Arnaud Tesson: Sciences Po taught me to ask the right questions

  • Arnaud TessonArnaud Tesson

Arnaud Tesson is a Sciences Po alumnus, who studied Economy and Finance, and the U.S. Asset Management Practice Leader at executive search firm Egon Zehnder. Drawn to Sciences Po for its renowned intellectual curiosity, Tesson credits Sciences Po with the sense of inquisitiveness he has brought with him throughout his career. 

When applying to Sciences Po during his third year at the University of Paris Dauphine, “what really appealed to me,” Tesson says, “was the quality and the recognition of the diploma.” He was seeking an intellectual education, something that appealed to his “thirst for general knowledge.” At Sciences Po, he was able to study a whole variety of interesting subjects and electives. Tesson remembers specifically a class on the government and politics in post-colonial Africa. “The electives,” he says, “were taught by people you read about in the press every day.” At Sciences Po, he found intellectual curiosity and the opportunity to study with brilliant minds. Tesson enjoyed the intellectual aspects of student life, “the ability to have really deep discussions, often on the sidewalk in front of school, or even at the café nearby,” he reminisces. 

After graduation, Tesson, who had always been attracted by international business and international living, took a job in a small consulting firm in New York. Living in New York in the late 80s, he discovered a world of large investment banks, motivating him to apply to MBA programs in the United States. Tesson decided to attend business school at Dartmouth and after graduating, was hired at Bain & Company as a management consultant in Boston. Five years in consulting, however, left him still “curious to see what being in a corporate environment would feel like,” so Tesson transitioned to take a job at Capital One. He worked with the bank on their international expansion, first in London and then in France. After leaving Capital One, he returned back to the U.S. and took a position at Egon Zehnder, where he is now a partner and the head of the North American asset management practice. 

Asked to describe his current work, Tesson explains that his “role is to advise clients, which are primarily asset management firms, on their talent-related issues.” He advises businesses on everything from going to search for a new CEO or board member to the development of their existing executives. “What I love the most,” Tesson says, “is all of the people that I talk to, who are all incredibly interesting and very diverse in their backgrounds.” His advisees range from the most experienced executives to up-and-coming future leaders. Despite focusing primarily on senior leadership roles, he makes it “a point to talk to more people who are not yet at that level, so that [he] can understand the needs of the new generation.” The other aspect of his firm that Tesson particularly enjoys is the strong relationships he has built, with 250 partners and over 1200 employees globally. “I’ve formed some of my strongest friendships with these people, because it’s a partnership,” he says. “It’s people who are there for the long haul; many of them I’ve known for 10-plus years.”

Tesson remains grateful to his time at Sciences Po for helping him to develop the “sense of curiosity, open mindedness, and inquisitiveness” that still guides him today. Sciences Po “really helped me to realize,” he says, “that the biggest thing you can bring when you are a senior leader or you are advising senior leaders, is to ask the right questions.” Despite not knowing all of the answers or being the most proficient in every area of specialty, the most important thing, according to Tesson, is to “use your critical judgment and ask the right questions, and that really for me is what I got out of Sciences Po.” 

Tesson offers up valuable advice for current Sciences Po students and young graduates. He believes that the availability of information and the flexibility of technology today makes working on anything from anywhere and moving around the world a lot easier. “That said,” he adds, “it is a lot easier to find out what you really like and enjoy doing, and so my advice is to put a lot more effort into thinking about what really drives you and makes you happy.” He recommends spending time talking to people who know you well and reiterates the importance of being self-aware. “Really focus on understanding what it is that you would enjoy doing and what you would be good at and pursue that. Because that is something that nobody else will tell you.”

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