Bouchra Aliouat is Secretary General of the KPMG Foundation in France.
Profile of a passionately curious woman, incredibly open-minded, inspirational to everyone who aspires to make their dreams come true and knows that that the best way to reach the stars is through adventure.
Dreams within her reach
“You always remember your first night in New York City.” It was the end of the 1990s in Manhattan: A newly arrived 21 year-old French girl, bags in tow, laid out on her basic youth hostel bed and gazed out of her window at the American night sky. She could feel that her “dreams were within her reach”. She had dreamed of this journey to the USA for such a long time that nothing could tarnish Bouchra’s amazement.
Not the time difference, or the slightly run-down neighborhood where she ended up, not even the overwhelming prospect of having nothing in her pocket but a J-1 visa and some meager savings… And on top of that she had that somewhat reluctant English that is spoken by the French, who have absorbed long lists of irregular verbs at school but who can’t manage to ask “Could you pass me the salt?” in Shakespeare’s tongue!
When it’s neither yes or no, assume that it’s yes…and go for it!
It didn’t matter; Bouchra Aliouat had always loved meeting people and trusted life to throw some opportunities her way. Armed with her irresistible accent and a huge smile, she started knocking on doors and asking for work. She quickly made friends among a group of students who told her about a “deal”.“Go to Los Angeles to this address, ask for so-and-so mentioning us and we’ll fix you up with some work and a place to stay.”
She immediately bought her ticket for the west coast and set off to the “global stuffing” of college, “a sort of temporary employment agency for students”. She was sent to have an interview in an amusement park. The job: a pizza chef. After a few days working in the kitchen, she asked her manager if she could move to the cash register. As he “didn’t say yes or no, she assumed it was yes”, so, she “went for it”.
Plan your desires, your values and your skills
Three months later, with increased confidence and feeling more comfortable speaking English, she decided to go to Reno, Nevada, to see what the American Dream was all about.
The town is a mini Las Vegas. After working there as a housekeeper in a large hotel, she got a job at “Circus Circus” where they gave her the responsibility of her own booth.
“A sort of burlesque experience…But crucial for (her) career” because it made her realize that as well as wanting to have an “interesting day job”, she also needed to “make sense” of her work, to really apply her skills, her energy and her values. And maybe it wasn’t as inappropriate as people thought.
Maximize your experiences to get ahead
On returning to France, she passed the INSEEC exam, in the hope of getting into « Sup de Pub ». Was it an expensive course? Bouchra “had struggled enough in the USA to not be alarmed by a loan”. Her experience in America had helped her to get ahead: “When others were putting on the brakes, blocked by some obstacle, (she) learned to take risks, knowing that you don’t lose anything through trying, and because we learn and grow from every experience”.
She felt free and had a wonderful work ethic: so much so that she invested in the school’s student union, and whilst studying, took a job as a hostess…at Star Academy!
Inspiration for a fair and balanced management model
Her colorful and resourceful CV caught the eye of Dina Scherrer, development manager at J.Walter Thompson, and she was soon asked to join the very fashionable agency in Australia.
“I don’t care about your degree, Bouchra. It’s good, you were determined enough to finish your studies. But what really interests me is that it seems that you aren’t scared of anything and that you succeed wherever you go”, this have the brilliant rising star a boost. When you talk to her about the rules of the business world in general and in advertising in particular, she has only one answer: rip them to shreds and make up your own.
Dina was one of the “managers who confidently took on challenges”: she counted on Bouchra, with a careful balance of affection and pressure to encourage her to grow.
Where the path of curiosity led KPMG…
But Bouchra realized that Dina was a bit of an “oddball” in the field, and that her most deep-seated values (conviction, balance and respect), were not shared by everyone. And on top of that it was “temporary contract after temporary contract, and it doesn’t help you to get anywhere, especially if you have a loan to pay back”.
Still, the communications industry is unique in that it praises “open-mindedness, socializing and change”, and it is an “a great way to expand your professional network”. When a professional acquaintance told Bouchra that there was a job opening at KPMG managing a partnership with Enactus, Bouchra mainly wanted to understand what a giant audit firm and an accounting firm had to do with a pioneering NGO in « social business ».
She was “the last person to be interviewed”, and got the job, which consisted of setting up an American aid program for communities in difficulty, by promoting entrepreneurship through a network of student volunteers.
