The Agile Leader

Francois de Thomasson, CFO, South Asia, Bolloré Logistics, shares some of the many lessons he has learnt over his career

Francois de Thomasson
Francois de Thomasson,
CFO, South Asia, Bolloré Logistics

It is every CFO’s mandate to help drive their company’s growth and success

‘Adaptable’, ‘curious’ and ‘passionate’ are some of the qualities that characterise Francois de Thomasson, CFO, South Asia, at Bolloré Logistics. Close to two decades of rich experience, including 13 at Bolloré, have equipped him to make valuable contributions to the company’s development in the region. Bolloré ranks among the world’s top 10 logistics firms, and the 500 largest overall, with strong positions in three core activities: transport and logistics, communications and media, and electricity storage and solutions. Mr de Thomasson strongly believes that it is every CFO’s mandate to help drive their company’s growth and success. To that end, in addition to being the Regional CFO – in charge of India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - he supports new business opportunities for Bolloré’s Electricity Storage and Solutions division in India.

Learning from Diverse Experiences

Mr de Thomasson, a French national, has spent more than half of his professional life abroad. After graduating with a master’s degree in business law from Université Paris Descartes, he completed 14 months of military service in the French Navy. He began his professional career in 1999 as an auditor for EY in Paris. After six years, he moved to Bolloré as an Internal Auditor, with the majority of his assignments located in Africa and in South Asia. Moving to the Singapore office in 2008 provided him with first-hand exposure to various cultural nuances, and fuelled his fascination for Asia. At the time, Bolloré’s logistics business was expanding aggressively in the APAC region, providing him with a chance to contribute significantly to its warehousing division. One his biggest and most challenging assignments, he recalls, was setting up large warehousing facilities, including an innovative, 44,000 square metre green warehouse. This required him to convince the firm’s top leadership about the project’s financial viability, and to arrange finance, including by leveraging his close connections with construction firms, banks, and the Singapore administration.

Open leaders are effective at building efficient communication channels – which is what enables them to overachieve on their targets, and to create genuine confidence and trust within their teams

Being responsible for financial management for 11 South Asian countries demanded that Mr de Thomasson constantly adapt while working with the various subsidiaries under his watch. Managing a team spread across multiple locations, each with its own distinct character and culture, required a customised approach to management. In hindsight, this is one of the richest lessons he has learned from his Asia experience. For instance, while opening a new Bolloré office in Myanmar in 2014, he had to deal with the type of legal, finance and tax-related issues that he had never faced before. Similarly, in India, he was required to take charge of the financial management of port handling operations – a first for him, especially given its massive scale. Looking back, he agrees that it is these hands-on experiences that provide the best on-the-job learning that you can get as a CFO, especially when you have to build a subsidiary from scratch.

The next significant milestone in Mr de Thomasson’s career was his arrival in Delhi in 2015, where he was made responsible for managing the South Asia region. One of his main priorities was to assist Finance in reporting, monitoring, following-up on profitability (especially when setting up new warehouses), managing treasury, and deploying internal controls. Soon after landing in India, he was confronted by two major structural reforms – demonetisation and GST. Regular interactions with the Indian bureaucracy helped him better understand the complex issues involved, thus avoiding any major operational disruptions. He is particularly impressed with how helpful Indian bureaucrats have been on tax and legal issues. On the whole, his India experience so far has instilled in him the importance of humility in recognising one’s own shortcomings, and seeking inputs and expertise from others.

Current Mandate

Today, aside from managing Finance, one of Mr de Thomasson’s key responsibilities is supporting Bolloré’s ‘Blue Solutions’ electricity storage and solutions division, which hinges on the firm’s proprietary technology: the LMP battery. This is a potentially huge area of opportunity, and Bolloré has recently proposed, in collaboration with CEA of France, setting up a pilot project to provide the Solar Energy Corporation of India with solar-powered e-Vehicle charging stations using embedded LMP batteries. To that end, French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent India visit reaffirmed France and India's joint focus on renewable – and especially solar - energy.

Additionally, Mr de Thomasson serves as Public Affair Representative for the Bolloré Group in India, focusing on the logistics business, as well as port activity. (In 2012, Bolloré and its Indian partner were awarded a 30-year concession for a container terminal at Tuticorin Port.)

Leadership Mantras: Openness and Courage

According to Mr de Thomasson, openness is a key leadership trait, which manifests itself when someone truly listens to his/her team members, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders. Open leaders are effective at building efficient communication channels – which is what enables them to overachieve on their targets, and to create genuine confidence and trust within their teams. Another leadership trait he values is courage – and for him, a good manager is one who is brave enough to face problems with a sense of responsibility. Finally, he says, a true leader must always be a role model for others to emulate.

Seeking Inspiration…

Mr de Thomasson admires people who can multi-task well. In particular, he looks up to his Group CFO, who not only handles multiple investments, each worth millions of Euros, but also has the ability to drill down to a level of detail where he can review the petty-cash inventories of subsidiary firms. He also takes inspirations from stories – and one of his all-time favourite movies is Frank Capra’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. At the top of his bucket list is writing a book, and travelling to ‘wild places’ like the Grand Canyon and Canada’s forests.

…And De-Stressing

Spending time with friends and family, and supporting NGOs in their community work, both help Mr de Thomasson unwind. He believes that, in order to preserve his ‘balance’, it is paramount for him to nurture his interests outside of work. Since arriving in India, he has also discovered the amazing power of yoga – and is quite astonished to see how efficient and productive he becomes at work after a 30-minute yoga session each morning.

Career highlights

Francois de Thomasson has 19 years of professional experience, including 13 years at the Bolloré Group, where he worked as an Internal Auditor in Paris from 2005 to 2008; as Finance Controller in Singapore from 2008 to 2015; and where he currently serves as Regional CFO for Bolloré Logistics. Previously, he worked for 6 years as an External Auditor with EY in Paris. Mr de Thomasson holds a business school diploma, a master’s degree in business law from Université Paris Descartes, and is a qualified Chartered Accountant.