In this next iteration of the Serial Entrepreneur series, I had a rather long interview with Philippe Courtot. He is an exceptionally driven and talented individual, and also brings a tremendous amount of successful experience to this series. In what will likely be one of the longest interviews in this series, Philippe really gives us incredible insight into being a successful individual and entrepreneur. We start in this first section by talking about his childhood, to see where the roots of entrepreneurship come from.
SM: I would like to start by asking about your childhood, where you come from, how did you become this entrepreneurial personality; highly creative and innovative and all of these things? What are the roots of that in your background? PC: I can give you a little bit of my background. I was essentially born the first day France was liberated from German occupation, officially, which was on August 26th. My mother was from the Spanish side, so since a very early age I had the opportunity to go on vacation in Spain and learn the ways of both cultures. As far as I can remember I was a child of a lot of curiosity. I had a lot of energy and it took me some time to focus myself because when you are interested in many things your tendency is to disperse your energy. Over time I got better at focusing myself, but essentially as long as I can remember I was a curious child. I was raised with a strong Catholic background, and I went to Jesuit schools and I was questioning when I was 11 years old many things in the Bible and they could not give me a good explanation, one which satisfied an 11 year old mind, and I started to gradually lose my faith.
SM: And what did your parents do? PC: My father was an administrator of companies, he was a lawyer. My mother was a Spanish teacher.
SM: What particular values did your father teach you? Was there anything he taught you when you were growing up that propelled you into this line of expression? PC: I think that they both had a difficult life in many ways. My grandfather was a peasant and he educated himself. My father’s values were more about learning and understanding, so his value was essentially work. He had a very good mind.
SM: And your mother? PC: My mother, in fact, was an illegitimate child of my grandmother at 16 and a half years old, and was given an education by the nuns until she was 16. At that time they normally stopped a full education at 12 years old. My grandmother, who by the way was the youngest daughter of a family of 13 girls (6 of whom died very young of diseases), ended up living alone in Spain. She raised my mother alone, and also managed to establish the French High School in Bilbao. She was then kicked out, along with my mother, during the Spanish revolution and once again had nothing and had to start everything all over again. Then World War II came, which was difficult for everybody. That is the background. This was during a time that a lot of people moved into the big cities. I saw the Cold War, I remember that well. I remember the noise the communist movement was making as they were trying to take power in every municipality possible. I remember my mom making soap and toothpaste. I lived during that connection, if you will, over the bridge between generations. A lot of people have no idea that life existed.
SM: But you chose a completely different life than communism, in fact you chose the complete opposite. PC: Yeah, it was pretty clear to me, I mean, again like the Catholic Church, people tell you how to behave and how to think. I was very young, and always a very independent thinker. It was clear to me that it was not a progressive way to live.
SM: Where did you do College? PC: I went to the University of Paris. My parents, especially my Father was pushing me to go into math, physics, scientific things… which I liked, but my heart was pushing me to be an architect. I caved in and went to the University of Paris to study Physics. But I still miss … I loved painting at the time, and I will probably come back to painting one of these days. I kept the artistic expression in me. When I take companies, I have a notion of sculpting if you will, and I suppose I channel my artistic desires into sculpting companies.