Portrait Françoise Kleinbauer
Françoise Kleinbauer (EMBA 2011): The EMBA opened my eyes to many things
Françoise Kleinbauer, the new CEO of France Retraite, which she has been running since 2011, was awarded the 2012 prize for Woman Director at the Rhône-Alpes Business Awards ceremony. In the space of just two years, this mother of three with over 20 years' experience in actuarial consulting, retirement pensions and human resources, and who divides her professional life between Lyon and Paris, succeeded in re-balancing the accounts of the then ADDING Group subsidiary, France Retraite, and then put together a project to buy the business, which she accomplished early this year. A success story which is in no small way due to the confidence that Françoise Kleinbauer was able to instil in her teams at a time when the company was floundering. What are her secrets?
Can you describe France Retraite's circumstances when you began running the company in 2011?
- The Adding Group, to which I belonged, purchased France Retraite in 2008, at a time when it was already in a critical situation. In 2009 and 2010, the company failed to obtain sufficient business. The Chairman of the Adding Group therefore offered me a mission: to take charge of the company, get its accounts back on track and then analyse its future to decide whether or not it would be worthwhile to continue investing in it or if the Group should instead turn its attention towards other projects.
The gamble clearly paid off since you decided to buy France Retraite in 2012... What measures did you take?
- In the months following my arrival at France Retraite in 2011, I was pleased to discover that all the employees had stayed with the company even though it was in a vulnerable position. I think I managed to instil a new dynamic by means of simple, transparent and direct dialogue about France Retraite's circumstances, its particularly attractive potential and the challenges we would have to face together to turn that potential into an economic and financial reality... Listening and being available were two key factors, combined with constant vigilance as to whether or not the goals set were being achieved. The first three months were determining. This was the timeframe needed to earn the trust of the staff. At the time, I was also taking EMLYON's EMBA course and I am convinced that without this training I would not have succeeded, or at least not to the same extent.
Can you be more specific?
- When I took over as General Manager of France Retraite, I had already begun the EMBA course. I was afraid that I'd be overwhelmed by the work and responsibilities since I was doing two things at once. But the teachers reassured me, saying that I had every reason to stay on because by taking the course I would develop resources that would enable me to succeed in my new professional mission. And that's exactly what happened. I was able to take full advantage of other people's input (my colleagues, my teachers...) and put their advice into practice, which led me to ask the right questions, and so on.
- For example, one of my teachers gave me advice on the best way to “break the ice” with the employees at France Retraite; his approach was a complete break from the management methods of my predecessor and it turned out to be extremely effective in instilling a climate of trust. I also learned to stand back and distance myself from problem situations, to quickly assess which issues were priorities and which were not, and to work in a more pragmatic manner.
And I'd even go so far as to say that the EMBA also played a central role in my decision to purchase France Retraite:
- Firstly, the course helped me become sufficiently self-confident about my capability to put the project together and make it work.
- And, in addition, it allowed me access to resources that were very valuable in building the project. I was therefore able to benefit from the input of teachers and other people whom I had especially appreciated in the fields where I needed support, people whose only goals were to help me succeed in my takeover. Having real and trustworthy partners is an essential ingredient in this type of operation. So, yes, really, a hundred times yes to the EMBA!
What advice would you give to women, or even men, who have to handle challenges similar to your own?
- Without a doubt, my main advice would be not to not try to do it alone. It's essential that you enlist the help of others, that you accept their criticisms and their viewpoints (don't forget that these viewpoints are often well-meaning!) and avoid withdrawing into yourself. A final word of advice: don't forget afterwards to give back, in turn, your time and expertise to those who supported you...