INSEAD Participant Interview
Interview with Henri Nejade: Past Participant of the International Directors Programme
CEO and President at Brenntag Asia Pacific
Henri Nejade is a former participant of the International Directors Programme. He has also completed the INSEAD Certificate in Corporate Governance in 2015.
Can you please introduce yourself?
I’m Iranian by origin but grew up in a dual culture in France. I’m also a chemist by training, but have always worked on the commercial side – in many different countries over many years. I came to Singapore in 2008 to set up the Brenntag Asia Pacific business from scratch. Now we have 2,000 people in 45 locations across the region and a $1.2 billion operation.
With all that experience, why go back to business school?
I like INSEAD. I’ve done Executive Education programmes there before and every time I return it’s like being given oxygen. The experience certainly isn’t relaxing, but it allows you to reflect.
I was invited to the pre-launch session by the Singapore Institute of Directors. As I was about to join the Brenntag global management board, I felt it would be a great way to prepare for my next challenge. I was looking for tools to help me challenge and support CEOs and executives…which is very different from being a CEO or executive at the national level.
What were the particular challenges you were facing in your new role?
There were two main issues. First, Brenntag is a global company with 460 locations across the world. So taking a decision for Latin America, say, requires an almost empathic feeling for the culture and the impact of the decision. Second, the analysis behind the decision-making is much more difficult in such a complex environment.
How did the programme help you to address these challenges?
Thanks to the programme, I changed my behaviour. Now I spend two-thirds of my time at board meetings listening and only one-third talking – asking the right questions. The report that I wrote for my Corporate Certificate insisted on the fundamental importance of making this change.
Why did you decide to complete the certificate and what were the benefits?
I wanted to put down on paper how I would use what I’d learned on the programme. Certification also felt like an achievement, even though I have many diplomas! I spent days writing the paper. Ludo (the course director) corrected it and kept pushing me to say more. But it was worth it. When you put something down on paper, you remember what you’ve done and it pushes you to keep improving.
What did you think about the programme's faculty?
Fantastic! What I appreciate most was that there was no distance between them and us. It was as if they were there to drive the debate and ensure that we all got something out of each other’s experience.
What about the modular structure?
It definitely worked. It gives you the flexibility to manage and to implement what you learn in between the modules. The second and third modules were my favourites, because they were less theoretical… and I had become a better student by that time too.
How did you find the 360-degree exercise in the third module?
I’ve done many 360-degree evaluations before, but they were very different. If you do an exercise like that in a company, you know it’s going to be used to assess your performance in some way, which makes you reluctant to hear the feedback. At INSEAD, the exercise was focused on you as a human being and how you can develop yourself further: who you are and the “mirror effect” that has on other people. It’s much more helpful and you feel you really want to hear the feedback.
What do you tell other people about the programme?
The International Directors Programme absolutely lived up to my high expectations. What I’d done in the past was not so much help for my new experience as a global board member. I had the skills and knowledge to run a company but not the behaviour for board meetings. The main thing I stress, when I talk about the programme, is that it’s about sharing and learning from experiences. Also, I use what I learned – not just on the global Brenntag board but also, for example, with our joint venture in China. I promote the programme everywhere I go!
Interested in INSEAD's International Directors programme? Learn more here.