Hello Kary, Please tell us about your journey from being a 3rd Engineering Officer at Teekay Maritime to becoming a CTIO at Capgemini Invent?
After graduating with a degree in Marine engineering, I spent a short time working as a 3rd engineer at Teekay shipping. I quit in 2006 and joined the French Foreign Legion, where I spent five years in a combat regiment and did multiple interventions in Africa and Afghanistan, where my primary function was that of a sniper and combat team lead. In 2011, I left the army and did a Master’s in International Business at Grenoble Ecole de Management. Following my master’s, I worked at Michelin as a data and financial analyst and then as an economic researcher for an EU Horizon 2020 project. In 2016 I moved to Paris and became the director of research at a tech start-up where we built an NLP-based recommendation engine that created innovation ecosystem maps. After three years in this post, I joined Fahrenheit 212 in 2019 as an Engagement Manager at the newly created Paris office, and a year later, I was nominated to the position of CTIO (chief tech and innovation officer) for Capgemini Invent, where I am today.
By pure curiosity. My time in the army put me on the front lines of combat operations. I realized that every deployment and combat engagement involved a tremendous amount of capital. Being an engineer, I was relatively uneducated about economics and capitalism. And since I wanted to understand the reason behind these deployments, understanding economics was key to figuring out this puzzle. I started by reading economic textbooks while I was on active duty in Afghanistan (2009) and then decided to get a degree in economics and international business on leaving the military in 2011. This curiosity to understand economics was also what led me to study Blockchain further down the road.
Combat and uncertainty are two sides of the same coin. As the old Mike Tyson saying goes, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Combat is similar, as no matter how well you plan an offensive or defensive strategy, the terrain and unexpected emergencies in the operational environment will force you to adapt to unforeseen circumstances and depend on your team members’ abilities to solve the situation at hand. Clear lines of communication, specialized training, and trust play roles of equal importance when immersed in an environment of conflict and multiple uncertainties.
Business is similar to this environment. We have technological disruptions occurring every day. Uncertainty and change are the only “normal” that exists. Being able to adapt your portfolio and strategy means doing the same thing as in a combat situation – you have to collect as much information as you can, depend on experts and specialists in your team, communicate clearly and transparently, and adapt strategies and tactics based on changes in the market and the tempo of these change. While these maneuvers may not always work, what it provides is the ability to be relatively more comfortable when dealing with uncertainty. In a way, my military experience makes it easier for me to lean into ambiguity in corporate settings.
There were multiple role models that played a role in forming the persona I wished to become (and am still becoming). It’s important to remember that role models are context-specific – you may have a role model in terms of, say, knowledge specialization in a subject. But the same person or their attributes may make a terrible role model for (example) public speaking.
Anyone who is trying to create a future persona of themselves needs to use role models, but also needs to consider two tenets. First, there will be many role models who you will come across (and they can be pioneers, peers, or even juniors)… You need to select the attributes that you wish to emulate of these individuals and create your own future and persona, which will be a smorgasbord of these attributes and your own cognitive diversity.
Second is authenticity. You have to be honest with yourself on not just what you want to emulate of your role models but also how you want to emulate them. While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, you need to be authentic to yourself. Being able to carve your own identify that is influenced by role models, develop your own style, and add/remove role model attributes as you change and evolve with the years, is key to continuous learning and personal development. There is no curriculum for this. You have to learn and figure out a process and method that works for you.
Well, we are increasingly heading towards a cashless society. So the aspect of digitization of finance and economics is increasingly real. But economics is not just tech and DSGE models. It is also about policy and agent interactions.
When I wrote the book in 2017, CBDCs were just about emerging as a subject. My thesis was that by moving to a system made up of a sovereign level blockchain that is interoperable with private and public blockchains. We would be able to get more transparency about our economy’s financial flows and apply the theories of complexity economics, which were more suited to our current economic paradigm than, say, Keynesian economic principles.
In retrospect, today, I see that the issues of the increasing public deficit, over financialization, or growing private debt levels cannot be solved via a technological solution alone. It requires better policy-making more than anything else, which can be validated and automated (via Blockchain or non-Blockchain) tech solutions. Today, I’d say that I’m jaded by the promise of sovereign level blockchains as institutions that wish/state they will apply this technology seem to want to recreate the same mechanistic hierarchical command and control economic structures, which is against the principle of decentralization that this technology aimed to create at scale. The increasing use of Blockchain for large-scale speculation of cryptocurrencies has not helped my view.
But I remain optimistic about the technology’s potential. However, I’m sure the reality will not resonate with the idealistic images I had in mind regarding this technology’s potential to redefine capitalism.
I don’t have a structured answer for this. I’m privileged that I could convert my passion for learning about tech and economics into an impactful role in a large organization. But I’m in a new role, with a lot to learn and where responsibility is the reward. 9 to 5 regimes don’t apply to these kinds of roles, and maintaining a work-life balance is often sacrificed for the chance to work on novel, high-impact initiatives, which I do without a second thought. I try to balance the two by sticking to a strict morning routine – get up early, do a short sports session, followed by 2 hours of reading, podcasts, videos, etc., to be updated before the workday starts. As more requests for my time are made, I find this routine offers me some stability, but I know I need to do more in terms of switching off work mode.
Two points – (1) Take the risk of thinking for yourself and (2) Identify latent needs of end-users. Thinking for yourself and coming up with a genuine opinion is an increasingly rare commodity. Most of us follow the same influencers, read the same reports/journalists, and quote the same hashtags. In times of such hyper-alignment, introspection, the study of history, and applying the scientific method of falsifiability will help view contemporary narratives from an original slant. Educated authenticity is a premium commodity that you can sell or leverage.
This brings me to the second point on latent needs. Most changes in a market happen because there is a latent user need. A good example is Clubhouse (less than a year old and already a unicorn by some valuation estimates). If one looks at Clubhouse, it is nothing more than real-time audio conferencing meets podcasts. The underlying technologies for real-time conferencing and podcasts have been around for a while. But what the creators of Clubhouse tapped on is the latent need /wish of podcast listeners to converse (even for 30 seconds) directly with the experts on a call. This is something that everyone wished for but never spoke out loud – a latent need. Being able to acknowledge this need (via authenticity in thinking) and building a business flywheel around it is a good way to go about creating high-impact solutions.