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Interview

Thibaut Ternynck (SK 2008) - An international career in finance

30 July 2020

It was during an academic exchange in Singapore while studying at SKEMA that Thibaut discovered the joys of living overseas. His career in finance then led him to live in Switzerland, Mexico and Brazil. He talks to us about his journey so far, the challenges faced over the course of his career abroad, and his experience of our famous business school.

 

Can you tell us about your educational background and your professional experience? What were the circumstances surrounding your move to Latin America?

After attending a business school preparatory course, in 2005 I enrolled in the Master’s in E-management at SKEMA (formerly CERAM) and majored in corporate finance on the Sophia Antipolis campus. I spent three wonderful years there studying and I got to spend six months in Singapore on an academic exchange.

I also did an internship at Laboratoires Genévrier, an experience that left a strong impression on me.

Six months before graduation, I had already signed my first full-time employment contract with Deloitte in Paris, an auditing firm for major multinationals in the industrial sector (Lafarge, Alstom, Vinci, etc.). I stayed there for one year, then moved to Switzerland where I had relatives. I then got a job in Lausanne at Bata Group, where I worked in finance and accounting. It is a large, family-owned corporation selling footwear and accessories, founded in the early 20th century by the Bata family. It became a multinational ahead of its time. At the time, the group wanted to expand worldwide.

After 4 years in Lausanne, I was offered a position in one of the group’s operating units. I was sent to Mexico, where a business was being restructured. I assisted with the recapitalisation of the company and two plants. I was in charge of managing the company financially and of ensuring that funds were allocated to the right project.

In Mexico still, after 2.5 years I was recruited by the Italian group Safilo, which makes eyeglass frames for a number of major brands. I started as the Senior Finance Manager of the subsidiary in Mexico for one year and was then transferred to Brazil, where the company was restructuring its operations.

Then my wife and I decided to return to Switzerland (she is Swiss) to be closer to our respective families. Unfortunately, that was not possible with Safilo, my employer in Brazil. I got back to Switzerland a few months ago and I am now Chief Accounting Officer for a German industrial giant.

 

Why did you choose to study at SKEMA rather than another business school?

At the time, CERAM (now SKEMA) was a very original school, both in terms of its campus and its set-up within a technology centre.

There was also a strong focus on the technical and management side of things, something that distinguished it from other business schools with more conventional programmes.

Alice Guilhon, Dean of SKEMA, also has a very innovative approach with the willingness to get behind the so-called “knowledge economy”. The school believes that the economy of the future will not necessarily be based on creating value from goods or services, but on creating value from knowledge. And that makes sense today, because the companies with high added-value are those that rely on knowledge above all.

Over the course of my studies I also benefited from being taught by very interesting professors, and from a very large web of companies around the school − all in a magnificent setting in Sophia Antipolis...

I was also involved in several student associations, notably CERAM Yachting. We would organise regattas, participate in student competitions... There was a real camaraderie; we were a tight-knit and supportive community.

A pretty strong bond unites us and we have kept in touch to this day.

 

Are you also part of the SKEMA Alumni network?

Absolutely, and I stayed in contact with many students, whether in Mexico, Brazil or Switzerland. We would meet up regularly, once every three months, for a drink. It was also a good opportunity to exchange tips, things to know about the country and which companies to know about.

When I got back to Switzerland and was looking for a job I actually contacted a former classmate who lives in Geneva and works in recruitment. He helped me, gave me a lot of advice and passed on some very interesting leads. I would have been less visible without his help.

 

Personally and professionally speaking, what was your experience of living in Latin America?

I had spent a few months in Singapore while studying at SKEMA and that really gave me a taste for foreign lands, because I’d never travelled very far before that.

That particular year, I had told myself that if another opportunity came up to experience another culture, I wouldn’t hesitate. And I got the chance to move overseas again in 2014.

I went with my wife, and I think that being together really made our integration easier.

It was a wonderful experience; culturally-speaking it was very rich and intense. I loved discovering and learning new things every day, on both a personal and a professional level. After a few months there, I managed to take inspiration from the practices I was seeing and, with a European perspective and knowledge of the local market, offer more complete solutions.

You can really get a lot of energy and strength from these Latin American countries, where people are very optimistic by nature and learn to laugh in the face of adversity. When you return to Europe, you bring back a small part of this culture with you.

It changed me; I’m less afraid and I feel more bulletproof.

 

Do you have any advice for young SKEMA graduates entering the workforce?

Today, the younger generation want a range of experiences. What they seem to overlook somewhat is that you can have several experiences within a same company.

It’s what I realised when I was working for Bata Group. I was considering leaving after two years, but in the end I decided to stay a bit longer to enjoy the opportunities the company could offer, such as a transfer overseas.

To me, continuity, staying with the same company and proving internally that you have value is really something to consider.

I would advise young graduates to acquire experience internally first and foremost, because companies really look favourably on these kinds of career paths, at least in finance.

 

Contact: Thibaut Ternynck (SK 2008)

Interview by lepetitjournal.com for SKEMA Alumni

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