From setback to success: How Sebastien Bonneau built his thriving business after the Executive MBA.

Lawyer turned entrepreneur Sebastien Bonneau graduated from the HEC Paris Executive MBA in 2012, the same year he launched his business AYNFG which has already closed half a billion dollars in deals this year. We spoke to Sebastien about his passion for learning, unexpected setbacks and what it took to build his successful business.


Sebastien Bonneau is having a very successful year.

The lawyer turned entrepreneur’s consulting firm All You Need For Growth (AYNFG), of which he is the founder and CEO, has closed over half a billion dollars in deals this year, a milestone which they had reached by July. He’s also just became a father for the third time, welcoming a baby girl with his American wife, Christen, in early October. Things are going very well for the HEC Paris Executive MBA 2012 Alumnus.

But Sebastien’s path to success wasn’t an easy one. Instead it was a journey characterized by hard work and determination.

Born in Paris, Sebastien Bonneau grew up in the suburb of Clichy-Sous-Bois where his family pushed him to focus on his education.

“My single mother pushed me to focus on school and extracurricular activities as much as possible,” said Sebastien.

A career with purpose

“My single mother pushed me to focus on school and extracurricular activities as much as possible.” Sebastien Bonneau with his mother on his HEC Paris Executive MBA Commencement Day, 2012.

He first became interested in studying law after witnessing a lot of inequality growing up.

“I pursued law to dedicate my career to that which is just and fair. I had my heart set on studying at Paris Sorbonne and I spent my final school years working to pay for my rent and other basic expenses,” he added.

Graduating from Paris Sorbonne and Université Paris Descartes in 2000, Sebastien was admitted to the Paris Bar in 2001, and spent the next eight years working as a lawyer, specializing in Corporate and International Law.

It was at this point in his career, when he was striving to make partner in the law firm Winston and Strawn LLP where he was employed, that he decided to pursue an Executive MBA to help him achieve this career advancement.

“I was quite young at the time, around 35, and I was supposed to become a partner at a US law firm in Paris. I was scared of the idea of being able to manage a P&L (profits and losses) to target clients, set prices, and manage a team – all the entrepreneurial aspects of running a business unit,” the now CEO explained.

An unexpected setback

“It was the 2008 crisis and I was in the M&A industry. It was not a great moment for lawyers to grow their business but I said to myself, ‘I want to become a partner of that firm and I’m in line to become a partner.’ But, I knew I needed the proper tools in order to be a successful partner,” he said.

The determined lawyer wanted to learn about all facets of business, including areas like marketing and supply chain in which he had no previous experience, to give him an edge and help him to become the best partner he could be.

However, things did not go according to plan.

Sebastien’s strategy to make partner at his firm fell apart when the law firm closed his department, leaving an unexpected gap in his professional plans.

“It was a pretty difficult moment for me during the EMBA, as all of the projects which I was working on to become partner suddenly collapsed. I had to reevaluate the purpose of my EMBA,” he said.

The Executive MBA & entrepreneurship

Sebastien Bonneau (top, third from right) with his graduating HEC Paris Executive MBA class of 2012.

Sebastien had elected to take the entrepreneurship specialization to help him in his original pursuit of understanding all elements of business management, which inherently influenced his decision of what to do next.

“When you attend this program, you’re around 40 years old, and it’s the moment in your life when you ask yourself a lot of questions about who you are, what you bring to the world, and what you want to bring to the world.” 

“I decided to take this opportunity to work on a totally new approach to traditional law firms and I chose to focus on this concept for my Capstone Project. My goal was to revise the standard model and to launch a new firm based on a new model with less hours – as everybody knows the insane hours lawyers work – and a newly designed supply chain,” Sebastien explained.

This would be the seedling to the business which he runs today, with over 500 clients on AYNFG’s roster and a presence across Europe, Asia and North America.

From Capstone Project to successful business

“I started in my living room eight years ago with no clients. But, once I had a start in terms of customers, I had to become a pilot. I had to make numerous decisions on a regular basis on how to reset strategic objectives.

“I was able to turn my vision into a reality thanks to all of the things that I learned during the EMBA.” 

In addition to acquiring the tools to launch his own firm, Sebastien explained how this specialization enabled him to gain a broader view on how to innovate as a business leader.

“To learn from things that are happening around you, to think clearly, and to use all information to make a decision, that’s really something you learn in this specialization, maybe more than in the others, which creates the perfect recipe for innovation,” he said.

“It also taught me how to create impact with what’s in front of me. And that’s very, very precious.”

Leadership and the next generation of entrepreneurs

In between the day-to-day running of his business and preparing for the birth of his child, Sebastien is working on completing the London Bar so that AYNFG can focus on post-Brexit deals between France and the UK. It will also open new opportunities for AYNFG in all countries under Common Law.

Away from AYNFG, he has mentored at the HEC Incubator and at Plug & Play Accelerator and enjoys providing both practical advice and encouragement to young ambitious entrepreneurs. Additionally, he teaches law students how to interact and engage with entrepreneurs from the Paris suburbs at the law clinic of Haute Ecole Appliquée du Droit in Paris.

“There are many ways to lead people and I truly believe that everybody has the ability to bring something to this world that we’re living in.”

For more information on the HEC Paris Executive MBA visit our website