Aged 57, born in Valais, Pierre-Alain Avoyer is an HR consultant and advisor. He also works in expanding marketing opportunities and government relations. Today, Pierre-Alain Avoyer is the Managing Director of INES ENTERPRISES FZE in Dubai and a member of the committee of the Swiss Chinese Chamber of Commerce for the French part of Switzerland.
He has been associated with organizations including KPMG, Procter & Gamble, Mercuria Energy Group, ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) and Diethelm Keller Siber Hegner Group as a Senior Executive and in advisory roles for over 30 years in Asia, Europe, Africa and North America.
Having lived and worked for more than 25 years away from his Swiss base, including assignments in combat zones as a delegate for the ICRC in Africa and Asia, he is sensitive to the cultural idiosyncrasies which clients from various cultural and social backgrounds have.
You have had lots of professional experience in different sectors, what role has been the most memorable for you and why?
From all the various experiences in my long professional life, I will take two examples. The first is related to the humanitarian side. When I was a delegate for the ICRC, I was a young man and I got very challenging tasks. I went to Africa and Asia and took risks in order to save people’s lives. That period was wonderful and memorable.
The second example is from the business sector. I was working with Mercuria Energy, an energy company. I set up the HR department from scratch and built up the team by myself. I carried out the complete recruitment process. The Geneva office had 70 employees when I joined, and there were 380 when I left. I think these are two highlights in my life.
What have you gained from different cultures? How useful has it been for your professional life?
I am a westerner and a Christian. I lived in Asia for nearly 20 years. I was in touch with the local Asians and got to know Buddhism. Now, I am living in the Middle East and it is a Muslim world. These completely different cultures have brought a lot to me. I have redefined my expectations and become a bit wiser. Especially when I was in Asia, I studied how to keep cool and keep smiling. These life skills are important and useful.
What skills do you use from your studies in experimental psychology when communicating with people?
I learned how to interact with people. How to get to know each other, make exchanges and avoid misunderstandings. To get the best relationships with people, the most important thing is to listen to them to try to understand what the other person’s agenda is. This means getting feedback from the person and listening more than you speak. When I interview a person, I like to get to know them by asking targeted questions. I also like to know what the other person’s expectations are, what they want from the relationship.
As an advisor and recruiter, you have met hundreds of people. According to you, what is the secret to building good communication in the first meeting? How can you give a good impression to others as soon as you meet them?
The first point is smile. Smiling at people usually opens doors. In the western world, when you have a conversation with someone, you should look them straight in the eye. 80% of the time, doing these two things will give a good impression and help to create a warm, sincere, comfortable atmosphere.
What is the key to being a good advisor and recruiter?
You need to have the technical skills and competence. Secondly, you need to be able to understand what the client is expecting. Thirdly, choose your clients and build a good relationship with them.
I have known some clients for a long time and they trust me. I help my clients and resolve their problems. I am a man of action. I prefer actions to words. Being a consultant is not only about forwarding information to your clients, it is also about making some decisions for them when they request you to do so.
What is your connection to the Swiss Chinese Chamber Of Commerce (SCCC) and what are the advantages of being part of this organisation?
I am a member of the committee of the Geneva branch of the SCCC and at the same time, I am also the treasurer of the SCCC, responsible for finance. The SCCC is as important as the Swiss-American chamber of commerce and some other big chambers of commerce in Switzerland. There are 3 main branches in Switzerland. Some of the big companies like UBS, Credit Suisse, and Nestle are members. As a member, you can make contacts through our network, something which is particularly useful to those wanting to work with the Chinese market. Membership can help them get the information they need. Chinese tourists are very important to the Swiss tourism market, with 400’000 people from China visiting Switzerland last year. I believe that one day more Chinese companies will come to invest in Switzerland. The SCCC is a good bridge between the two countries to do business together.
What does work mean to you? What would a typical working day look like for you?
I work all the time. Work is my daily activity. To me a typical day is to get up very early in the morning, at six o’clock. I take 2-3 hours to read and reply to emails, do some paperwork and then the rest of the time I go out to see clients. Sometimes I travel. I spend nights with my wife and children when I am in Dubai. It is an ideal lifestyle for me.
What were your reasons for creating your own company? How difficult was it to give up the security of being employed? How did you create your own company –INES ENTREPRISE in Dubai?
I think once in your life, you should work for yourself. It could be life changing! I like working, although my aims have changed and are not the same as they were when I was in my twenties. I want to choose my own work and when I do it. That is the main reason I decided to create my own company.
Before giving up the security of being employed, my advice would be that you need to be prepared – especially if you are in a high level position, like I was. Take time to think about all the details and do not be in too much of a hurry to start. Next month’s salary is not guaranteed so you need to have a bit in reserve on the financial side.
It is easy to create a company in Dubai, perhaps much easier than in other places. Also as a consultant, I can work anywhere in the world, and l like travelling overseas.
What are the plusses and minuses of being a boss or an employee?
As an employee, you have more security. You have money every month and do not have to worry about paying your bills. The disadvantage is that you have to work under specific conditions meaning that sometimes, you have to do work which you do not really want to do. You do not have your own independence in decision making.
Being a boss, the big advantage is independence, free choice. The disadvantage is things are more uncertain and you have to be more responsible for yourself. However, I don’t mind this disadvantage because I like the challenge.
Geneva is an international trading centre. What kind of background, skills and qualities do people need to work in this field?
I have worked in different sectors, as you know. For example, the energy trading field is quite different to others. Everything moves fast and as a trader, you need to have strong skills, be quick witted, act fast and take quick decisions. It is not a job for people who are slow movers or who like to play office politics.
Being a trader, it is results which count. It does not matter how you dress to come to the office, but you have to work fast and show results.