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A conversation with Jean-Baptiste Faivre

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I am Chief Information Officer of Societe Generale in Japan, where I am in charge of the IT division.

I graduated from Polytech Nice Sophia in 2001 with a Masters in Applied Mathematics for Finance and Insurance. I would consider myself more of a mathematician, and found myself in the IT sector purely by accident. When I finished my studies I wanted to train in investment banking in order to work around mathematical modelling for finance, and joined a team that was focusing on that field. But rather than being just about theoretical models, we were a very important part of implementation. So basically I had to learn IT language in order to implement theoretical concepts. It was something I discovered that was quite interesting for me.

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Societe Generale is giving its employees room to move to other businesses or countries.

I’m a strong believer in steady progression, taking on new challenges and new roles every two to three years, particularly if that involves different countries. This took me to Hong Kong in 2007, where I took on the role of Head of IT Equity Derivatives Post Trade Support at Societe Generale. Going to new countries and discovering new ways of working with new people gives you a lot of strength in terms of adaptability, which is one of the key things in any fast changing environment. Luckily, Societe Generale is giving its employees room to move to other businesses or countries, so when I was offered my current position, along with the opportunity to gain further international experience in Japan, I was keen to eager the challenge.

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Empowerment and development both being regarded as essential.

I would say soft skills are even more important for a CIO than technical skills. In every organisation, and certainly in Societe Generale, you have plenty of talented and technically skilled people but what matters most for a CIO is to know how to engage with these people so that you can get input from them to make the right call. At the end of the day, when I got a bit more mature, I realised that it was all about fundamental management skills such as empowerment and development, which in Societe Generale are both being regarded as essential.

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Team spirit is one of the key values here.

As well as aiding in career progression, and a must to be an efficient CIO, is networking. I link it with collaboration and bettering your communication skills. As a CIO one of the strongest skills is to be able to collaborate with many people. One of the essential practicalities of collaboration is finding the right people with the right expertise. Once you have found them it is then for the manager to give the support and leadership that enables them to get the job done. Collaboration is essential. It’s all about being able to work with your staff, your clients, because there is absolutely nothing you can achieve alone. It is for good reason that team spirit is one of the key values here.

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Looking at the broader scope of the company outside my immediate remit.

One of the tasks I have set myself is looking at the broader scope of the company outside of my immediate remit, trying to lead initiatives in other departments to see how IT can influence the organisation as a whole. In this multiplicity there are of course challenges to be faced, with each department encountering differing operational issues. But I feel that the opportunities vastly outweigh any difficulties, particularly given that understanding the company better as a whole means that I can hopefully help enact a broader reach of improvements, not just to my own department alone.