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Jean-Paul Agon, Thomas Gomart, Thierry Guibert, Jean-François Julliard, Michel-Edouard Leclerc... so many prestigious speakers invited to the NEOMA campuses for the series of Humanities lectures. We take a back look at the conferences held in 2019-2020.

Michel-Edouard Leclerc himself initiated the series of conferences two years ago. With a Phd in Economics and a Master's degree in philosophy and political science, he attributes huge importance to the Humanities and the social role of organisations.
I am convinced that a company's role is justified and that it must develop in line with the society in which it evolves. But the company must have the desire to act in such a way and that is the challenge the future generations of managers have been assigned,” explains Michel-Edouard Leclerc. “The role of NEOMA BS is to echo the current debate on a company’s social utility, stimulated by the publication of the 2018 Notat-Senard report. Such questions, today more than ever, represent a major intellectual and collective challenge for the coming years."

The series of lectures is complementary to the fundamental Humanities courses made available to all Master in Management first-year students, focusing on such social science subjects as sociology, psychology, ethnography, etc. Organised on one campus and broadcast live on the other, the lectures serve to enhance the notions raised in the classroom thanks to the perspectives offered by guest speakers of the highest quality. "

We invite leading figures from the economic and business worlds, company and NGO leaders and specialists renowned for their expertise to debate the major issues affecting our society," says Delphine Manceau, Dean. The objective is to encourage students to consider the social utility of companies and the role they will play in society as future leaders and managers. "By inviting speakers with such strong convictions to our campuses, we wish to go even further. Our objective is to be able to discuss the role of companies, start-ups, NGOs and associations in the political, cultural, environmental and societal changes in the coming years."

Prestigious guest speakers with strong convictions

Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of L'Oréal, inaugurated the second series last September. The Grand Amphi on the Reims campus was packed for the occasion and the students were not to be disappointed.

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Throughout the conference, hosted by two students, the head of the multinational never ceased to demonstrate his commitment to making L'Oréal an exemplary CSR company: "When I took over the running of the company more than 10 years ago, I wanted to strengthen the company's social and sustainable performance. I was convinced that this aspect would become extremely important. The mobilisation, desire and innovation that accompany these actions are the greatest generators of development."

An analysis shared by Thierry Guibert, CEO of Groupe Maus Frères (Lacoste, Gant, Aigle, Tecnifibre, The Kooples), NEOMA graduate and President of NEOMA Alumni: "CSR can represent a lever of non-performance if the company does not respect its duty of transparency towards the customer. CSR is not taken lightly by the group I oversee. On the contrary, CSR is at the very heart of our brand missions."

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On the Rouen campus, Jean-François Julliard, CEO, Greenpeace France, talks about his convictions for ecological transition and social action: "However, our main priority is the creation of a world that is free of fossil fuels. To achieve this, Greenpeace is trying to be an organisation that combines social and ecological dimensions and one that does not implement measures that would favour one dimension and disadvantage another".

An opportunity to discuss new societal challenges

For the students, the lectures provide an excellent opportunity to broaden their vision and to exchange viewpoints with the speakers. When Michel-Edouard Leclerc himself decided to take part as a guest speaker in his role as head of the E.Leclerc Centres, the ensuing discussions on the future of environmental and societal struggles were highly rewarding. Such issues as food waste, plastic reduction, gender equality were raised, without any filtering and with the spontaneity that characterises today's generation.

With Thomas Gomart, Director of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI), the students' focused their numerous questions more on international economic and political relations. Fully aware of his pedagogical role, the historian used the opportunity to address a wide range of issues, such as energy, maritime zones, climate, economic sanctions and the rise in new conflicts.

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As for Jean-Paul Agon, the students wondered why L'Oréal did not publicize their commitments more. "We don't necessarily seek to communicate on the subject, especially as there is always the risk that it could be perceived as green washing. I would simply say that we are more concerned with acting than in communicating." he replied, amused.

A unique opportunity to pass on advice

Students often expect the guest speakers topass on useful advice. "Bear in mind that performance does not imply a lack of respect or humility and be sure to pass on a sense of purpose to your teams," Thierry Guibert answered without hesitation, during his visit to Reims.

For Jean-François Julliard, the task was slightly more complicated. "It's difficult to give you any advice," says Jean-François Julliard. "Your generation is certainly the one that is most aware when it comes to climate issues, and is certainly the one that will try to change the system from within. You'll be joining companies that are going to have to work differently. You will have to invent new ways. You're going to have to deal with conflicting demands that you will have to deal with fearlessly."

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Michel-Edouard Leclerc did not ignore this highly anticipated moment for the students during his appearance in Rouen, even if giving advice is not really his style. Nonetheless, he did ask them to preserve their entrepreneurial spirit, their capacity to adopt different viewpoints and their energy to push back boundaries concerning these challenging issues in the future.
"Once again this year, thanks to these prestigious guest speakers, we have provided an opportunity for reflection on the students' role in tomorrow's society and on their social responsibilities," Delphine Manceau concludes. "More than ever, we want to provide students with the means to tackle the questions that will constitute a major collective challenge in the years to come. We are now looking forward to starting the new series."

Programme 2020-2021 : a number of exceptional guest speakers

Even if the conferences are to start a little later than usual due to the current health and safety concerns, NEOMA can already confirm a number of key speakers for next year :
Rony Brauman, Doctor – Former President, Médecins sans Frontières
Henri Giscard d’Estaing, President, Club Med
Jean-Baptiste Santoul, CEO, Ferrero France, NEOMA graduate
Jean-Marc Gallot, CEO, Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, NEOMA graduate

Jean-Paul Agon, CEO, L’Oréal, will be returning to NEOMA, but to meet the students on the Rouen campus this time.
As a reminder, Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, Louis GALLOIS, Chairman of the Supervisory Board, PSA Peugeot Citroën and Prof. Bruno DUBOIS, Director, Memory and Alzheimer's Disease Institute, Paris were all guest speakers at the School in 2018-2019.