I come from a small village called Tours-sur-Marne, which is located in the "champagne" (grand cru) appellation area. In my region, all the companies have an activity related to champagne.
When you are looking for an internship during your studies, I find that as a student you have little value in the eyes of companies, even though you have knowledge and the ability to learn. You don't yet have an affinity with the company's products.
During my youth, I developed quite a deep knowledge of champagne. When you go for an interview, you have to master your subject, otherwise you have very little chance of being selected. It was a real advantage in my search for an internship to have grown up in this village.
Doing everything possible to join a champagne company
I sent my CV eight times to the champagne company Laurent-Perrier, which is based in my home village. I even sent a fax, which is not done at all anymore, but at least the company would have a paper version of my CV! I mailed it to the HR manager and put one in the letterbox. I tried everything I could think of to try and get my application in.
Determination is important, as is the way you put your profile forward. I was also open to all types of assignments, such as communication, which was not my field at all. This is how I was able to join the company of my dreams!
I have an anecdote with the CEO I met when I came out of the toilet. He asked me who I was and what I did in the company. I in turn asked him who he was before I realised how clumsy I was.
As it turned out, I did quite well in my internship assignments and was offered a VIE in Belgium.
I stayed in Belgium as an international volunteer for a year and a half. I was in the field with Walloons and Flemings.
To be able to move into export, you had to have commercial experience in the field.
During this period, I travelled around the country to meet the players in mass distribution. I was in a commercial negotiation role. This involves a lot of representations, product tastings and meetings with customers. You have to develop your local network in order to attract new customers and keep them loyal.
This was exactly the baptism of fire. It's quite difficult because you are young and you have to deal with people in charge of the department. In Belgium, there are few wine merchants, so sales are mainly made through supermarkets. You have to manage to sell yourself to them and arouse their interest.
The return to France, from export assistant to Key Account Manager
I was an export assistant for a little over a year, then I moved to a Key Account Manager position.
The champagne houses have importers in each country with their own operations and specific rates. Some of our customers sell our products in several countries, for example hotel chains. To simplify the management of their contracts, these companies harmonise their tariffs and their contact person for all countries.
You could define this as a diplomatic spider. You have to be able to talk to each importer and make everything as simple as possible.
The relationship to travel
Covid has changed the way we work, especially for exports. Travelling to manage contracts is expensive for the company because there are costs for transport, accommodation, on-site tastings, etc. We try to rationalise these expenses as much as possible.
Working in export requires personal investment but it is possible to find a balance between private and professional life. If you choose this job, it's also because you want to move around and see what's happening in other countries.
I took over the management of Japan and Korea. The former is a very important country in terms of volumes and strategic issues for the company. For me, this represents about seven trips per year of at least ten days.
Before each trip, I feel excited because I really like this country and you can have new experiences each time. You have to be able to handle tiredness and the time difference. My manager has been travelling for forty years but is still affected by jet lag.
When I land in Japan, I often have a meeting in the evening. You have to get into the rhythm, but it's perfectly feasible.
Staying and lasting in the same company
Today it is almost considered as "has been" to stay in the same company, when I see many people changing every two or three years.
I think that changing companies regularly is not for everyone.
I've already thought about leaving for another type of company. Finally, I find it very rewarding to stay with the same company because it has values that speak to me. I find that it gives coherence to my career.
Getting closer to your passion
My friends often tell me that I have chosen the easy path of champagne that I have known since my childhood. In any case, I think it is important to have a coherent career path. For example, I think it is essential to acquire experience in commerce before launching myself into import-export.
I found it hard to accept that I had to gain initial experience in trade, but I now realise that it was essential. If a student or young graduate comes to me, I would advise them to do the same.
If you are particularly attracted to a particular field, you should try to get as close as possible to it.
This is not always possible, for example in the luxury sector. But if you have experience in a field related to luxury such as jewellery, spirits, etc., you will have a better chance of getting in.
If you demonstrate your real motivation to recruiters, they will be sensitive to this effort to bring you closer to your preferred field. By working in similar sectors, your skills will be more easily transferable.