The head of Enactus France
So there she was, the head of Enactus France, “going round universities recruiting students, explaining to them what social entrepreneurship is, and how it is a more valuable experience than a typical work placement.”
She organized events, created training seminars, planned road shows, thought up and ran practical workshops for skills development, and engaged young people in a big international competition for socially innovative projects. At the same time, she met French leaders and government representatives to get them involved in this inspirational movement.
The job, as if it had been created especially for this enthusiastic multi-tasker, was also an opportunity to find a new “mentor” in Denis Neveux. This high-powered manager who “had real leadership skills” taught her how to develop her strengths and how to work on her weaknesses. Himself an excellent editor, he taught her above all that the art of writing that demands that we “embrace challenges” This could be the theme of a global vision of self-development, where we need to combine courage with precision, creativity with method, risk-taking with the desire to make an impact. All of this “creates a fair manager”: precisely what she wanted to be.
A Foundation in the making…
It worked out well, because KPMG had exactly the same ambitions for her. Jean-Luc Decornoy spoke with her about the head office’s intention to create a Foundation dedicated to education and helping young people.
The idea came about after a series of meetings with professors, principals and the elected representatives of the Ile de France region. Elisabeth Guigou directly confronted the executives of KPMG with a simple question: “Our high school students in underprivileged neighborhoods can’t find work placements. Will you give them a chance?” Yes, yes of course… Immediately afterwards, a meeting was organized at the General Assembly with seven principals who were prepared to get rid of the invisible line that symbolically separates the world of education and the world of business that benefits young people.
Amazed by the energy, openness and determination that was shown during the meeting, Jean-Luc Decornoy and Jacky Lintignat decided that they could indeed offer work placements, but more than that. A “high school program” started to take shape, becoming the first pillar of the KPMG Foundation, officially created in 2007 and which Bouchra Aliouat, at 30 years old, oversees.
The three pillars of the Foundation: stimulate young peoples’ ambitions, aid the development of social entrepreneurship and support the public initiatives of the KPMG team.
At first it was rather lonely at the top, despite being actively supported by senior management, in particular Jacky Lintignat, and then surrounded by “a strong, 100% female” team, Bouchra gives substance and scale to the “high school program”. She is devoted to encouraging ambitious professional careers for those people whose worth and talent is rarely detected. The Foundation is getting the KPMG team involved in a mentoring system for young people, initiating business open days, and providing material support and skills sponsorship for educational and cultural projects that are essential for the personal development of high school students.
Bouchra and her team are also developing Foundation activities that are in line with the initial purpose of integration and which benefit from the active help of services and careers within the KPMG: an “entrepreneurship program” is underway to promote the creation of new businesses and social business in local areas, in partnership with leading players like ADIE and ADIVE…
Then, because within the company itself, the KPMG Foundation “has an open dialogue, encourages the desire to engage, stirs up incredible energy and shows that a large number of team members are very involved citizens”, a third pillar has been developed, to support involvement in organizations for its 450 employees through encouragement and by putting a spotlight on issues which they are care about and projects of general interest in which they can invest their free time.
An “experiment in social innovation” which spreads new ideas throughout the whole company
As intended by the founders and Bouchra Aliouat as she expands it, the Foundation can be seen in all dimensions of activity and life at KPMG: it reflects the strategic need to create a beneficial presence in the community’s ecosystems, it is consistent with emerging policies and development of talent driven by HR under the authority of Sylvie Bernard-Curie, it gives meaning to employees, encouraging a sense of initiative, responsibility and curiosity for each person…
It has “become a real experiment in social innovation” that spreads new ideas, experiments with new ways of doing things, values new skills and puts the spotlight on unlikely personalities that display real leadership qualities…
“A foundation is not the strategy of the heart, it is at the heart of strategy”
All these roles mean that the Foundation and KPMG are equally beneficial to each other. What’s next? Is that a problem? Not for Bouchra, who wants to “stop calling it a Foundation, that is the strategy of the heart. A Foundation is at the heart of strategy”.
Always eager to advocate broadening horizons and encouraging the blending of cultures, she created the Foundation as a “positive energy generator” because « we have huge amounts of energy all around us. It just needs to be found in those who have it, and channeled in a way that helps others.”
Marie Donzel, for the EVE blog, advised by Géraldine Ferry (KPMG)
Translation : Ruth Simpson