A vision without strategy is a mere illusion. That is one of the maxims of Stephane, graduate of EMLV from the class of 2010 and currently senior manager at Elior Group. He is also a respected mentor internationally, especially in Africa. He believes helping young people is a surefire way to achieve long-term personal growth.
After achieving his Master’s in Finance and Management Control at EMLV, Stephane Selion Oba has accumulated substantial professional experience both in France and abroad. Since 2017 he has worked for Elior group, where he manages the deployment of strategic indicators for the New Elior plan at the heart of the group’s strategic planning division.
But in addition to being an audit expert, Stephane is in his element (when) sharing his wealth of experience with young people. As a mentour in the 10,000 coders association, he reflects on his path so far and (on) the importance of soft skills in all walks of life.
Choosing your higher-ed business school: an establishment which is confident but also humble
My path, up to and including graduating from the economics and society track at school, was a classic and conventional one. I had a rebellious spirit and developed a socio-political conscience at a young age. I envisaged myself as a high-level diplomat at the forefront of global affairs, helping to solve the biggest challenges of our time. True, I could also see myself as a lawyer or aeronautical engineer…But at 18, who really knows what they want to do in life?
And then comes the question: should we do the same thing our whole life? I had my eye on a future in international relations, but I wasn’t very organized in my preparation for the entrance exams. I wanted to start with a more general degree. I also didn’t like the idea of the classes préparatoires (in France, the year of preparatory classes that commonly precedes entry into prestigious universities), preferring instead to develop in an environment closer to the world of business. I therefore drew up a list of undergraduate business schools.
I rapidly homed in on EMLV, at the time a young school with big ambitions for development and blessed with amazing facilities in the heart of the business district. I really liked the message they were conveying: believe resolutely in your potential, refrain from arrogance.
From a purely academic point of view, what I remember from my time at EMLV is the the quality of academic teaching on technical topics, as well as teaching which promoted an out-of-the-box approach, such as the general knowledge and theatre lessons.
I remember being fascinated by the modules on economics and geopolitics. I also liked the teaching on starting a company and I have excellent memories of the group work.
In a more personal sense, I met some of my closest friends at the Devinci Higher Education. In no particular order, I remember the pleasure of practising multiple sports, studying in high-quality, comfortable classrooms, and above all a fantastic year on exchange in South Korea.
From a Master’s in management control to a career in strategy and commercial development
Having discovered new subjects at EMLV, I completed my Master’s majoring in Planning and Risk Management while undertaking an apprenticeship at Maison Givenchy (LVMH) as a commercial management controller in the export division.
Truth be told, I forged my path as I went along, according to what interested me and the opportunities that came up, rather than having it all planned out in my head.
With this idea in mind, and keen to keep discovering the world, I left France for the first time and took up a volunteer role as Business Analyst at Orange in Uganda, where I stayed for 18 months.
Then, back in France, after some new management control projects for large companies in a variety of sectors (cosmetics, biotechnology), I had the opportunity to tackle a new challenge, creating an Internal Auditing department in a young organisation based in Rwanda. Having achieved good results, I was transferred to Kenya where I became Director of Operations, managing 35 collaborators and the setting-up of a logistics system for transporting frozen goods unprecedented in east Africa.
After this unforgettable experience, I joined Elior, a leading mass caterer in France, as as internal auditor and controller.
In 3 years, I (have) participated in auditing operations at over 50 sites in France and around the globe (the USA, Italy, Spain, the UK and India), putting in place a new risk map, and managing a project to implement digital solutions for fast-moving, automated data analysis.
I am currently senior manager in the group’s commercial development and strategic planning division.
Giving back to young people in Africa added meaning to my career path
First of all, when I was younger I was lucky enough to receive mentoring from inspiring individuals. This steered my professional development, playing an important role at every stage.
In light of this, I wanted to share my experience with young people who maybe did not receive as much academic encouragement as I was privileged to receive, and who I thought had untapped potential.
I therefore played an active mentoring role in the organisation ZUPdeCo, which aims to combat inequality in schools.
I was born to Russian and Congolese immigrants, and I have always been proud of my triple-sided culture and my Afro-European identity. My first trip to Congo in the 2000s, was a special moment: it was as if I’d reconnected with a part of my identity which had in fact always been present. I was blown away by all the richness I saw, alongside all the hardship.
It was during my Erasmus year in South Korea that I woke up to the impact new technologies were having on societies. That was the moment I began to dream of a knowledge-based “digital awakening” in Africa.
In 2011, while working for Orange in Uganda, I met hundreds of brilliant young people, many of whom were genuinely self-taught.
I began to feel a duty to actively help these young talents seek out personal development opportunities.
Fuelled by this ambition, in Congo in late 2016 I was invited to speak in front of more than 200 people on the theme of personal development during a major Tech event.
I received very positive feedback, in particular from the President of an organization dedicated to female emancipation and stopping sexual violence against women who said she felt moved by my contribution. This made me even more determined to pursue projects with a strong social impact.
Today I am Responsable Institutions and a personal development mentor in the 10000 Coders community, which has set its sights on training 1 million young people per country in Africa by 2030, with at least 50% women.
This is ambitious, but with backing from states, international bodies and companies, it is achievable. In 2050, more than 75% of the global population will be under 25, and in 2100 5 of the 10 most populous countries on Earth will be in Africa.
We feel we are at a turning point in history, where children from the African diaspora can contribute to a new narrative for current and future generations.
Digitalisation won’t cure all ills, but it allows knowledge to be shared rapidly on a huge scale, and is responsible for the proliferation of new entrepreneurial niches.
How I improved my soft skills
I quickly realised that my professional success depended not only academic commitment, but more importantly on “exceptional” skills. So I devoured books on personal development from writers such as Dale Carnegie and Pierre Bourdieu.
I observed my environment and analysed human behaviour like a silent sociologist. Thanks to my parents, I travelled a lot at a young age: Ukraine, Russia, Cuba, all over France…as as they say, travelling broadens the mind!
I equally developed a competitive spirit and strong leadership abilities by taking part through practising team sports, besides pushing myself to the limit with boxing and hiking in challenging environments.
In my view, the soft skills which really you can’t do without are the ability to adapt, intellectual curiosity and emotional intelligence. We live in a world extremely rich in different cultures and ways of life.
The ability to adapt is the ability to settle into your immediate environment with ease, and to focus your attention on opportunities over limiting factors. What’s more, the world is constantly evolving, so no training can unlock perpetual success.
Some technical skills increasingly becoming obsolete. That’s why it’s important to read and maintain an analytical and constructive perspective on things, and not to hesitate to undertake further training. It’ll be a worthwhile investment.
Most of tomorrow’s jobs don’t even exist yet! Who would have predicted social media influencers 20 years ago? Who would have believed cryptocurrencies were possible?
Ultimately, I’d say that emotional intelligence is one of the most powerful soft skills in terms of the impact it can have on daily interactions.
For me emotional intelligence is, among other things, about understanding behavioural patterns without preconceived ideas – the infamous labels we can’t resist attaching to things – and having a well-informed mix of empathy, self-awareness and humility.
Sometimes I meet managers and senior executives with too much faith in their intellectual potential. In spite of their self-belief, in certain situations they proved to be completely incapable of shifting their way of reading people or social situations; they had put all their faith in a single way of thinking that they thought was infallible. Therefore, take care when judging others and social situations.
My advice. Look to become the best version of yourself. Seek out your talents so you can show them to the full, and thereby feel as if you’re exploiting your full potential…and besides that, work for a more just world!