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11 November 2019

Our Incredible Life Paths - Stéphane THION (TBS 1988)

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Would you say a few words about yourself?                              

Why did you choose Toulouse, and TBS, to study?

At the time (1980s!) my parents lived in Toulouse. After finishing at Pierre de Fermat high school, I focused on marketing. My BAC results weren’t very fabulous, so I decided to go the university route. I got a technical degree in Business Techniques at Paul Sabatier, then I did the parallel admission at “Sup de Co”!

Would you tell us about your time as a student at TBS? 

ESC was an iconic, even intimidating, institution. But because I was coming from an Institute of Technology University (IUT), my adjustment was quick and easy. In my final year, I did a specialization in “Computer Based Systems” management. My end-of-year internship allowed me to publish a book (published by Milan Media) on a new technology at the time: “optical memories”! At the time, this term included CR-ROM and rewritable CDs… there weren’t DVD’s, much less USB sticks, at the time! Then I wrote a paper with Jacques Digout on the use of these support media in management.

Do you have any anecdotes from your graduating class to share? (Student associations, projects, professors…)

I must admit that I was a reserved student and I wasn’t very involved in the associative life. But of course, I remember the crazy evenings! It was no longer the infamous “cave” because I started the same year of the boulevard Lascrosses was constructed.  Great building. But in the BTP (buildings and public works sector), quality can be an empty word. I can’t remember exactly if it was during my first or second year, but the pink slabs quickly fell off its beautiful façade.

The teaching staff left a strong mark on my memory. Jean-Claude Merlane, Claude Courtois, Dwight Merunka, and the young Jacque Digout were the teachers who left their impressions on me.


Who are you today?

In what perspective did you enter the labor force after you got your degree? What were your motivations?

After two years at IUT and three years at ESC, I had only one goal in mind: to start working! But I had to join the army first (the national service still existed). So, I did my officer training (artillery) and became “section chief”. It was my first management experience - a remarkable one. I only entered the labor market at the end of 1990 / beginning of 1991, which was experiencing a period of economic recession and therefore not conducive to finding a job. After six months of looking, and a hundred application letters, I ended up getting a position as a marketing researcher in Lyon. That’s how I started working for the France Telecom group (which became Orange in the 2000s). I stayed there for 16 years. After a few years, I became Marketing Director in the Business Unit, mainly in professional markets and then companies, In Lyon and then in Montpellier. Successive reorganizations within France Telecom, and then Orange, brought me back to my hometown: Toulouse. In 2004, following the merger of the Montpellier and Toulouse branches, I found myself as the Marketing Director of the Orange Business Services agency, which still headquartered in the Plaine, next to the Cité de l'Espace. There I met Thierry Decocq, a former ESC classmate!

What is your current situation?

Currently, I’m a university lecturer and researcher. I left Orange in 2008 to chase an old dream: to create my own business. The conditions were there, except that it was a book publishing company, and it was in early 2007. A few months later, the world was shaken by the subprime mortgage crisis, and publishing industry was faced with a terrible crisis. Some of my distributors, and many end customers (bookstores), were disappearing. I was able to hold on until 2014, then I went out of business. However, in 2011, at the same time as running my business, I started teaching marketing, customer relations management, and BTS management.

Why did you choose this career, this job?

After the soft landing of my small business, LRT Editions, a publishing house that specialized in military history, I had to find a new profession. I was no longer attracted to the business world. Decades of overconsumption was exhausting our planet. Did it make sense to market products whose waste would suffocate our lands and oceans? Where was the value of launching action plan after action plan, and non-stop reports day after day? During my seven years as an entrepreneur, I had not only become a publisher, but also an author. I discovered writing and research through writing books and articles on military history. At the same, the courses I did in BTS unearthed a new passion, that of teaching. So, my new path was clear: teaching and research. It would no longer consist of supporting, or even causing overconsumption, but of creating another type of value: contributing to the dissemination of knowledge and to the rise in the competence of my fellow citizens. Certainly, my field would always be marketing, but even marketing has become aware of its wrongs.

