Franck Riboud: "90% of Management is About Emotion"

Danone president addresses final MBA 50th anniversary celebration in Paris

05/07/2016 Paris

Franck Riboud

“The important thing is not the why, it’s the how.” Franck Riboud, president of Danone, reflects on leadership in Paris / Photo: Adrien Daste

“I believe that 90% of management is based on emotions. You can’t have strong economic results without strong social results and vice versa and this is something that we have managed to do effectively at Danone. The important thing is not the why, it’s the how.”

These were among thoughts shared by Franck Riboud, president of the board of Danone, who addressed IESE alumni at the final MBA 50th anniversary event in Paris this month.

Professor Franz Heukamp, who has recently been appointed Dean of IESE, hosted the celebration, which was held under the title “The Role of the Leader in Today’s World.”

Leadership, for Riboud, is the same, irrespective of whether it is general management, leadership of a team or functional directorship: the objective is to act as a “guide to those who report to you.”

“I have never hired anyone based on their financial performance, as this is usually the result of teamwork. I hire people for their ability to lead, to guide others, to surround themselves by talented people.”

A good leader, said Riboud, is someone who has the flexibility to adapt to a world in flux. Although the challenge goes beyond pure adaptation.

“But it’s not just about adapting – in a sense, by the time you adapt you’re already late. A true leader is someone who is capable of finding the right means to deliver a vision and a mission; someone who has the capacity to convince others of their vision and lead others to realize their objective.”

That said, objectives should be realistic and reasonable, he added.

Do Leaders Have a Certain Character?

“I don’t think I am a typical leader,” said Riboud, “Although, of course, there are lots of variables when we talk about the character of a leader.”

He cited the example of ex-footballer and Real Madrid coach, Zinedine Zidane, with whom he has a long-standing friendship.

“Zidane is not exactly charismatic. But he is a great leader on account of everything he has achieved. It is the setbacks that he has suffered in his life and the pain they have caused that make him a true leader.”

Riboud also cited his own father who led Danone when it was still known as BSN (Bousssoise-Souchon-Neuvesel.)

“I had the best teacher: my father who didn’t even have a secondary education, but who was an extraordinary person. Today I still follow the advice he gave me.”

In 1994 he followed his father’s advice in changing the company’s name to that of its successfull subsidiary, thereby launching Danone Group.

Again, Riboud is quick to stress that it is not all about sales and profits. He considers the social responsibility work undertaken by Danone Communities crucial to the work of the company: “Creating a sense of purpose and meaning for those around us is real leadership. And the best way of learning and understanding the world is by interacting with those around us.”

Leaders who cut themselves off from others – those who “take the lift reserved for executives” – come in for short shrift from Riboud: “Riding the elevator with staff is when you learn most.”

“When you are at the top of the pyramid, it’s taken for granted that you are going to be competent. But in reality, the higher you go in the hierarchy, the less your past competencies matter.”