Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking over the phone with Romain Loeuillet, a French M.S. in Commerce Marketing & Management alum who graduated from the program in 2010. Romain, who called from Paris, generously gave more than an hour of his evening to reminisce about his time at McIntire and explain the significance of his time in Charlottesville.
Before studying at the Comm School, Romain had a highly theoretical academic background in economics. Although he loved his time at the esteemed Sciences Po, he admitted that sometimes studying pure economic theory frustrated him. He sought a more heuristic educational experience that would allow him to apply the many abstract principles he had already learned to lessons in a business context. He explained, “I wanted to take my academical knowledge to a more practical, skill-oriented program.” The M.S. in Commerce Program allowed him to do just that.
Not only did Romain find value in combining the academic lessons of two different programs, but he also expressed that he greatly benefitted from an American educational experience that exposed him to a new culture of learning. Though maintaining that no one curricular method outshone the other, Romain explained that at French universities, the student-teacher relationship is much more formalized than what he found at McIntire. Essentially, French professors walk into the classroom, deliver lectures, and then walk out. French students walk into the classroom, listen to lectures, and then walk out. There is not a fraction of the dialogue that university students find in American classrooms, let alone in McIntire classrooms, where class participation in the form of discussion is roughly 30% of each class grade. Romain found himself so happily surprised by this American model of learning that he returned to McIntire for a second educational experience. (The M.S. in Commerce Program was actually his second experience in McIntire! He studied at McIntire for his entire third year as an exchange student.) Romain took care to explain that it was not only the faculty but also the Graduate Programs Office staff and the Commerce Career Services staff whose obvious and genuine dedication to the success of the students shone each day.
Romain named McIntire Professors Ira Harris and Peter Maillet as some of those favorite, most engaging professors who encouraged students to discuss with each other both the current state of and the future of business strategy in a global context. Romain applies the lessons he learned from those inter-student and -professor academic exchanges in classes such as Project Management and IT to this day. The interactions, he explained, set the tone for the nature of his professional career and continue to guide him as Chief of Staff for the CEO of Carrefour’s Hypermarkets division. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with the global corporation Carrefour, Romain explains, “Walmart is #1. Carrefour is #2.”)
When I asked Romain to identify the most valuable skill he gained from his time in the M.S. in Commerce Program, he could not help but rattle off a list of lessons he learned in marketing, strategy, project management, and finance. He made sure to clarify that the classroom discussions not only helped him learn experientially but also helped him learn English! He had bravely come to America with very limited English language abilities.
Some of the greatest practical tests of his English came during presentation time. As all M.S. in Commerce students—especially Marketing & Management students—know, this program emphasizes making presentations in order to prepare students for the professional business environment, which frequently requires them. As Romain put it, “The program was so great because it taught us how to grow as professionals. It was a time to be a professional before working.” I wholeheartedly agree with Romain; the M.S. in Commerce faculty has designed every element of the curriculum—including frequent presentations in front of respected peers, esteemed professors, and actual corporate executives—to simulate a professional environment. The value of that educational framework proves itself in the success that follows M.S. in Commerce graduates throughout their careers.
As soon as Romain and I began discussing his Global Immersion Experience (GIE), he laughingly prefaced that every day in Charlottesville was a global immersion experience for a young French man such as he! As for his GIE travels in May and June, Romain chose the East Asia track, visiting Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, Shenzhen, and Hong Kong. That trip to China, in addition to his time in America, provided him invaluable lessons about interacting in a global environment. With a career in such a wide-reaching international organization as Carrefour, Romain harks back to those initial lessons in global commerce each day.
One cultural memory that stands out in particular to Romain was the day McIntire Marketing Professor Trey Maxham took Romain and his classmates to the garment and fabric district in Shanghai, during their travels in China. Professor Maxham had visited a tailor in the district and shared the experience of having a custom suit made with the traveling students. Romain remembers this day fondly as such a treat—choosing which fabrics to use, making sure the measurements were just right, the excitement of having his first custom professional outfit. He added that the experience provided him with one of his first experiences in international negotiations—a skill that he would go on to practice frequently during his career with Carrefour. Since that trip, Romain excitedly told me, he has had the privilege of returning to Shanghai twice. And he has faithfully returned to the very same tailor for new suits both times, once with his brother and once with coworkers. The tailor, he laughed, remembered him as “the French boy who wanted the measurements to be a little more tailored than the looser suits the Americans wanted.”
Although Romain knew he wanted to work in an international context, he admitted that it was hard to find work on a visa during his first year after the program. He stayed in the D.C. area for a year, working as a Project Manager for the French corporation Veolia Transportation, which owns the American subsidiary Super Shuttle. He described the work as immensely educational: “It was very much ‘on the ground.’ I had to work with my team every day to figure out how to best improve our processes.” The teamwork-heavy curriculum in the M.S. in Commerce Program was certainly worth its weight in gold that year for Romain.
Romain became Chief of Staff after spending three years in Carrefour’s graduate rotational program. He spent his first six-month rotation in sourcing and went on to work a rotation in Spain with Carrefour’s private label before moving back to Paris to work multiple rotations in a directorial function for Carrefour’s supermarkets and hypermarkets. Romain’s management studies in the M.S. in Commerce Program provided the foundation for his incredible growth as a director. Romain’s immediate supervisor, CEO of Carrefour’s hypermarket division, is responsible for 230 stores and over 65,000 employees. That unbelievable daily accountability is something that motivates Romain to always perform at his highest capacity. Not only is Romain driven by his responsibilities to the company, but he also draws daily inspiration from simply observing all those thousands of employees. “You might think this is boring,” he divulged, “but I really just love people watching.” In a job with such scope, it is clearly this attention to detail that has allowed Romain to so thoughtfully apply all the lessons he learned at McIntire to his career.
To those students looking for international careers, Romain encourages you to start your research now. “Make sure you know what kind of life you want,” he urges. Do you want the intense life of an investment banker? The dynamic life of an entrepreneur? To discover the lifestyle that attracts you most, reflect on not only the role you want, but also the industry, culture, and company culture you want. “Consider it all,” he advises, “because all of it comes with that job. But start with the country. You can be anything anywhere, so it’s important to get the regional culture right first and go from there.”
No matter how many different places his career takes him, however, Romain will always cherish his days in Charlottesville as some of the best. It was so clear from our conversation how grateful Romain is for every moment of his time at UVA. He remembers playing as much soccer as he could and making sure he ventured from the Corner to explore the Downtown Mall. As soon as I asked him about some of his favorite spots, he happily listed Bodo’s as his favorite spot on weekend mornings, Lemongrass “every lunchtime,” Himalayan Fusion as the best Downtown dinner, and “Christian’s Pizza late on Saturday night.”
“I have to come back,” Romain said. “I really, really have to come back, and I bet they’ll love that—the French guy admitting that he misses the restaurants in America!”