This summer, I was fortunate enough to interview Elsa Berry (MIM Grande Ecole, Class of 1980) in her home town of New York City. To get the full story behind this French-educated American powerhouse, we need to step back in time to the late 1990s and look beyond her impressive career in Finance, to the moment when Elsa began using her trademark boundless energy for a new cause, French education.
Elsa’s contribution, as Chair of the Board of the Lycee Français de New York, was so significant, it was recognized through the award of the Legion d’Honneur by President Sarkozy. During her tenure, she piloted the complete transformation of the school, from its academic approach to its facilities… This included selling six New York townhouses, structuring the financing for the $125M project and managing the building of an entirely new campus on the Upper East Side of Manhattan with state-of-the-art facilities. And this was done against the background of the financial and real estate crises of the early 2000s. So, what started as a sideline activity for Elsa turned into a second fulltime job!
You could then ask yourself, how Elsa managed to continue her work, raise her family with her husband, Alain Bankier (H78), and still put 100% into this cause? Quite simple really… she has more energy and good-old American drive than just about anyone I have ever met! Couple that with the rigor and focus that is a hallmark of our French school and her strong leadership qualities, and Elsa moves people to move mountains. The Lycee’s new 14,700 m2 campus was inaugurated by President Chirac in 2003.
Since 2011, this dynamo has committed to a new cause - one that serves the entire Francophone business community in the USA. Elsa Berry is the current president of the French-American Chamber of Commerce, an influential national network of approximately 4,000 corporate members. Under her leadership, this organization is growing from strength to strength: constantly adding new American as well as French companies. In addition, the largest chapter, FACC NY, has added industry-specific events in Luxury, Tech, Media as well as Food, Beverage and Hospitality bringing the spotlight to bear on French savoir faire. Another successful development has been the very active Women in Business Committee, focused on the subject of Women on Boards, a topic dear to Elsa’s heart.
Elsa’s long-term commitment to French education has not however been forgotten. In 2012, she initiated the FACC Foundation to support US students wishing to study in France at prestigious schools like our own or to support French students following their American dream to study at a top US institution. The FACC Foundation provides a growing number of $10,000 scholarships each year financed by contributions brought in by this fundraising maestra.
She manages all this in parallel to her boutique M&A advisory firm for the luxury sector, Vendôme Global Partners. In 2012, after an impressive career at BNP Paribas where she headed the US Corporate Finance activity – building it up from a small team of just a few people into a large department over a period of approximately 20 years – Elsa launched this new venture to successfully combine her passion for Luxury, her impressive financial acumen and her commitment to client service. Now entering into its fifth year, the company recently hired one of our own international MBA graduates to support its activity.
I believe Elsa is a leader whose story in the city that never sleeps should inspire us to do more, to accomplish more both professionally and personally every day. Elsa moves the cursor for us: she is an ambassador for French business and education on a grand scale.
by Michelle Botha (MBA 04), US representative of HEC Paris