The masterclass of Philippe Castagnac
Source: Les Echos – 14 December 2015 (leading French economic newspaper)
“The elective model is a guarantee of our strength”
- Interview by Vincent Bouquet
To ensure the support of the partners to whom he must hold himself accountable, the CEO of Mazars relies on internal communication, commitment to the firm and individual accountability.
On 18 December, the number of partners of Mazars will increase from 740 to 830. Philippe Castagnac, how do you manage to unify so many stakeholders?
In contrast to its main competitors, Mazars is not an association of firms but an association of men and women. This elective model is a guarantee of our strength and our stability. The partners must obviously have their say and there may even be disagreements but reasonableness and fairness prevail and explain the very widespread consensus that exists at each general assembly. This cohesion is linked to our DNA. It is built upon four pillars decreed by Robert Mazars himself: competence, independence of mind, sharing and tolerance. As Mazars’ CEO, I am the guarantor of this Constitution. No employee can become a partner without fully adhering to these principles that forge our identity.
Is it not complicated to manage people to whom you are accountable?
After the departure of Patrick de Cambourg, an entire team succeeded him. This team must reflect on what our future will be in five years and make decisions accordingly. In order for these choices to be accepted it is very important that we explain them. It is through communication that we gain support. Each partner is also aware that he is the usufructuary of a portfolio of clients that has been passed on to him or that he has created and that he is proud to develop. Contributing towards building up the company is also an intrinsic source of motivation.
Mazars has a decentralised structure. What is the reality of your power?
Delegation of responsibilities to the partners is the basis of the system. But it should be remembered that at the end of each year, it is the executive body that is responsible for ensuring application of the associative charter for assessment of contributions or sharing results. It also has a role to play in appointing local leaders. In the event of a problem, we are able to react very quickly thanks to a highly regulated procedure.
Is promotion by co-option still a current model?
More than ever! When we look at the new economy, we can see that the associative model has a remarkable degree of modernity. This organisation ensures the accountability of everyone because, contrary to the corporate operational model, each partner shares the assets and liabilities. With this system we are remunerating work rather than capital. It is a model that has demonstrated its endurance and its effectiveness in the past and has a promising future. Some would be advised to draw inspiration from it.
Is a career path as dazzling as yours still possible today?
We are very keen to give employees opportunities early on. It is not rare to see thirty-year-olds becoming partners, as was the case for me. When I joined Mazars in 1978, Robert Mazars said to me, “This CV is hopeless but we will see what we can do for you”. At the very beginning a community of partners showed me the ropes and I gradually became more independent. I had the opportunity to manage the Strasbourg office for several years. This allowed me to work with a multitude of companies, including listed companies, and then become the CEO of Mazars in France and after, the CEO of the Group. Due to the concentration of headquarters of listed companies in Paris, such a career path would be more difficult today; but it has been replaced by the development of our international partnership in 73 countries, which offers new opportunities. In any case, the culture of internal mentoring lives on.
And yet many young people only spend a brief period at Mazars…
For us this is not a problem. It is evident that accounting and consulting firms attract many graduates from the grandes écoles (top French graduate schools) and it is not unusual that after four to seven years of training, young people join large companies. However, they do not forget Mazars and form a community of alumni on which we can rely.