As a student engineer at the Ecole Centrale in Paris, I was lucky enough to be taught by some excellent professors. Our economics professor was Yvon Gattaz, who later became president of the National Council of French Employers (CNPF, today the MEDEF). One day he spoke at length about entrepreneurship and mentioned the “Gattaz recipe”: “You need just a bit of funding and some skills to create a company, but you also need a lot of courage and madness…”
I didn’t pay that much attention. It was the late 1970s, right in the middle of the oil crisis, and my ambition wasn’t to create a company but to help find solutions to this crisis through research and innovation, ideally to ensure a better future for the world… My bedtime reading was “The Limits to Growth” the report written by MIT and commissioned by the Club of Rome.
My chance came at the age of 26, when Senator Pierre Laffitte, the gentleman who created Sophia Antipolis, asked me to lead a research team in this “international city of wisdom, science and technology”. An exciting experience, conducted with other pioneers of Sophia Antipolis, all driven by ideals and a desire for “cross-fertilisation”.
After four years, I decided to create Sigma Orionis, convinced that it was possible through studies, research and consultancies, to speed up the research-innovation-market process, particularly in the then emerging field of information and communication technologies.
I wasn’t aiming to get rich by creating this company: that doesn’t happen when you sell your labour time. I was motivated by the freedom to act, by this great satisfaction of going in the direction that I alone chose. I then discovered the many other pleasures in developing and managing a company such as creating jobs, and contributing to the constant (economic) motion of our societies. That of surrounding oneself with people you’ve chosen and with whom you can develop a team spirit and share values. That of greater success than others because you’ve taken more risks by becoming involved in these projects, or because your success exceeds your hopes and even your dreams…
Has it been smooth sailing over the last 30 years? No, of course not, every company has its share of disappointments, failures and all kinds of difficulties and because, for the entrepreneur, moments of calm, serenity and peace are quite rare…
As we approached the celebration of 30 years, I asked myself what if I had to do it all again? Would I have been better off pursuing my intended career in research or industry? Instinctively and after careful consideration, my conclusion is the same. I feel like 30 years ago I was chosen to climb a mountain by a new path, different from the well-trodden paths. The climb has been risky and difficult, but the feeling on arriving at the top is so strong… and yet there are still so many other mountains to climb.
The famous mountain climber, Gaston Rébuffat, who one day was asked: “Why climb mountains?” gave another, even more convincing response about the motivations of the entrepreneur: “Simply because they are there!”