Two Managing Partners discuss the past, present and future of the Pictet Group
Rémy Best on 25 years at Pictet
Earlier this year, Rémy Best decided to step down from his position as a Managing Partner at the Pictet Group after a quarter of a century at the company. He joined Pictet from McKinsey & Company back in 1997, when the Group had nine offices globally and around 1,100 employees. Today, there are 30 offices around the world and more than 5,000 staff members, evidence of Pictet’s strong and steady growth over the past 25 years.
“One reason for our success is that growth was never the sole objective,” says Rémy, who will continue in post until April 2023, after which he will later join the supervisory board of the Group as a non-executive director. “We were not looking for growth for the sake of growing. My passion over the past 25 years was to patiently build a firm with strong values and a genuine sense of purpose, a human organisation at the service of its clients.” One of the greatest pleasures of his career has been the inspiring interactions he’s had with some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs. It would of course be impossible to summarise all those myriad conversations, but for Rémy, there are at least five consistent threads that he’s noticed over the years.
The first of these learnings applies as much to a Partner at Pictet as it does to any company founder. “First,” says Rémy, “as business owners, we need three things: to correctly understand the context in which each of us operates, to choose the right people, and to ensure flawless execution.” His second observation relates to one of the core skills required in order to cultivate sustainable growth. “We should remember,” he continues, “that the best tool for a leader is the pruner. We always need to prune our business, to keep it in shape, to reduce its complexity. Just like a good gardener prunes the trees.”
The third learning relates to the types of people you surround yourself with. “I remember a client telling me years ago that there are two different kinds of people,” Rémy reflects. “Those who give you energy and those who take energy away. You want to maximise contact with the first category and minimise time spent with the latter. It seems obvious, but it’s all a question of judgement after all.”
The fourth revolves around delegation and handing over responsibilities. “Another client told me that in life there are four different stages: apprendre à faire, faire, faire-faire and laissez-faire,” he explains. “So, learn how to do things, do those things, make others do them, and, lastly, let it go. The last one, the let-it-go phase, is the most difficult one for all of us.” Anyone who has worked closely with business owners will know just how fraught that process of stepping away and trusting others can be.
The fifth and last lesson that stands out for Rémy is around the importance of coincidence or luck. All entrepreneurs have to work hard, he concedes, but fortune is an underappreciated ingredient in the alchemy of success. “The vast majority of the self-made entrepreneurs I have met have taught me that, most of the time, they didn’t envision the venture they would eventually create,” he says. “It happened by coincidence. Let’s call it luck. It happens because of people they have met or things they have seen.” Is there a specific learning that any aspiring founder should take from this observation? “The lesson here is you should be open to the unexpected, seize anything that might happen to you,” says Rémy. “Curiosity is key to success as an entrepreneur.”
Indeed, curiosity features prominently in the reflections that Rémy shares with all the current and future Partners of Pictet, as he prepares to step aside. First and foremost, “be curious,” he says. “Life is wonderful and it’s full of mystery and discovery every day.” His second piece of advice is to “be compassionate”. Compassion, he argues, is the most important soft skill you can display in our modern world. “The true leader of tomorrow is not the leader who knows,” he says. “It’s the leader who can listen to other people’s thoughts, solutions or projects, and ultimately show compassion, as no life is ever a straight line.”
His final reflection regarding the future of the Group is simple: “Be different. If you do the same as everyone else, you will end up like everyone else,” he says. “As a firm, if we just copy-paste other people’s strategies, we will act and eventually behave like the others.” With its unique heritage and independent spirit, Pictet has always maintained this ethos, over the past 25 years of Rémy’s time and for the two centuries prior to that as well. Certainly, it will also remain the case long into the future as well.
Marc Pictet on the values that lie at the heart of Pictet Group
As a Managing Partner and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Pictet & Cie (Europe) SA, Marc discusses how, in a rapidly changing world, it’s important to know when to adapt and when to remain steadfast.
When speaking with Marc Pictet, one relatively humble yet powerful word crops up time and again: “human”. The word characterises his approach to various aspects of his work as a Managing Partner at the Pictet Group, whether that be his interactions with clients, his attitude towards the company’s 5,000-strong staff, or how he thinks about the Group’s investments.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that this word punctuates his sentences as we stand on the far side of a global pandemic, which restricted travel and limited face-to-face meetings. This year, however, Marc has been making up for lost time, criss-crossing the globe and doing what he describes as the most exciting part of his job: “meeting clients, learning from them and growing the business together with colleagues around the world,” as he puts it. (When we speak, he has just returned from Munich; the week before he was in Singapore.) For him, it’s the return of “human contact, the human touch” that makes these visits so fruitful.
In some ways, this emphasis on in-person conversations with clients represents a more traditional approach to doing business, an approach some would argue has been rendered unnecessary by technology. After all, they claim, a Zoom call is just as good as a face-to-face meeting, surely? As Marc sees it, technology certainly has its part to play in creating the perfect client experience, but it shouldn’t be everything. Ideally, it’s about harnessing the power of human contact, while also embracing the benefits of technology. “We need to run flawless processes. Everything that a client doesn’t see should be automated,” he says. “Then the interactions should be human, where there’s an added value to the human touch.”
If everything moves into the digital realm, he argues, it becomes impossible to convey what you stand for, as a company, as a brand, even as people. “When it comes to being digital, many companies try to be everything to everybody, but you end up being nothing,” Marc explains.
Such values are only powerful, though, when they are upheld every day by staff. Which is why the other place where Marc focuses his energies is internally, applying his human touch to Pictet’s 5,000-strong team. “If you want to thrive today, but also going forward, you have to train your own staff. It’s a link to culture and belonging,” Marc says. He recently gave a welcome speech to a handful of new joiners at Pictet, in which he explained what would be expected of them. “I said that I expect them to be entrepreneurs,” he recalls. “Come in with your fresh eyes, be curious and be vocal, and challenge things, understand why we are doing things and how we can get better. And that can be anywhere – from the reception desk to the investment platform.” He understands that this is a down payment towards the company’s future success. “It’s an investment, but there’s a real return on the investment,” he says. “And it’s also fun taking younger staff onboard and training them up.”
Humanity and compassion also influence the Group’s investments. When it comes to ESG, for instance, Marc points out that Pictet moved well before this became a hot topic among investors worldwide: “We didn’t wait for these three letters to come together.” As he describes it, he and his colleagues feel a sense of duty to create a positive impact in the wider world, whether that’s through philanthropy via the Pictet Group Foundation or through the Group’s investment decisions. “We have a responsibility,” he says, pointing specifically to climate breakdown. “Being a relatively large player, we can change things and it’s our responsibility to contribute to that change by allocating resources, channelling funding to companies that recognise the issue of climate change and have a plan.”
Just as with his desire to meet clients in person and his investment in the team at Pictet, this is not simply “human” business; it’s clearly also good business. “As an employer, but also as the guardian of our clients’ money,” says Marc, “we’re always looking for sustainable growth.”
This really comes back to where these human values find their root: in Pictet’s unique structure and model. “Pictet is a privately owned group run as a family business,” Marc explains. For him, this means the Group benefits from all the strengths of a family business – “the emotions, the attachment and the long-term thinking” – without the dependence on one family or even one single family member. But like all family businesses, values are central and they remain constant, through crises and across cycles. “Family values are at the base of our Group,” he says. “And I’m a firm believer that these values should be with us for the future.”