Erwan Hediard (SKEMA 2004): “Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that nothing is impossible”

04 July 2022 INTERVIEW

Currently living in Montreal, where he is Vice President of Finance within the Bonduelle group, Erwan Hediard talks to us about his career in finance. He looks back over the challenges and milestones along his path, talks about the richness of his expatriations, and shares his experience of studying at the famous SKEMA Business School.


Can you tell us about your educational background? What made you decide to study at SKEMA Business School?


After earning my high school diploma (French Bac) with science option from a school in Paris, I did a business school preparatory course, then sat the entrance exams to be admitted to SKEMA Business School. The oral exam went particularly well and I joined SKEMA Business School’s Grande École programme on the Lille campus in 2001.

This programme, which covered finance applied to the business world, really captivated me. It was taught by university professors with a very rich background and unique teaching style, very much focused on the sharing of experience. It was a great course that has helped me a lot in my career.

What were the high points of your studies at SKEMA Business School? 


The moment in my SKEMA Business School studies that stands out the most for me is definitely when I met my wife, Celine . 


I also learned a great deal from the work placements I was able to do, at Total, Canal +, and at the auditing firm Grant Thornton International.


Another aspect of my studies that left a mark on me was my involvement with the sailing club. I’ve always really loved that sport and thanks to SKEMA I was able to take part in Spi Ouest-France, a regatta attracting racers from around the world, and participate in regional competitions against other top schools.

How did you join the workforce?  

First I did a three-month final-year internship at Grant Thornton, an auditing firm. 


After that, I joined the auditing firm Deloitte, again in Lille. It was an excellent first professional experience that was pivotal for the rest of my career. 


I started as an assistant, then I gradually climbed up the ladder. I got to manage very different assignments for a wide variety of clients: I got the opportunity to audit Verrerie de Masnières, La Redoute, Roquette, and some automotive suppliers. But above all, I audited Bonduelle, which gave me the chance to discover the group. 


After four years at Deloitte, I decided to quit auditing and join Arc International, the world leader in tableware. 


At the time, the group was struggling financially and that is partly what prompted me to work there. Joining an industrial company trying to get back on its feet seemed like it would be a very rich experience that would teach me a lot: every quarter was very challenging; I had to go over the numbers with a fine-tooth comb, challenge them, and review the business turnaround plan…


I was fortunate to work for hands-on managers who were committed to turning the business around. I still use the tools and reflexes I gained from that experience.


Over those four years at Arc, I made sure to keep one foot in the business side and in the field: I really didn’t want to become a finance guy who sits in his armchair crunching numbers all day! I tried to get out in the field as much as possible, to meet the sales teams, visit a logistics warehouse, a production line… 


Often the operators would greet me directly and explain how their site worked, the issues they faced, the solutions to consider... All I did was translate their suggestions for optimisation into figures.


Then I joined the Bonduelle group as a financial controller.


I had audited the group a few years earlier and had liked their work culture and the management style that was in place: there is real proximity with the teams and a unique people-centric dimension that is deeply embedded in the group’s DNA. 

What were the circumstances surrounding your move abroad? What have you learned from your experiences of living overseas?


When I started at Bonduelle, I was in charge of financial control for the international subsidiaries, in Brazil, Russia, Ukraine… 


Soon after, I was transferred to Moscow to consolidate the management control of the agro-industrial and sales operations for the CEEC East zone (Russia – Belarus – Kazakhstan). I was also tasked with integrating the finance teams from the second Russian industrial site, which had recently been acquired. It was a real challenge.


I discovered that you can do anything when you have the right people around you! The most important thing is to spend time with your employees and to really like and manage your team. 


After spending three years in Russia, I was promoted to the position of CFO (Chief Financial Officer) at Bonduelle Canada. So we headed there as a family in 2018. Since 2020, I have been Vice President of Finance for Bonduelle Americas Long Life (BALL) – which encompasses the Canadian and American operations – in Montreal.


Canadians are friendly people; they’re human, and truly nice... There’s a type of kindness there that you don’t find anywhere else. There again, I understood that the key to success was really to surround yourself with the right people: people first! The last 12 months have been particularly intense.


We’re finalising the transfer of 65% of our BALL division (13 industrial sites in Canada and the United States – 1 billion in turnover) to two major Canadian investment funds: CDPQ and Fonds de Solidarité du Québec.


Going forward, I will continue to work as VP Finance for this division.


The integration process is the start of another great opportunity to develop my career!


These expatriations have brought me a great deal: I learned a lot from Russian rigour, and I’ve been very influenced by the goodwill, simplicity and kindness of the people of Quebec. 


During these expatriations we have been very well supported by the Bonduelle group; among other things, they placed a mobility expert at our disposal to help us get set up. This was a great help in getting us settled in the country!


It’s a dynamic, supportive company that cares about people and constantly strives to offer its employees the best possible balance.


What advice would you give young SKEMA Business School graduates wanting to build an international career?


Over the course of my career, I’ve really learned that nothing is impossible. Another key lesson for me is that it is extremely important to surround yourself with committed and motivated people. 


I also think that as an expat it is important to always remember your “foreigner” status. Once you stop considering yourself as one, you risk imposing a vision that goes against the local culture. It is up to the expat to adapt to the teams, not the other way around. 


Plus I think that each country has its own richness. There is no point in comparing destinations and cultures, because each expatriation will enrich you in a truly unique way.


Contact: Erwan Hediard, Vice President Finance - Bonduelle Americas Long Life (BALL)

Interview by for SKEMA Alumni