Who are you?

From Luxembourg to Harvard Business School.
  • Transcript


My name is Jean-Francois Rischard. I think my title should be former Vice President of the World Bank and author. Well I was lucky to be born in a very tiny country. My mother, when she would go shopping, could be shopping in a single day in Belgium for butter, in Germany for appliances, in France for meat, and in Luxembourg for vegetables. So you had this concept of a very small country that didn’t take itself too seriously in the overall scheme of things. Moreover, it’s a country that is straddling the German culture and the French culture. And so when I went to school, I had to learn to read and write in German. And then after that the French would kick in. And then by the time you were nine or 10 years old, it was sort of a 50/50 diet between French and German in such a way that you would have mathematics one year in German, the next year in French, and then in German again and so forth. So it was a very multicultural upbringing. And to make it more complicated, during the class breaks we would speak yet another third language which was a local dialect. And so I grew up in a place that is naturally inclined to see the world as one big place. And it’s a place where you don’t have strong nationalistic feelings, in a way. And much of my thinking later has something to do with that. I had already two doctorates when I decided to go to the States. I had a doctorate in Economics and one in Law. And so I did the unusual thing of going into an MBA program. And not knowing much about that world I picked the Harvard Business School because it was the name that was most familiar to me, not knowing exactly what I was getting into. And so I started in the U.S. not speaking very good English. And after six months at the Harvard Business School I thought I was the most stupid kid in the whole class, because it would take me forever to read the cases at night. But then it worked out fine, and I just loved that school. Not that I learned much in the way of academic content that I didn’t know; but I went, like all the other students, through hundreds and hundreds of case studies of practical problem solving in corporations mostly. And I learned to work fast, to cut corners, to deal with very complex documents and bring it down to simple solutions and so forth. So I learned more in this first year of the two year program of the Harvard Business School than I learned in many years before. And I sort of got quite taken by the way of doing business that characterizes the American system. And even to this day, I live in Europe; but when I wrote my book “High Noon”, about which I’m sure we’ll speak later, I wrote it in English for the American market. In other terms, today I’m so on both sides of the Atlantic that I prefer actually making speeches in English. And my way of operating is more American than European, but my deep roots are European.


Recorded on: 7/2/07