Anne Bardot Begins Role as SODEXO’s Chief Communications Officer with Fresh Learnings from HEC Paris EMBA

The newest member of French company Sodexo is HEC Executive MBA alumna Anne Bardot, whose perfect sense of timing has led her from PhD to EMBA to CCO and Executive Committee member of the world’s 19th-largest employer.

For Anne Bardot, EMBA ’20, timing was, is, and has been essential.

When she was a girl, a perfectly-timed visit to Glasnost-era Soviet Union unleashed a fierce curiosity that some years later led to a PhD in Political Science from Sciences Po.

Over a 10-year career at AirLiquide, she helmed Group’s communications department at the same time as that firm’s transformational $13.4 billion purchase of Airgas in the United States, before becoming VP Strategy of the Global Markets and Technologies business unit.

A few weeks ago, Anne announced on LinkedIn that she would be beginning a new role as Chief Communications Officer and Executive Committee member at SODEXO.

“This is the right time,” she says of joining the Paris-headquartered firm. “I have a particular interest in the care business. I wanted to be in a business that was closer to consumers than my previous jobs.”

Lifelong Learning

For Anne, PhD, VP, EMBA, and now CCO are acronyms that both denote discrete moments when she made the decision that the time was right, in addition to the clear prestige of the offices she has held. An unabashed evangelist for the merits of nurturing a growth mindset – “I love learning,” she says— she’s quick to note how important good timing has been in her career.

The decision she made to pursue her EMBA is case in point.

“I had more than 15 years of work experience at the time,” she says, reflecting on the decision to pursue her EMBA just while she was taking on a new role of VP Strategy at Air Liquide. “I thought it was time to step back and return to learning mode. I wanted to acquire new skills, in particular in strategy and innovation.”

Methods of Research

She put her PhD-honed research chops to use in selecting the right program that fit her own  objectives.

“I did my own benchmarks [for EMBA program suitability)”, she explains. “Among other things, HEC’s focus on strategy and marketing was important; so was the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Specialization . The end-of-week format was also very convenient for me.”

The end-of-week format Anne selected–one of five Executive MBA formats on offer–went far beyond the comfort of geographic convenience. Indeed, she found that she could learn and acquire practical, actionable, real-world insight in class and immediately put those concepts to work.

“Friday and Saturday I would learn about new business models, and then at work on Monday in my role of VP Strategy I could apply the learnings. It was great to be able to share the methodology and test new ideas with my colleagues at work. HEC Paris gives you a strong toolbox to help structure strategic thinking, which was already a huge help in my role at the time. The innovative Circular Economy business model,  which can be applied to biogas, for example, was most certainly relevant for Air Liquide.”

Learning from the Best

“It’s often a question of timing in your career, as in life; things should not come too early or too late. For me, having done the EMBA when I did, I really gained in maturity, knowledge, and readiness for the challenge of this executive role.”

The actionable ideas she brought back to work came both from professors like Frédéric Dalsace —“an amazing performance”, she says—in addition to Laurence Lehmann-Ortega, whose strategy classes enraptured Anne and her classmates, but also from her classmates themselves.

“My classmates were fantastic,” she says, noting that there was a “good spirit” in the group.

“In the English track of the EMBA, there’s a cohort of international people, and it was great to have the experience in those working groups. You see firsthand that if you have a diverse group of people, you get better solutions.

New Beginnings

After a storied 10-year career at Air Liquide, Anne recently began her tenure on Sodexo’s Executive Committee as Chief Communications Officer, where she is the final word in communications strategy for a firm that counts 420,000 employees worldwide. As ever, the timing seems just right. “My new role at Sodexo as CCO and a member of the Group’s Executive Committee will give me the opportunity to make a contribution to the development of a company that is well positioned to generate a strong positive impact on society from an economic, social and environmental perspective. This idea was very attractive to me.”

From the moment she began her role Sodexo, she carried with her the lessons that have illuminated the path from PhD to EMBA to Sodexo’s CCO and Executive Committee. Ever the organized, focused, endlessly meticulous student, she’s eager to pass along some of her favorites:

  • “Everything starts with self-awareness. What is your purpose in life? What are your drivers? The first lesson was taking time to invest in yourself.
  • Then, in terms of leadership, the main lesson is putting a premium on emotional intelligence. This involves a paradigm shift. Yes, you need cognitive intelligence, but in the current environment, I’d say emotional intelligence is more important.
  • Be obsessed with one key question ‘What is the job to be done?’. It is a helpful way to identify customer needs by focusing on their fundamental motivation.
  • Think holistically. HEC helped us to think big-picture and to consider all stakeholders: when I consider a topic or an issue, I make a point to take a 360-degree approach, which I think is fundamentally important.”

And of course, she finishes with a meditation on the importance of timing:

“It’s often a question of timing in your career, as in life; things should not come too early or too late. For me, having done the EMBA when I did, I really gained in maturity, knowledge, and readiness for the challenge of this executive role.”

More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe, and nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. According to the Financial Times, the HEC Paris Executive MBA is ranked #1 in Europe and #3 in the world; click here to learn more.

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