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Serial Entrepreneur: Philippe Courtot (Part 2)

Posted on Friday, Feb 2nd 2007

In the next portion of the interview, we examine Philippe’s educational background. This is particularly interesting if you recall that this is during the rebuilding phase after WWII, and set in that context. We also examine his initial jobs out of college and the cultural limitations he encountered, which fanned the fire in him.

SM: You were in France until what age? Until you moved to the US? PC: I came to the US in 1981, and I was born in 1944. I was 37 years old.

SM: And what were you doing between college and 1981? What was your career in France? PC: I graduated from the University, and it was hard to find jobs in physics. At that time I was just getting married, I was the last group of individuals doing the mandatory military service, a year and a half. I needed to make money. I applied for IBM, Philips, and a few of the large companies, but none of them were really taking me. For two reasons, I really didn’t have an IT background …

SM: But nobody did at the time, right? PC: They were starting to. But the real reason is because in France you had psychological tests at the time, and when they turned you down they did not tell you why. So I wrote them a letter and asked, and they wrote me back and told me it was their policy not to tell why they had turned down people. But I insisted and insisted and insisted and finally they gave in, and they said they would make an exception. So they set an appointment and asked me to come in, and when I came in they said that my psychological test showed that I was far too much of an independent thinker.

SM: That was my guess! PC: They were looking for people who were able to be directed, and they said that I would not be happy working with them. And they were very right! Then what happened was I found a job in a small company in France that was distributing semiconductors. Through that I had the opportunity to attract the attention of Modular Computer Systems.

At that time the laws of France were trying to protect the domestic computer industry, so no other company, no American company, could sell in France. So, I set up the company for them, they gave me $5,000 in cash and I incorporated. So it was essentially my company but it was really theirs. That is how I got into the computer business. It was an interesting adventure. I did not know anything about computers, really. I was barely speaking English, I knew a few words. My salary was based on commissions. I became a very good sales guy.

In fact I realize now that I was not a sales guy, I was essentially coming to tell them a solution, but I told them you are very technical and I am not. I know the product is good, why don’t you try it out and tell me what you think. My customers are the ones who taught me the value of the product I had. I learned one of the most important lessons very early on. It is very important to see yourself, what you do and what you have, with the eyes of the customer. After six months, when I brought a $20,000 order, the Americans did not believe me. Once they saw it was real, they gave me a big commission in addition to the standard. So, when I came back to my wife, I said, “I will go to America”.

SM: So that is when you made the decision? PC: That is when I made the decision. That is when I realized that the American society was very different than the society that I was in. In France I had diplomas, I had a degree in Physics which was a pretty good education, but I struggled to get a good job. I was not from the big schools, so I was a second grade citizen. My parents were not connected, so every step of the way the French top society was telling me, “OK, we are satisfied with the work that you are doing, but you are not one of us, so be happy with what you have and where you are. Be happy that we give you a job.”

I realized that the American society was based on what you can do. So, it was then that I realized that it would be best for me to come to the US and work internationally. Then it took me some time, but I grew in the corporation. I was then promoted and went to the UK to manage sales and marketing. From there it was easy to come to the US. I spent 10 years with that company.

(to be continued)

[Part 1]

This segment is part 2 in the series : Serial Entrepreneur: Philippe Courtot
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

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