05d8e11Jonathan Wolf Chief Product Officer at Criteo explains us  why we should hire French Executives. Here is what he says:

Yes, you read that right. And yes, I am English. So how could I say something so crazy, you ask? Well first a little background.

I have spent the last 5 years at Criteo. What I joined in 2009 was a 30 person French start up based in Paris, though I remained based in London. Today, we are listed on the NASDAQ with well over 1,000 people and around 400 in Paris. I have personally been involved with hiring and managing hundreds of different people as a result, from countries as diverse as the US, Japan, Germany and Italy. I’ve therefore learned a little about the fascinating cultural diversity that makes the world so fun.

So why hire a French person?

To answer that let me first ask another question:

What does a great hire look like?

There are 3 key attributes when hiring someone in almost any role:

  1. Analytical skills. The growth of computing power has made analytical skills an absolutely key determinant of the value someone can add. In the right hands, modern computational power, and the tools that make it easy to use, are a remarkable “force multiplier”. This means the world is crying out for people who are not only smart, but also have strong mathematic skills.
  2. The second key attribute is creativity. Creating new things, or solving problems in a new way, is where the most value is created.
  3. Good interpersonal/commercial skills. Sales skills and interpersonal skills aren’t exactly the same thing, but if the product you are selling really is good then they are very close. The ability to work with other people, to explain why something is a good idea, and to understand what other people need: these are the skills of a great consultative sales person, or a strong product manager.

The French score really highly on this list. How comes?

Firstly, the French elite education system is very good. Rather like India, you are ranked based on your position in the country and based on this rank it determines whether you go to one of the Elite schools (the “grandes écoles”), and indeed which of these Elite schools you can enter. In addition the highest prestige thing you can do in France is go to an engineering school – and they have a fearsome series of exams in order to reach this, requiring an extra 2 years of study. Even if you go to a business grande école you study a great deal of mathematics to a high level. As a result I have been enormously impressed by the analytical and quantitative skills of top French graduates. The UK elite study history and politics, the US is governed bythose who study law, but in France the elite study highly quantitative subjects.

Secondly, the French also have a strong culture of skepticism. While this may not help their sense of happiness (“A recent WIN-Gallup poll found that their expectations for the coming year ranked lower than those in Iraq or Afghanistan”), it is a great basis for creativity. They are always ready to ask “why”, and are very keen to come up with a better solution than yours. This is the exact reverse of a culture that encourages rote learning. In my experience there are countries with education systems with a very strong emphasis on maths but also a strong focus on getting the “right” answer – these seem to be particularly predominant in Asia. In these countries successful graduates from top universities are still very smart, but unlike in France have been drilled since early childhood not to ask too many questions and to do what they are told. As a result, these systems seem to generate a high proportion of people who have scored extremely highly on tests from infancy to university, but struggle more with thinking of brand new things to do based on the problem and tools at hand. A French engineer on the other hand will definitely challenge you :-).

Finally, individual French are very good at getting on with people in multinational organisations. France is a mix of Northern and Southern Europe in one nation. They sometimes bemoan this, but perhaps it explains why there are so many French in senior management in global businesses – they combine a rules based, quantitative culture, with some of that “Latin charm” that we Anglo-Saxons are so envious of.

So to conclude: hire a french person.

Of course, I haven’t told you where to hire a french person which is a different question altogether…