Interview: Jean-Baptiste Faivre
CIO Japan, Societe Generale, Corporate & Investment Banking
When it comes to ranking technical expertise in the world of IT, Jean-Baptiste Faivre, CIO of Societe Generale Securities Japan Ltd, would be the first to admit that he would not expect to find his name around the number one spot. Fortunately, this is not something that concerns him as he is of the opinion that, for those in top managerial positions, being able to recruit those with the required expertise and then drawing the best from them is of a much higher priority.
Having graduated from Polytech Nice Sophia in 2001 with a Masters in Applied Mathematics for Finance and Insurance, he considers himself more of a mathematician, and found himself in the IT sector purely by accident.
“When I finished my studies I wanted to train in investment banking and mathematical modelling for finance, so I joined a team that was focused in that field,” he recalls. “But rather than just creating theoretical models, we were a very important part of the application in real life for investment banking. I had to learn IT language in order to implement these theoretical concepts. It was something I discovered to be quite interesting.”
Though accidental, Jean-Baptiste turned this newfound interest into a career path and followed it through various IT managerial roles in his native France. He is a strong believer in steady progression, taking on new challenges and new roles every two to three years, particularly if that involves working in different countries. In 2007 this took him to Hong Kong where he took on the role of Head of IT Equity Derivatives Post Trade Support at Societe Generale.
“Going to new countries and discovering new ways of working with new people gives you a lot of strength in terms of adaptability, which is key in any fast-changing environment. I really feel that international experience gives you that.”
Jean-Baptiste’s progression through a variety of roles in Hong Kong proved his adaptability. He developed a great understanding of his industry, though it was not something he had foreseen at the beginning of his career, he felt that that becoming CIO was a natural progression. So when in March 2015 he was offered his current position, along with the opportunity to gain further international experience, he was eager to accept the challenge.
“I had quite a lot of managerial experience in positions from front to back office so I was really keen to step up,” he explains. “What I like most in such a position is that it gives you a very broad understanding of the end-to-end business.”
Despite the undoubted fact that he has amassed an impressive and broad array of technical knowledge in his fifteen years of experience working in the sector, it is perhaps somewhat unusual to find a CIO whose background is not in IT. But Jean Baptiste does not consider this an issue. For him it is his leadership, organisational and interpersonal skills that make him successful in his executive role.
“I would say soft skills are even more important than technical skills,” he advises. “In every organisation you have plenty of talented and technically skilled people but what matters most for a CIO is knowing how to engage with these people so that you can get input from them to make the right call.”
His opinion that the role of a CIO is not to be the best technical performer but to know how to use the best technical people, was formed early on in one of his first managerial positions.
At the time he made the same mistake as many other first time managers, trying to lead by example and expertise, when one of his managers took him aside and gave him a piece of advice that would follow him throughout his career.
“He told me that I should learn to delegate,” he remembers. “If I was not able to do that then I would be stuck in my position forever because the organisation would not let me leave. He said that you should be able to replace a good manager at any time, they should not be indispensable.”
He says he found the advice a little strange. “’You are asking me not to be useful?’” he thought. “But at the end of the day, when I matured, I realised that it was all about fundamental management skills such as empowerment and development.”
Jean-Baptiste took this concept of managerial dispensability to heart and it has shaped the way that he develops and leads his team. Now in the role of CIO he considers it as important as ever to develop what he sees as the mandatory skills of strategic planning, stakeholder engagement and, perhaps above all, people management.
As well as aiding career progression and key to developing people management skills is networking; a must to become an efficient CIO in Jean-Baptiste’s opinion.
“Networking is mandatory for anyone who would like to be CIO. I link it with collaboration and bettering your communication skills. As a CIO one of the strongest skills is to be able to collaborate with many people,” he points out. One of the essential practicalities of collaboration, Jean-Baptiste feels, is finding the right people with the right expertise. Once you have found them it is then up to you to give the support and leadership that enables them to get the job done.
“You need to be able to demonstrate strength and confidence so people feel safe and able to follow you,” he suggests. “Collaboration is essential. It’s all about being able to work with your staff and your clients, because there is absolutely nothing you can achieve alone.”
As well as networking, Jean-Baptiste highly values proactivity. “In any top management position you are not told what to do. You cannot wait for things to fall from the sky, but you are the one to set the tone and people expect you to set a clear vision. Proactivity is one of the first characteristics you need as a CIO.”
The role of the CIO
Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone who began their career outside of IT, little over a year into his role as CIO one of the tasks Jean-Baptiste set himself is looking at the broader scope of the company outside of his immediate remit, trying to lead initiatives in other departments to see how IT can influence the organisation as a whole. There are of course challenges to be faced, with each department encountering differing operational issues but he feels that the opportunities vastly outweigh any difficulties, particularly given that understanding the company better as a whole means that he can help achieve broader reaching improvements across the business.
It is in part thanks to these initiatives that he feels that the next natural step in his career would be for him to become a board member. In fact he is of the belief that having the CIO on the board is a natural progression for any organisation and even a number one priority.
“Because of a sharp acceleration of the digitisation of information, I really believe that having the CIO on the board is becoming crucial to make sure that IT stakes are well understood by top management.
For the CIO the pressure is increasing because we are really becoming the centre of a cyclone. The IT stakes are so high and I believe that the CIOs of today will become the CEOs of tomorrow.”