Mr. Walsh first came to Grenoble in 2010 for the Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) at Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM). His motivation was to take a sabbatical year after working for 8 years in North Carolina State University, in the United States, and spend it in France. After this first year was finished, he and his wife then went back to the US for one year, and then came back for the 2012-2013 year. He has taught courses in GEM’s management programs in Entrepreneurship and Strategy. He has also split his time between doing research at the school, and managing teams at the CEA (Commissioner for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies).
Mr. Walsh gives his reflections on living in Grenoble and his take on French culture, what he has learned from studying and then teaching at GEM, and what skills students should take into account when becoming entrepreneurs of their companies.
He loves Grenoble summers. In the heart of the French Alps, the weather may be hot, but not as humid as in North Carolina. Alongside his usual Bastille walks, there are numerous events and musical concerts that he and his wife frequently attend. However, what he suggests to any newcomer, especially for those who want to get a local’s perspective on what to do in Grenoble, is to initially get involved with welcome associations such as Open House Grenoble, where the goal is to help people assimilate into French culture and practice their French; and Sweet Home Grenoble, another similar organization. It was through these organizations that he felt a lot more in line with Grenobloise culture and typical activities one would do outside of work. Another bonus was the amount of people that he met through these groups, which motivated him even further to practice his French in social life.
He also met a lot of dynamic people from working in both the CEA and GEM, basically “one foot in the corporate world and one foot in the academic world.” In the CEA, he works with two entrepreneurial teams who are preparing to launch for their projects. These are generally Master’s/PhD students and scientists. There are at least three qualities that he emphasizes for entrepreneurial teams to have:
- Professionalism: The teams he works with are very professional, and this will help them to be successful in entrepreneurial ventures, because they have to handle working with each other full-time (probably more hours) each week to get a project launched, in its preparation and resulting structure afterwards.
- Openness: Due to seeing the way teams have worked together in the past, he strongly believes that teams need to be open with each and leadership-motivated in order to function well as a unit. Without this, it would be very hard for a team to launch a successful start-up.
- Awareness of Mission Critical: Another challenge is public financing. In his opinion, this is more a plus than a negative in being a driver to produce something; however, if this funding forces teams to react too early, “having to make payroll, then it changes [their] thought process,” or to buy meaningless things that do not create value for the venture. Fundamentally, this comes down to distinguishing what is nice to buy and what is actually mission critical to the start-up. From working in the start-up environment for several years, one example of a “nice” purchase stands out to him, when an executive of a start-up could have spent $80/night in a Super8 in Silicon Valley, California, but signed off on a $225/night stay in the Marriot.
He has learned a significant amount from working with CEA teams, and with students at GEM, who provide him with an international context. In his classes, he is usually exposed to varying cultural approaches on strategy and project management via the heterogeneous profile of the class. This continuously gives him a bit of perspective on how entrepreneurs would function in different countries.
His expertise is in finding the niche in the market, and in working with companies to leverage that to build themselves up. “My real strength is building things; I’m more a creator than an observer.” Throughout his career in both the corporate and academic sector, highlighted by his term at IBM, North Carolina State University, and managing his own start-ups, Mr. Walsh has certainly accumulated a vast amount of experience through this mindset of “weaving and weaving out.” One should not push these things, he reiterates, as there is no clear-cut steps in one’s career path. If he had taken that approach, he would have stayed at IBM and have been successful perhaps, but he never would have gotten involved in academia, met and taught students from around the world, improved his French, travelled 26 flights in 52 weeks in Europe, managed entrepreneurial teams, or lived in the heart of the French Alps, to name a few highlights. It was through all these experiences that he has become much more resilient, “being able to sit down with people from another culture and get their perspective,” which is a quality that one cannot really learn by staying in one’s comfort zone.