How a French CEO grew up on stories from Yelagiri, Tamil Nadu

Bernard Charles, Chief Executive Officer, Dassault Systemes, kept hearing about India from the time he was a child growing up in Brittany (France).

His uncle, the late Salesian priest Father Francis Guezou, and founder of Don Bosco College at Yelagiri Hills, Tamil Nadu, would visit every few years and regale him with stories about India. “He would keep talking about its people and the work he was doing,” says Charles.

Charles, whose company has a significant India presence, fondly remembers the time he lectured over 5,000 students at the technical education institution, at his uncle's request. After almost four decades of working with the hill tribals, Fr Guezou passed away at 85 in 2009.

Even while he is at the helm of affairs at Dassault Systemes, Charles good-naturedly says he is the black sheep of the family. “None of them is in business and are largely philanthropists, professors and academicians… I came into business by accident,” he adds. What Charles does share with them is in knowing what he wants. As much as his illustrious uncle was clear about going to India for missionary work even when he was very young, Charles had his priorities set in the world of science. After graduating with honours in mechanical engineering from Ecole Normale Superieure in Cachan, France, he dedicated himself to research.

When he came on board Dassault Systemes in his 20s, the company had just 30 employees. Today, things are dramatically different with the €2-billion French company having a workforce of over 11,000 people. A unit of the Dassault Group, it is a leading player in 3D design software, 3D digital make-up and product lifecycle management.

India is a key destination on Dassault Systemes’ global roadmap. The company, which employs about 2,000 people in India, has been doubling its revenues here every three years with big allies such as Tata Motors, Tata Consultancy Services and L&T.

The relationship with the Tata Group has been especially warm. “Ratan Tata is a great guy. When he was the Tata Group Chairman, we used to meet every time I was in India,” said Charles. And what would they talk about? “Aircraft….Ratan (Tata) is a fan of Dassault’s Falcon aircraft as he is a pilot himself,” he said.

(This article was published on October 12, 2013)
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