In our latest interview, we caught up with our Head of Finance & Operations, Jérôme Picon. Jérôme is a member of our Senior Leadership Team and has a range of teams reporting into him.
Despite his busy schedule, we found some time for a quick video chat to find out about his career working across Europe, having a young family in different countries and, of course, what he plans to do after the pandemic.
Thanks for joining us Jérôme, you’ve worked in a few different places in Europe, can you tell us a bit about the journey that brought you to join MAXIS in 2017?
Yes, of course. Well, I actually worked in London before MAXIS when I worked for BNP Paribas. I joined BNP Paribas in 2000 in the Finance team and worked in London with them until 2006. I loved my time in London, but at that time I wanted to return to France, mainly for family reasons. I got a job with AXA in the head office in Paris, working as a Financial Controller for the UK business before taking on a global role for the AXA Group, heading up Financial Reporting which involved preparing financial analysis for the management board, investor relations and for annual reports.
While I was in Paris, we had our three children and in 2013 we decided we wanted a new challenge and thought it would be great to work abroad again. I joined AXA Bank Hungary as CFO and we moved the family to Budapest.
It was an interesting challenge professionally, not just because of the language barrier, but because AXA was aiming to leave the market, so I was overseeing lots of change and the eventual sale of the banking business in Hungary. When I joined there were over 500 staff and I was in the final seven people that eventually shut down the office in 2017.
When my placement in Hungary was coming to an end, AXA asked if I was happy to do another international assignment and joining MAXIS in London was one of the options. I was very happy to go back to London – the city had changed a lot in the ten years I had been away, with better food and transport, and lots of new buildings. It’s a very dynamic city, more so than Budapest or even Paris.
And the role with MAXIS was appealing too. It was closer to a start-up mentality after the formation of the joint venture, which was a nice change after being part of the wind-down in Hungary.
So, you mention you have three children, how has it been for them growing up in France, Hungary and now England?
It has been a really great experience for my family and has helped them grow up with an open mind to new experiences and new cultures. In Hungary it was a little more difficult as the language barrier was harder, my daughter was going to kindergarten and the teachers didn’t speak any common languages with her.
In London it is a little different as it is a very international city and speaking English is a very important skill for them to learn. Although it can be a little difficult if they feel like they don’t have roots… I do like to remind them that they still need to support France in sport though!
Back to your role with MAXIS, as Head of Finance & Operations, you have a wide range of teams reporting to you, from Finance to IT and from Legal to Member Management… how do you help manage such a diverse workload?
It’s one of the most interesting things about my position and what attracted me to join MAXIS. If you’re CFO of a big company you only look at finance, but with my role being Finance & Operations in a smaller business, I get to have a wider scope.
As you say, all of the areas are very different, so it’s key for me to rely on strong directors in each function. I see my role being to work on the co-ordination of the team and ensure each of the teams can perform their best. I have weekly meetings with all my directors to keep them up to date with everything they need to know, help them solve their challenges and take any information that needs to be escalated.
The structure really allows the teams to develop. We had a short period of time where we had director positions in my department vacant, but it was great to work more closely with and empower some of the more junior members of the team in these times.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in global employee benefits?
I think the key word here is ‘global’. It is a truly global industry and having that mindset of the big picture is really important – you can’t get stuck thinking too locally. Understanding the landscape of the market and the latest trends around the world are important too. The final one I would say is that a good technical understanding is an important starting point so you know how the products actually work.
Moving away from work, we know you’re a keen sportsman, did you use the COVID lockdowns to improve your fitness?
During the first lockdown basically all we could do was go running, so I was like Forrest Gump and I just went running all the time. My kids couldn’t do their usual sports, so my oldest son was sometimes running over 100km per month with me. It’s great to mix exercise and family time. I’m now just waiting for tennis courts to reopen and to be allowed to play football again.
And finally, where’s the first place you’ll visit after the pandemic when we can all travel freely?
Good question – lots of my family are still in France so obviously I would like to go and see them. We have also booked a holiday to Corsica that we really hope will go ahead. Corsica is part of France but it’s an island just to the north of Sardinia, so it really doesn’t feel like France.
Thanks for your time and the great chat, Jérôme. We hope you can get to a tennis court on Corsica very soon!