11 December 2014

As recent President of the General Management & Leadership Club, Vijay Tirumala (MBA.2015) has played an active role in helping develop his fellow students’ leadership skills by organizing various seminars, workshops and guest speakers. One of the highlights of the club is the CEO Speaker Series where some of Europe’s most influential leaders come to the HEC campus to talk with current students about their leadership experience.

In addition to this event, the club President interviews the CEO 1-on-1 and asks pointed questions about their views on leadership. This fall, Vijay got the opportunity to sit down with the Chairman and CEO of L’Oréal, Jean-Paul Agon. Below, he answers what it was like organizing the CEO Series event and meeting with such a prominent business figure.

 Cf de Jean-Paul Agon -HecParis2014

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Why did you decide to preside over the General Management & Leadership club?

The General Management & Leadership club at HEC Paris provides members with an excellent forum and platform to discuss the Art of Leadership in Business and Society. Most of the club members, including myself, are drawn to the objective of providing inspired leadership. By presiding over the GML Club, I wanted to focus the club activities by organizing events such as Leadership workshops and simulations that ideally compliment the St. Cyr Off-Campus Leadership Seminar.

More importantly, the opportunity to work closely with Dean Bernard Garrette and Virginia Sartoretti at the Career Management Center taught me and my colleague, Dominic Taylor – Vice President (GML), the importance of effectively managing time, resources, and building successful alliances across campus.

How was it organizing the CEO Series event featuring Jean-Paul Agon?

It was as exciting as it was challenging. Exciting because as the CEO of L’Oreal, Jean-Paul Agon needs no introduction, least of all at HEC Paris – his alma mater. He was kind to spend the evening and share his experiences and Leadership journey with us.

Challenging because we had to pool together all the resources available at HEC Paris to organize the event. Usually, CEO Speaker Series attendees are between 200 – 300. For Jean-Paul Agon, we had 700+ interested attendees in a short-span of 1 hour. We reserved three large auditoria on campus just to meet the demand and telecast the event on screens for those who couldn’t find seats in the main auditorium. Handling the logistics was a feat in itself and three cheers to the HEC Logistics team for quickly adapting to our changing demands at short notice.

What was it like being able to sit down 1-on-1 with the CEO of L’Oréal?

Incredible. I had the opportunity to spend 15 minutes with him 1-on-1 to learn about what constitutes Leadership from his personal point of view. You will see from his responses in the video below that Leadership is also a calling and aspiration alone is not enough. One needs to find the source of strength within oneself to sustain the lifelong journey along a challenging path not unlike a roller coaster.

 How do you think this experience will help you in your future career?

As an engaged member of the HEC Paris community, Jean-Paul Agon clearly set a high bar for all of us to aspire to. Observing the way Mr. Agon conducted himself throughout the event and the way he engaged every single member of HEC’s reception team before and after the event, spoke volumes about his commitment to the school and the community. But if there is one takeaway for my future career, it would be the courage Jean-Paul Agon summoned to lead L’Oreal Americas in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001.

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Watch the entire interview with Jean-Paul Agon below:

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