyonnais, in New York, for two years. Then for four years as consultant in a strategy consulting firm, LEK consulting.
The Master in Management prepared me well for these professions. The school prepared me for interviews, and companies have a good image of our studies at ESCP Europe. Preparatory classes and ESCP Europe gave us a good understanding of how companies work, and of strategy, marketing and finance.
After graduating from ESCP Europe, you worked as banker in New York. For what reason?
I wanted to travel. Travelling was my main plan after leaving school – living abroad, discovering other cultures, being adventurous. I went to Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Australia, the USA, Syria, Jordan, Cambodia and Vietnam after leaving school.
Did ESCP Europe give you this desire to travel?
Yes, ESCP Europe at the time was very different from what it is today. The curriculum was less structured than it is today (Editor’s note: Students were not required to study in more than one country).
We were advised to do either an internship or a semester abroad. I did a semester at Madison in Wisconsin. ESCP Europe inspired my desire to travel.
How did your entrepreneurship idea with Augustin come about?
Augustin and I have known each other since middle school and went to ESCP Europe together. Even way back then, Augustin had this entrepreneurial project in mind. He wanted to create a food brand different from what existed on the market. After taking a second degree, an MBA at INSEAD, I jumped at the opportunity to join Augustin to bring his project to life.
How did the change of career go?
It was a radical change. I went from a profession in strategy, very structured and very top-down, to being an executive leading a firm. So it was a rapid shift in terms of life standing. You have to set your own rhythm, your own objectives, determine the culture, create an atmosphere around you; it is a radical change, and we learn by doing.
The closest thing to starting a company, is what you do in terms of creating events, travel, and organising parties. These are experiences that are similar to what you are likely to do when you are an entrepreneur.
Have you ever regretted the adventure?
No, because, I was lucky that everything went well. Augustin and I did it in a spirit of friendship, and that made the adventure attractive. Beyond the success and failure criteria, having fun at work, doing it with the right mindset, making the most of yourself in what you do, hiring and the feedback we receive from consumers that appreciate your products, generate pride and satisfaction.
What difficulties did you face at the beginning of Michel et Augustin?
The main difficulties were the administrative side of the business, such as finding a good certified public accountant, finding offices, and recruiting. We had lots of difficulties recruiting talent because people were more interested by careers in large firms. Today, it’s no longer the same.
Finding people that will realise their potential through their jobs at Michel et Augustin remains a difficult challenge, however. We must find the right people that will be comfortable in the environment of Michel et Augustin.
People that have a passion for pastries, that want to have an entrepreneurial atmosphere and that have the ambition of having an impact at a company and face competitors that are large companies. Because, if we want to win market share compared to large companies, we must put lots of energy and passion into it.
How and by whom were you supported at the start of this project?
By our friends, families, by business angels and other entrepreneurs that were seduced by our products and the adventure we were trying to build.
Today, Michel et Augustin is a well-liked and respected brand. How long did it take for the brand to be recognised?
It takes lots and lots of time to make and build a brand.
For years, you make a considerable effort to build your brand, organising communication events, and so on. But your brand remains little known outside certain circles. At some point, things crystallised and all the scattered efforts we had made had accumulated and the brand became famous.
You sold Michel et Augustin to Danone, why did you make this choice?
Michel et Augustin is the project of developing a brand around taste, indulgence, and nature and so we wanted to make the brand available in large cities, in capitals. You either need time and money, or be able to rely on someone with a business network everywhere in the world. So the choice after ten years of development, after understanding the difficulties of building a brand and accelerating the brand abroad, we took the help of Danone, which has a network to take Michel et Augustin all over the world. Danone has a company culture and we respect that. Danone has a different approach and a culture to generate SMEs internally and Danone knows how to manage structures that remain independent. Inside of the Danone group, Michel et Augustin can stay an independent entity, retaining its own spirit within Danone while remaining independent. We knew that this was easier within the Danone group than with other international groups.
What advice would you give to a student who has an entrepreneurship project that they would like to pursue during their studies?
Take it easy on the entrepreneurship idea. When I was at school, everyone wanted to do finance. Some years later, it was strategy. Today it seems that entrepreneurship/social entrepreneurship is the new trend. You can’t let these trends influence your personal goals. You must ask yourself the right questions: What kind of a job do I want? After thinking seriously about this, and if you still want to be an entrepreneur, you must go for it with lots of energy and sincere and real passion – and keep in mind that it is a marathon. You will be going for a project that will last several years and you must hang on through all the steps of the business’s development.
What sort of people are you looking to hire at Michel et Augustin?
In terms of recruitment, the objectives I mentioned before determine our hiring policy: one must have specific skills and a certain attitude, and must be brilliant, ambitious, passionate, curious and open-minded.
What advice would you give to a student that would like to join Michel et Augustin?
To confirm their interest. There are plenty of ways of getting a good idea of what the company is. We often host events with well-known speakers, such as the “une vache avec” event. They allow students to discover entrepreneurship, and Michel et Augustin vision of it.