Industry explorer and organisation builder
From highend graphical workstations to toothpaste tube production machines, from security ink for banknotes to electronic invoices, Youssef has a very eclectic professional journey. But there is a common thread. Youssef was always involved in green field situation. Being the creation of a IT development team in hightech company, the restructuring of a production facility, the setup of supply chains in a corporate startup, Youssef is really in his confort zone when facing a white page.
After 15 years of corporate world and criss-crossing the planet, from Brazil to Morocco, from Malaysia to Turkey, Youssef decided that the best way to work in a environment that matches his goals, values and interests was to create it. Passionate about the role of money in our world and the rapid evolution payment systems, he decided to invest his energy and time in creating solutions to solve a thousand year old problem: how to ease the payment process. Innovation anyone?
He loves his professional adventures. But a balanced life involves more than that. Being able to make a break of several months in a career to travel the world is both a chance and a challenge. So he did it. Twice. Hiking in Nepal, biking in Laos or exploring Australia were the challenges. The chance: his current entrepreneurship idea was born while traveling...
- Executive MBA, from HEC Lausanne in 2012 - Corporate Finance
- Graduated from Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in 1995 - Microengineering
- Diploma thesis done at NASA Ames Research Center in California on autonomous vehicles for Mars missions
- Created 4 operations centers on 4 continents in 4 years
- Head of product development for €1M+ scanning devices
- Co-founder of Sonic+Plus, a game changing invoice payment facilitator company
ENLIGHTENING LESSONS 2014
1. What was your first job?
I worked during my studies in an industrial baking factories. I promise you never look at a croissant the same way after you spend 3 hours in front of a giant oven, unloading thousands of them! After two months of doing, it really reinforced my interest for my studies. And it allowed me to buy my first PC…
2. Looking back, is there something that you would change regarding the past?
What did you keep from that experience and what did you chose to change?
I would have jumped in the entrepreneur world much earlier.
Comfort and inertia. A nice salary, loads of travel (business class!), staying in nice hotels, a very posh title, a social position are all - mental - barriers preventing you to embrace a much difficult way, but so much rewarding. So why did I change? Simple: life is short. If you don’t live by your dreams, you’ll end up living to fulfill someone else’s dream… So I decided to live what I really wanted to do. Even if it has major consequences on my life.
3. What was your first business idea?
I was 13 and with my best buddy, we decided that we would create a car. And it would be the best car on earth. I would be the technical guy (I knew nothing about engines) and Jean would be the body designer (he was better at drawing than I was)… We even talked about the business plan (how much we would sell it for…) and this kept us busy for one whole summer…
4. Tell us about the people who influenced your career decisions and how/why.
My first job as a fresh graduate really mold me. The company does not really exist anymore (it was Silicon Graphics) but working there was like… incredible. It was the Google of this time. In short, very smart management, putting on your shoulders incredible responsibilities, a can-do attitude, no blaming, no finger pointing, errors were considered a way to learn, controlled risk taking was encouraged, … This is the environment that mostly influenced who I am today. What I learned there before being 30 is still more than actual today.
5. Have you experienced a life/perspective changing situation? Please share the context and impact?
Deciding to come to Romania and to start a new venture. It was motivated by both this profound desire to build and the quest for exploration. I know it will be a long journey, but the people I am meeting, the relations I am building and the experience I am accumulating are already invaluable.
6. What does "leadership"? mean to you? Do you think that people can learn how to be authentic leaders or is leadership a gift that you're born with?
Leadership does not come with a title, or a position in an orgchart. It comes with the respect the people you are working with will give you. Not only from your direct reports, but as importantly from your peers and your bosses. Gaining this respect has nothing to do with inspiring fear. On the opposite. It is a delicate mixture of technical skills (you need to know your subject), people skills (reading the emotions and feeling your team), and management skills (if you want to kill a team’s motivation, just try micro management…). Now the big question. Is it “acquis or inné”, natural or nurtured? My belief is that every one of us is gifted in some degree in those three domain. If you are exposed to the right mentors, if you are conscious of your lacks, you can work out on improving in all three directions and eventually be perceived as a leader
7. Which are your top five business values?
Persistence (not to say stubbornness…)
8. What is the one thing that can ruin or bring up a business?
The team is everything. The success (or failure) of a business is critically linked with the quality of people you can bring on board. The idea of the business may change, the context may change, the business model may change, but with the right team, you will succeed. The consequence? Don’t not spare any effort in your recruitment process. Spend the time it takes to assess every hire, personally.
9. How would you describe the European business landscape (pros and cons)?
How about the Romanian market, any predictions for the following years?
Pros: The business landscape is relatively stable (politically and fiscally), protecting investments and providing a safe environment for companies. Cons: The European market is mature and (over?) structured. It is relatively difficult to gain a dominant position from scratch and most new company can only target SME positions. Aging population will start to impact the economy as productivity gains may not compensate anymore the lack of resources.
Romania is full of opportunities. Being on the infrastructures (highways and trains), on new services (payment systems) or new markets (half of the population does not have a bank account), Romania should see itself as an incredible resource of future enterprises. However, to be able to attract investors and entrepreneur, Romania should provide a robust, reliable and predictable business framework from an administrative, legal and fiscal point of view. One last point, as I mentioned earlier, the team is everything. The availability of well educated workers - not only academics getting out of universities but also skilled and trained manual workers - is absolutely critical. No effort (public and private) should be spared to provide a constant and consistent flow of future employees, managers and entrepreneurs.
10. How does the business model of the future look like?
Times are long gone now when you would join a company for life. Job market is now characterized with a high volatility and we should take for no granted any position we are in for. At the same time we see a new generation (Gen Y) of young workers who are more passionate about landing a meaningful job than job security. They are much more mobile and are not afraid to leave a position if does not fit their values or wishes. Both trends will lead in my opinion to a much more fragmented job landscape, where workers will (and will want to) be much freer, will favor contractor-like agreements, hoping from one mission to another. Direct interim will gain toward any recruitment form and personal brand will become critical.
11. What are the first 3 things that you value about people?
This would match the business values I mentioned above. Those are the values I would be looking for when hiring someone: Integrity, Passion and Autonomy
12. What is a true brand?
A true brand carries emotion. But let’s be realistic here: brand is a marketing concept. So yes it will carry emotions that can be as diverse as Reliability for a bank, Love for a Chocolate, Innovation for a search engine or Happiness for a soda, but we should remember that those emotions are suggested by the marketer behind the brands
13. Can brands have "hearts"?
I would rather say that some products have “hearts”. There are sometime a brand that customers just love and are so loyal that they will promote it themselves: they become their own ambassadors. This is the Graal of any marketing executive, but is rarely induced by the marketing. It usually comes from the product itself and the community that will form around it: Harley Davidson or Apple are good example of that…
14. What do you thing about the Enlightening leadership conference concept?
I am a firm believer in eclectics and diversity in business. Bringing together people with extremely different experience, visions and accomplishments that are willing to share those views with us can only lead to the success of this concept.