After eight years in consulting, Olivier moved to Société Générale as a project manager where he led a team of 15+ commandos supporting the traders. In early 2014, he became the COO of the London platform.
Nicolas: Before you started working as a project manager and then a COO for Socgen you were a consultant. Can you tell me more about the switch from consulting to investment banking?
Olivier: I was a consultant for MC2I, a French firm and in 2008 I had been working for Socgen on a task force to reduce the operational risk.
Nicolas: Interesting stuff! This was a huge project indeed and probably the most challenging consulting mission you could be part of.
Olivier: Definitely. After two missions with Socgen I was having a great time with the team so I interviewed to stay. I also made the decision to stay because my job in consulting also included the sourcing of new clients and I was happier supporting the growth of the business than bringing in clients.
Nicolas: Ok good. So now let’s talk about recruiting at Socgen. What was your strategy as a project manager to attract the best profiles in your commando team?
Olivier: I think the basics are universal. We were looking for very smart people with a solid degree. What helped is that being a commando at Socgen is a very attractive and challenging job so when we made an offer we were pretty sure the person was going to take it.
Nicolas: It’s an offer which is hard to turn down I agree. Especially in Paris where Socgen has the biggest trading floor in Europe!
Olivier: Exactly. On top of those basics, I also worked on getting solid “exit jobs” for my team. For instance, I spent a lot of time helping them transition to trading roles. Doing this creates a lot of attractiveness for the team because the word spreads.
Nicolas: That’s a great mindset to have as a manager. Especially compared to the average, which is, “This guy is good, I’m going to kill all of his exit opportunities so he stays in my team.”
Now I’d like to address the interview part. Traders and commando interviews have a reputation that they are fierce. Can you tell me about your favorite questions?
Olivier: I like the basics. A lot of people consider that questions like, “Tell me about your weaknesses” trigger a lot of bland, prepared answers but you still learn a lot from asking them.
Nicolas: You mean very bad answers like, “I work too hard” or “I am a perfectionist”?
Olivier: Yes, 80% of people talk about being a perfectionist which is really not a great answer because all the bad interview guides tell you to say that. But by probing deeper you can manage to extract interesting pieces of information. A candidate could also say, “I know everyone says they are a perfectionist and for most of them it’s a lie, but I really am one and for instance on my last project I did XYZ.” If the example is great then I know the guy is smart and well prepared.
Nicolas: Interesting. Any other questions you like?
Olivier: I like asking people about their greatest failure. First, because you can catch the unprepared candidates off guard with that question. And secondly, because even if you did prepare the question, the answer will tell me a lot about how you think.
Nicolas: I like this mindset. What about your COO role? That’s different from what the readers here are used to. So what do you do?
Olivier: My main job is to make sure the platform trades securely and to support the growth of the business with new projects. So I make the life of the traders easier but I also make sure all the rules are respected.
Nicolas: What about the regulatory pressure? Has it changed a lot during your six years at Socgen?
Olivier: Saying the pressure increased is quite the understatement. The amount of additional reporting and the measures to strengthen the Chinese wall were huge. It’s a good thing because it increases security but it’s also a lot of extra work for the teams.
Nicolas: Thanks a lot for doing this interview Olivier and also for giving me a tour of the trading floor here in London. Best of luck in your new COO role!
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June 18, 2015