Antoine Ducos (SKEMA 1987): CEO & Founder of APO France; serial entrepreneur

22 March 2024 Interview

"My studies at SKEMA were the perfect fit for me: an atypical curriculum, far off the beaten path. Since I came from a law school rather than a preparatory class, I went straight into the second year of the Master's programme, a decision in perfect harmony with my background. I've always favoured freedom in the way I approach things, following my intuition and living each experience according to my own vision."

The call to experience life abroad


SKEMA immediately drew me in with its highly international character, and I chose a specialisation called "International Business", which offered the possibility of an assignment abroad. As part of this, I spent four months in Japan, where I conducted market research on baby nappies (diapers to Americans). At the time, Japan was ahead of France when it came to raw material technology, with “super-absorbent” systems and innovations that were already very advanced.


In 1987, this experience in Japan was extraordinary and had a profound impact on my life path. I then went to Wales for 16 months, as part of a French scheme known back then as VSNE (national service as a trainee in a business environment). I worked for the company that had sent me to Japan, in a baby care product manager role. Immersed in the field of hygiene, a deliberate choice, motivated by my interest in the subject, created a natural common theme that helped influence my career trajectory.


Initial experience in a purchasing department


After Wales I returned to France and my sales manager at the time, who was a mentor to me, helped me to get hired as a young product manager in Auchan's purchasing department. I became the youngest buyer in the department.


After 4 years, I received a great offer to move up within Auchan, but I decided to take a different path. I realised that many of my colleagues limited themselves to Franco-French purchasing, whereas we had opportunities with Spanish, Italian, English, Israeli and American partners. Despite some people's fear of the unknown, I organised a mini-expedition with some of my colleagues, to find out what was going on in England: that’s when I understood what I had to do.


I met a friend's husband, an entrepreneur in the food import business, and we decided to start a company together. Our objective was simple: to put European manufacturers in touch with French retailers. Having resigned from Auchan, with the promise that I could come back and work there whenever I wanted, I took the risk of setting up my own company. During my internship with Sony in the United States, I had adopted the American mindset that anything is possible, and that failure is an opportunity to grow. At the age of 27, with my wife’s support, we chose to be bold; even if it meant eating pasta for a year, she encouraged me. It was an exceptional time in my life.


The start of my entrepreneurial adventure


In August 1992, at the height of the Gulf War, I launched my import/export company. The timing wasn't ideal, but we survived and this year we are celebrating 32 years of existence for Ellipse! We started out as a commercial agency, then gradually moved into the wholesale trade as our capital grew. Today, Ellipse is a company entirely dedicated to the wholesale trade of personal care and hygiene products.

Initially, we worked with English and Spanish partners. Later, we extended our reach by exploring markets like India, China, Korea, Egypt, the USA and many others. This expansion significantly boosted our international presence. Over more than 30 years, the company has enjoyed exceptional growth, with more than 25 years on an upward trajectory. We are very grateful for this.


Today, we are committed to responsible cosmetics through APO, our business founded in 2018.


SKEMA's contribution


When coming out of business school, whatever our specialisation, we are all generalists. I’ve always said that I’m a generalist aware of my own incompetence. This means that, although I'm aware of my competence, I’m also aware of my limitations. School enables us to develop an ability to familiarise ourselves with various fields of knowledge, which is essential. The key then lies in how we manage to combine these different areas of knowledge, especially when we take on roles that require a very holistic approach, like in entrepreneurship for example.


A strong commitment: support for equal opportunity


We all know what a business school education costs! I was already aware of this when I was a student, knowing the financial sacrifices my parents had made. Those who have access to education are lucky, but I find it hard to fathom selectivity in education based on money.


That's why I think it's absolutely brilliant that the world of private schools is gradually opening up. We're seeing more and more scholarships emerging, and the American model, again, is a very relevant source of inspiration. I think it's crucial for us to espouse these values more quickly. If I had one message to pass on to the other members of the community it would be this: if you are lucky enough to study at SKEMA, the school's model offers an incredible openness to the world, but what the school teaches us should also push us to open our minds and hearts.


The idea of "give & take" is something that, in my opinion, needs to be worked on even more in schools. For me, "giving back" is an essential value that should be further encouraged. It's important, even crucial, to help this new generation of students who may need us. That's why I've decided to take part in the new SKEMA Alumni for Good campaign, to help finance the education of several promising students. As an alumnus and donor, I'm delighted to be a part of this.


Contact : Antoine Ducos, CEO & Founder de APO France, CEO de OH NATURE, President & Co-founder de Ellipse.