“Throughout my career as entrepreneur I have been struck by the inferiority complexes of public university and vocational school grads (and those who are self-taught) vis-à-vis Grandes Écoles products. I am surprised to what extent there exists in the French collective (sub)consciousness a wall between those with degrees from these elite institutions and others. I certainly noticed it during my studies but I never imagined its scope. France has a special talent for pumping out disheartened workers who imagine themselves second-rate because they failed the entrance exams to a Grande École, or whose potential is left untapped and bloodied from running into one wall after another. The answer: Demystify all titles and diplomas and prioritize the human and his or her ideas.”
I wrote this in 2006 in a book I co-authored with Patrick Blanchet. Little has changed since. Broad culture—hands-on, entrepreneurial, economic, team-work capable—is not commensurate with knowledge. Students are force-fed theory. They are asked to produce papers, internship reports, theses… they write a lot but little care is given to applying theory to the real world. The result: too much focus on theoretical knowledge, too little on soft skills and know-how. The volume of knowledge one possesses and the ability to deliver it in all its towering splendor are too often seen as manifestations of genius. But what of openness, the ability to listen, discrimination and the ability to adapt?
Last weekend, as we celebrated the success of “4C” (Course Colorée de Chalons en Champagne), I felt truly happy. I was overjoyed for the organizers and Laurent Duclos in particular, who launched the project and saw it through. I even celebrated in the VIP lounge for patrons. Glasses of champagne in hand, my team and I burst out in song to honor him. Some may have found this joyful exhibition a little over-the-top but it was water off a duck’s back.
The real question is: why this great inner joy and enthusiasm? Because I have been following and supporting Laurent’s projects since 2014. He is in charge of university sports in our area, and at the time he organized in Reims an international football tournament featuring French and British university teams. In his thank-you letter to the event partners, he wrote:
“Your support is all the more admirable in that, despite being few individual and institutional partners, you had faith in our ability to organize this major event that constitutes a fundamental step in our structural development.”
It is true that in 2014, few of us imagined Laurent having the requisite know-how and ability to find the necessary talent to organize an event this size. There wasn’t much for us to go on: next to no event management experience, limited resources—a long shot at best, a career-breaker at worst. But to help a talent blossom, you have to jump in the deep end with him and trust his ability to grow and situations to be fluid. One thing is for sure: Few will hesitate to hitch their wagons to Laurent and his future projects now that he has proven himself and laid their fears to rest.