What moment did you know that this path was made for you?

Capitalizing on my career in publishing, and getting into research and writing was the first step. I became passionate about research (regarding history at that time). Then I started teaching as soon as my publishing career ended, which gave me the financial means to support myself, and it quickly became a second passion. This is how I found my vocation: teaching and research.

How did you get to where you are today in your career? (The major steps to consider.)

A project is built by bricks. We accumulate bricks through our various experiments. It is up to us to arrange them in order to make a solid construction. More than fifteen years of experience in a large company like Orange taught me a lot, not only in terms of management but also in terms of rigor. My experience at Orange was exceptional. I had the chance to work on a united steering committee. Our joint action let us to move mountains. These experiences were not only rewarding, but also unforgettable. So, I didn’t have any bitterness when I left Orange. I had a plan and I had to take a different path because large companies can also become shackles. To flourish in such a setting, without losing your values, can be difficult. Let’s face it, leaving the safety of a large company, and therefore leaving your comfort zone, is a perilous and painful choice. I lost a few feathers there. A euro does not have the same value when you are a small publisher as it does when you are an executive in a company like Orange. Of course, you need resilience when you’re a senior manager in such a company, but when you have to go every day to earn a living without counting your time, without losing hope, resilience takes on a new meaning. You are the sole master on board. You control everything and you are administrator, accountant, business manager, customer service, production manager, etc., all at the same time. And the future of your (small) business depends only on your efforts.

But such trials helped me grow. Resilience gave rise to another kind of trust. My life was no longer dependent on the safety and income of a management position. My life was now about my ability to build skills and value them. The approach is different.

In 2014, I returned to TBS after meeting Philippe Malaval, Geneviève Cazes-Valette, and Jacques Igalens (the then acting director of TBS).  I went back to school because you have to have a doctorate in order to teach in a large school or university. So, I applied and got a doctoral contract, and became a marketing teacher and researcher. I did my thesis, which was on consumer engagement in co-creation of value, in November 2018. In the meantime, I went to work at TBS as program coordinator and was in charge of the development of the Paris campus. These three years of getting my doctorate were a revelation. Thirty years after leaving school (known as ESC Toulouse at the time), I had to relearn statistics. I started from scratch but I discovered a new methodology, unknown in the business world. I learned another form of rigor. The academic approach, now taught in Masters, and even in Bachelor, programs, has a real value.

How did your studies help you reach your personal and / or professional achievements?

The world of teaching has changed a lot since I left TBS. Of course, I have used only a small part of what I have learned from my various professional experiences. But this experience was very helpful to me. I learned to learn. Training is the key to success today. At the speed of progress, learning to learn is much wiser than accumulating knowledge. Questioning, learning, over and over again.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Teaching and research are now my only aspiration for the next ten years. Teaching and publishing… preferably in Toulouse!


How are you involved with the alumni network?

How has the alumni network been a support to you?

It’s a very complex question. It’s very contextual. As I set off to launch a small business, I left behind a network. Of course, I kept a very strong connection with my former colleagues from Orange, but I was no longer involved in that network. In particular, I stopped sowing. The alumni network allowed me to rebuild professional ties. Relationships that are very enriching, especially since they more diversified. My interactions were no longer limited to the Orange ecosystem. These ties are fundamental. The alumni network allows us to acquaint ourselves with the other career paths, to improve ourselves alongside other generations, and to share experiences, thus placing new bricks in our building. And why not, to create new opportunities.

How would you recommend using the network?

My motto is this: you have to sow before you reap. This state of mind is anything but simple to do. Especially when you’re a young graduate. Moving from a short-term vision (my first job!) to a long-term vision (building relationships in a selfless fashion) is not natural. Yet this is how the alumni network will prove useful. You have to be patient. As the chain of new relationships develop, opportunities will appear. For example, alumni are a global network. To be welcomed by alumni when you land in a new city, in a new country, has an incomparable value!


What advice would you give to the alumni of TBS, students or graduates?

Give before you want to take, sow before you think about reaping.


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