Nicolas Votano (SK 2006), American firm Frost & Sullivan’s youngest partner

31 December 2019

Talent, skill and determination aren’t necessarily all you need to succeed. As Nicolas Votano suggests when he talks about his own path, you also need luck and a favourable planetary alignment.

Nicolas agreed to answer some questions about his career and his involvement with SKEMA Alumni.

In 2008, Nicolas began his career with the Frost & Sullivan group, a global consulting and research firm. Two years later, he became sales director for the firm in France. From 2012 to 2019 Nicolas held several positions. He ran the technology and innovation business unit for the USA and Canada from 2012 to 2016 and joined the New York office (Manhattan). From 2016, he steered the firm’s “global accounts” business strategy. In December 2019, Nicolas joined the firm’s executive committee and, at 36, became the youngest partner in Frost & Sullivan’s history.


Nicolas, can you tell us briefly about Frost & Sullivan?

Frost & Sullivan is an American consulting firm that employs around 2,000 people around the world. Its head office is in California. The firm specialises in what is one of the most important levers for our clients: growth.

The firm handles all projects that enable our clients to increase their revenue: R&D, innovation processes for long-term growth, short- or medium-term assistance with their marketing strategies (new product launches, brand creation, operational marketing), etc. It has a matrix organisational structure with 8 major divisions per line of business (defence, health, IT, etc.) and per geographical region (Americas, Europe, Middle East, Asia-Pacific and Africa).

What is your current position within this firm?

I run what we call the “Global Account” programme. In 2014, the firm’s CEO decided to create this programme that would focus on 100 of our global accounts, with the aim of having them represent 30-35% or even 50% of revenue within five years to achieve a more even distribution of revenue across the different accounts. This is what I was tasked with and I did it successfully right up until 2019. For each of these 100 clients, the goal was to implement a globalised strategy and create horizontal teams: global teams for global clients - teams including sales reps, consultants and researchers. Today I’m in charge of this big global team of around 350 people. My job is to coach the team members and bring coherence to this organisation.

In December 2019, you were made partner of Frost & Sullivan. Can you tell us what this involves?

To some degree, my appointment is the consequence of the group’s upcoming re-organisation in 2020. The firm’s new CEO wants the “Global Account” programme to become a new region like the other regions around the world. This programme is becoming a structural part of the Frost & Sullivan organisation and I was made partner to steer this transformation.

Can you tell us a bit about your studies and how you came to attend SKEMA?

The path I followed for my studies was rather unconventional. I started with a preparatory class in Sophia Antipolis to get into HEC, but this wasn’t the right choice for me: I wasn’t happy! So I decided to drop out and to study international business at an “institut universitaire professionnalisé” (a university institute for vocational training) in Grenoble instead. It was great. I spent one year there and one year in Newcastle. With my undergraduate degree in hand, I decided to sit the competitive entrance exams for business schools. I was more confident and more sure of myself after those three years. I was accepted into several French business schools and in the end I “followed my heart”, since my girlfriend at the time was in Sophia and that’s what made me decide to head back to the south of France. I immediately looked for a contract that would allow me to combine work and study and I was hired by Schneider Electric, where I stayed for two years. Together, my workplace mentor and I chose the Master’s in European Business with Gabrielle Suder at SKEMA, to see through a European marketing project.

What did your time at SKEMA bring you?

Three things really stand out for me:

1/ Studying at SKEMA gave me a different kind of ambition. It’s a little paradoxical, but until you’ve studied at one of the top schools it’s a bit like having a glass ceiling above you and people saying to you “Those positions, they’re for other people but not for you.” SKEMA broadened my horizons and gave me the conviction that there aren’t necessarily any limits, while instilling in me ambition that is healthy, not arrogant.

2/ Being on the school’s rugby team really helped me to build a fantastic, lasting network: we still play together, we get together for a meal, we go and watch the younger generations play and we all hold different positions in different companies. This strong network exists today thanks to SKEMA. Business is just a by-product of the network, which in essence is a network of strong friendships.

3/ SKEMA gave me a global outlook: the students come from all around the world, some of the classes and lectures are in English, there is the possibility of gaining overseas work experience every six months.  All of this broadens your horizons, presents new opportunities, and the niggling doubts in your head like “That’s too ambitious, there’s no way I can do that” just disappear.

What is your fondest memory of your time at SKEMA?

I have plenty, but I’d say some moments of pure wonder during some of the professors’ lectures. I got to experience really beautiful moments of intellectual pleasure.

How and when did you start getting involved in the SKEMA Alumni network?

After getting my master’s, I was sent on an overseas mission for the French embassy in Italy for 2 years, on a VIE contract. When I got back, I joined Frost & Sullivan thanks to a SKEMA rugby friend who was already working at Frost. He’d turned to his network to fill a vacant position in the south of France, he contacted me and that’s how I started working for the group.

This experience showed us that this was a winning recruitment solution. So instead of doing it sporadically, we decided to “industrialise the idea”. From 2009, the school agreed to have us participate in some of the sales classes to cherry-pick the best candidates directly and recruit them. We’ve recruited one person a year for the past 10 years. In the Sophia Antipolis office there are only Skemans and it works really well! Each year, I (or a member of my team) attend the “Sales Challenge” day. I regularly sit on the jury of the competitive entrance exams and every 2 or 3 years I’m invited to a conference to run a sales masterclass with Peter Spiers, programme director of the MSc International Marketing & Business Development in Sophia.

In your opinion, when it comes to your school, is “Give & Get” important?

Absolutely! Giving 20 hours of your time each year to the school that trained you is nothing and it’s all part of the game. I also do it because back in the day, when we had guest speakers I always used to say to myself “One day, I’d like to come back and deliver a different message to the one I’m receiving today.” At the time, the messages conveyed by speakers were very elitist... sort of like “You’re France’s elite, you’re in one of the best schools.” Everything was focused on branding.

Today, I love communicating a different message: “Yes, the school is important, but it’s a tool, a means not an end, and if you don’t know how to use this tool you’re going to stay exactly where you are now.” I take a very pragmatic stance with them and often the students are really happy with the presentation because to them at least we are speaking their language. It’s gratifying for them and even more so for me. I take great pleasure in doing it.

Thanks to Nicolas for his dedication and investment. We are thrilled that he will be joining us once again in March 2020, for the next edition of the “Sales Challenge” on SKEMA’s Sophia Antipolis campus.

Nicolas Votano (SK 2006)
Associate Partner - Global Accounts Division, at Frost & Sullivan (based in Sophia-Antipolis)