Career Path: Axa Investment Managers CEO Jean-Louis Laurens

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I joined Axa Investment Managers six years ago, on October 1st 1999. My role here has little to do with investing: as deputy chief executive, global head of business development, and CEO of Axa IM in France, I look after the business side of things. It falls to me to supervise and motivate our sales and marketing people around the world.

The number one issue right now, as always, is to grow our business. In 2004 we raised a record €29 billion of net new money, more than twice the amount we raised in the previous years. It was a tremendous boost to our growth. We were very successful at building our presence in French institutional asset management: the French retirement reserve fund auctioned €16 billion of mandates, and we won €2.5 billion of them.

The French government won't be repeating its auction this year, so we've lowered our net new funds target for 2005 to €24 billion. It's still an ambitious aim, but we're doing well and our momentum is maintained.

On a day to day basis, I try to spend as much time in front of our clients as possible. I travel every week to one or two European countries and typically meet the senior management of pension funds or financial institutions, as well as investment consultants. Last week I was in Milan, where I met with Mr. Lorenzetti, a well known Italian investment consultant, and the CEO of AXA Catolica, an insurance and retirement group. Next week I'm going to Spain, where I plan to meet the local senior partner of a major strategic consulting company who's very knowledgeable about strategic issues in the Spanish financial sector.

When I'm not traveling, I approve new products and help launch new funds. Right now, there's strong demand for absolute return products. We intend to launch more of those. We're also looking to win more liability-driven solutions mandates, in which pension funds restructure their assets in order to match future outflows.

Investment banking years

Before I joined AXA IM, I was an investment banker. My career began at HSBC, which was at that time called the Midland Bank. I joined in 1978 as a credit analyst in the brand new French wholesale subsidiary and spent three years in France before moving with the bank to work in Germany and then New York. On Wall Street I became involved in leveraged buyouts and M&A, and was then invited to move back to France to create the French investment banking activities of the group under the Samuel Montague brand. Within three years' we ranked fifth in the country.

The success of HSBC's French M&A team caught the eye of Morgan Stanley, and they approached me, at 38, to become their co-head of corporate finance in France. I had some reservations about accepting as I was a latecomer and it was a big role, but I took the plunge.

Working at Morgan Stanley was great, but frenetic. I have some very good memories of one or two deals, like the IPO of Technip, a French engineering group with a fantastic management team. It was one of the first IPOs that I really got to run, and it was a big success.

For me, the clients were one of the best parts of doing deals: if you're an M&A banker you work very hard and do so many things you can never remember them all. But good times with clients create lasting memories and I still have some friends in industry from those times.

Deal-doing days come to an end

I decided it was time to leave Morgan Stanley and stop doing deals when my son, who was nine months old at the time, didn't recognize me one night. As a corporate financier who went from deal to deal, I had no evenings, no weekends, and no time with my family. I wanted to take control of my time and move into a more business-related role.

Luckily, an opportunity came up. I was invited to become country head for Dresdner Kleinwort Benson in France. I spent four years as CEO of all the bank's French activities, including asset management, life insurance and investment banking.

From there, I was headhunted to join AXA. It was a move I was happy to make: at Dresdner I got the distinct impression that the asset management business was about to take off and become a big growth area in the future.

Take the plunge

A few things have helped me in my career. In particular, I attribute my success to the fact that I can work equally well in three languages (English, German and French) and I have international experience. This made me something of a rare breed during my investment banking days, and helped me gain promotions.

I've also always made the most of opportunities as they arose. I took big jobs (like at Morgan Stanley) that were a bit of a risk and that could have gone wrong. But they worked out.

I guess you could also say that I was lucky those opportunities were presented to me. I agree: you can't have a successful career without at least a little luck!

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