Our Training Programs With HEC Paris Offer SME Managers High-level Of Expertise That Is Adapted To Their Specific Needs
The Bpifrance public investment bank provides companies with financing and development support. It has been co-developing training programs for senior managers in SMEs and middle-market companies with HEC Paris Executive Education for over ten years.
Interview with Guillaume Mortelier, Executive Director in charge of company support at Bpifrance.
What do senior managers like most about the content of your training programs?
Our theoretical teaching is more condensed than in traditional MBA-type programs. And we work on practical cases that really correspond to the challenges facing SMEs, unlike general training programs that often illustrate the theory with business cases about industry giants such as Total or Coca Cola, for example. Indeed, one of our typical practical cases focuses specifically on managing the relationships between SMEs and major groups. We look at how to understand the challenges a group faces and how to address them. In many cases, the boss of an SME will refrain from making contact with the CEO of a large group, preferring to go through their more natural contacts in the purchasing or innovation departments. We show how they can easily position themselves in a CEO-to-CEO relationship, and that the contribution of an SME to the activities of a large group, either as a supplier or as a co-developer on a joint project, can prove to be very important
How do your training programs fit into the tight schedules of busy managing directors?
In our catalog, we offer both long and intensive training programs, which we call accelerators, and shorter formats, which last a few hours. They are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Accelerator programs are run over several months. The longest ones are spread over 2 years, with 8 sessions of 2 days each. They enable managers to expand their sometimes very general knowledge of strategy, a business model, governance, or shareholders. As for our short, tailor-made training programs, they allow us to raise awareness among managers of issues such as energy transition, digitalization, inclusion, youth employment, gender diversity in companies, the industry of the future and cyber security.
How do your programs help leaders overcome their apprehension about these issues?
A lot is expected of the bosses of small businesses in terms of their societal role, growth objectives, economic profitability, work-life balance, and much more. The aim of our training programs is to provide them with the know-how to make progress in all these areas. Along with the theoretical input, we organize practical exercises in groups of 5. The group setting challenges them, encourages them to move forward, creates emulation, and it is a good way to share solutions.
With the health crisis, lockdowns, prevention measures, and working from home, the challenge of digitalization in SMEs is now a key topic. How do you provide senior managers with the necessary support to meet this major upheaval?
For over a year, they have been faced with the urgency of digitalization. However, some are still reluctant to use digital technology. This can be explained by the generation gap, by a fear of going outside their comfort zone, or by the belief that digitalization is only possible in companies that can afford an IT Department. Our training programs therefore play a fundamental role in helping them to move forward, thanks to the insights of our facilitators and exchanges with other managers in the class who have already put things in place. We need to demystify the digital aspect, by demonstrating that it’s not a mountain to climb and that we can move forward in small steps. Click & Collect is a good example. It's not just about the big platforms like Amazon. Inviting customers to place their orders by email or phone by posting your contact information on a shop window, on Facebook or on Instagram can be enough to get started with Click & Collect.
Do small business bosses think that Click & Collect will only have a small impact on their sales?
I can give you the example of a cheese shop that is also a restaurant, and that has achieved good results despite the current restrictions. Although they only had 3,000 followers on Instagram initially, during the October lockdown, they launched a site dedicated to raclette, just as the trend was booming (to such an extent that outlets selling raclette machines had run out of stock). On this site, they offered 3 types of raclette - with or without charcuterie, and with the option of renting a machine. They received a lot of orders and saved their financial year!
Energy transition can make some managers panic. What answers do your training programs provide?
Although the economic arguments are not always obvious when it comes to ecology, they do exist and they can be very significant. We demonstrate this in our programs. Firstly, SME managers have to anticipate future constraints concerning the carbon content of production. Often, their clients are already subject to new regulations, and SMEs will be too in a few years’ time. We also need to take into account the changing expectations of consumers in terms of environmental responsibility. If they do not rethink their production and delivery methods, many SMEs will quickly fall out of step with these requirements. Finally, reducing your carbon footprint can result in significant financial savings. The cost of energy and waste treatment is bound to increase, so reducing your outgoings now means saving money tomorrow.
How important are gender parity issues in companies?
There are two main reasons for the under-representation of women in industry. Firstly, ingrained habits in terms of recruitment. And secondly, too few women are trained in technical and engineering professions. We respond to this imbalance by involving as many women as possible, both as leaders and as consultants, so that their role becomes established in people's minds. We also explain that gender diversity is a very important factor in recruitment, and that it plays a fundamental role in the employer's brand image and ability to recruit.
Aside from their content, why do your joint programs with HEC Paris Executive Education appeal to SME managers?
Many bosses did not study at one of the top schools. We offer them the opportunity to train with experts from the world of education who have in-depth knowledge of SMEs. They benefit from a high level of expertise that is adapted to their specific issues. Moreover, collaborating with HEC Paris in our programs gives the students at this prestigious school greater visibility on the role of SME managers, and makes them aware of the career opportunities this sector can offer. Our training programs therefore build bridges between young graduates and SMEs.