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An Inspiring idea from Jacques Richier and Jean-Marc Pailhol, former CEO and former Board member of Allianz France

Over the course of my career, I have met, interacted, and worked with some remarkable leaders, be it colleagues from EY or Allianz or colleagues from other organizations. I have always learned from these encounters. In this series, I will share an idea, a lesson, or an experience that I have learned and applied to my own work.

Jacques Richier (former CEO of Allianz France) and Jean-Marc Pailhol (former Board member of Allianz France, in charge of Distribution): « the truth is on the ground « .

When I joined the Board of Management of Allianz France end of 2009, I immediately met my colleague, Jean-Marc Pailhol. A former athlete, a very successful student and then professional, Jean-Marc has also a remarkable capacity to formulate concepts and to think forward. I very much enjoyed my years working alongside with him.

Allianz France was and still is one of the largest entities in the Allianz Group, today with EUR 12 bn of revenues and EUR 1bn of operating profit. In charge of Distribution, Jean-Marc had a very wide scope of responsibilities, covering all the networks dealing with our customers: insurance tied agents (about 2500 sales points today), and overall, 6500 sales people, from financial advisors to agents and their own employees. He was also covering independent insurance brokers.

Jean-Marc had a huge managerial structure to support him. Yet he was repeatedly saying « La vérité est sur le terrain » – the truth is on the ground. And he was walking that talk: despite the size of his organization, Jean-Marc would relentlessly travel across the country, meeting financial advisors and customers, attending and speaking at sales events, holding conferences with agents and pushing the door of the sales points. With more than 5 million clients, he wanted to make sure that he was not missing something, a real risk had he stayed in his office in Paris.

Remarkably, Jacques Richier, our CEO in France, had a similar disciple, regularly visiting our different offices across France, meeting the 12 000+ employees at the time, sitting in call centers, meeting claims adjusters, and then of course agents and sales agents. Even during his holidays, he would not miss the chance to push the door of an agency, sometimes incognito, to get a feel of the real customer experience. His objective was not to get a photo shoot or a selfie to post on social media (!), but to keep connecting with our operations.

This is something I tried to replicate. Obviously, in my past positions as CAE, I was very used to travel around to visit the audit teams, meet local leadership and discuss issues and but also business. But when, after my years in Allianz with Jacques and Jean-Marc, I returned to Head Office in Munich as Group CAE, I did more than resume my own field visits, but I also encouraged my Holding peers in their respective functions, to go and spend time, and not to rely only on reporting, presentations (and consultants!), even if they had the best of people and tools in Munich. It is not wasted time; it is an investment!

Thank you, dear Jacques and Jean-Marc, you have encouraged me to bear in mind that the truth is on the ground!