Art sustains beyond a distinguished corporate career

Among Painter CEOs who spontaneously painted on my subtle nudge,let me present Jacques Vincent

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Published: March 4, 2012 2:34 am

Among Painter CEOs who spontaneously painted on my subtle nudge,let me present Jacques Vincent. He’s the key transformer of $26 billion Groupe Danone where I’ve strategised about 200 brands since 1984. One day in 1988,I got a call that Jacques,who’d just been posted back to France,wanted to meet me,but in my atelier,not office. He arrived,and talked about the liberty of expression I’d created in the hardcore strategy of corporate requirement. I later asked what made him come to my studio. Familiar with all the work I’d done for Danone,he knew I was a painter,so was curious to find my source of creativity. Looking around my studio,he commented that the freshness in the work I’d delivered to Danone now falls into place in his mind.

He wasn’t finished exploring the creative aspect,he said. Jacques always wanted my perspective on marketing through art. He asked me to show him how art is culturally associated with food,the parallel between the evolution of classic to contemporary art and the last 100 years’ human consuming pattern. I organised our next meeting in Foundation Cartier,an artistic seminar place in Paris’ outskirts. That he agreed to spend the whole day away from his corporate world to view business through art’s fresh perspective proves that Jacques’ business success comes from lateral thinking. I gave him my take on the trajectory of art,food and how they mesh in Western society’s culture,adding that marketing would be socio cultural rather than statistically-driven in future. This subject snowballed in my subsequent meetings with Jacques over the years. It’s important to append here how luxury brand Cartier promotes various artists in a large gallery of collections in this sophisticated contemporary art museum. Foundation Cartier shows how business can go beyond industry to support art that’s timeless.

Another call from Jacques in Brazil I’ll never forget is his asking if I could design the dress “with your type of colours” he’d wear for his daughter’s wedding. I was nonplussed. Was this hardcore Western corporate gentleman joking? I

made my assistant Caroline check with Jacques’ secretary. Yes! That’s exactly what he’d requested! Some other work was bringing me to Bangalore then,so I picked up violet raw-silk material and had his suit custom-tailored in Paris. I hand-painted his tie,silk coat-pocket handkerchief and socks. He accepted everything the way I’d designed them.

Can you imagine Jacques,whom everybody’s seen in corporate formal dark colours only,wearing this violet suit? People at the wedding were wide-eyed in admiration. All I can say is that it clearly exposed Jacques’ creative and daring mind,the quality that allowed him to turn around BSN of 14 verticals into Danone,world leader in dairy products today. Jacques asking me to design his dress the way I do my paintings was an incredible demand from the Vice Chairman of a global company. Pinned up in my office is a photograph of violet-suited Jacques hugging his daughter wearing a white wedding gown. This poignant father-daughter relationship really looks like a piece of my painting.

So when in 2010,Jacques re-visited India,and I’d helped him find some direction for Danone’s expansion here,our first year’s Painter CEO calendar was already out. Sitting in Jacques’ chamber at Shining Consulting,Bangalore,where we’ve allocated him a regular office as he prefers to conduct business from here whenever he’s in India,I invited him to join the Painter CEO club. “What’s that?” he asked. I explained my belief that CEOs are perforce creative as they magnificently manage diverse situations and people while striving for that bloated bottomline. He readily agreed to paint in my Bangalore studio this time. I video-taped him (http://www.painterceo.com/participants/2011/Jacques-Vincent.php ) as he carefully chose brushes,colours and concentrated in painting. His attentive stance reminded me of our many meetings in Danone when he’d listen intently as I spoke on consumer value and social trends. In fact in 1995 when Jacques asked me to work for Britannia where Danone had a share then,it was the first time I was coming to work in India. From Charles de Gaulle airport to Mumbai,he made me talk on cultural aspects of different societies I’d worked with,and took notes with multiple geometric shapes. Our discussions always veered on how art and culture can influence marketing. After painting he said it was tough,very unlike his 40 management years. “You get inspiration when you put the brush in water,the colours you see and don’t see. It’s exciting the first 15 minutes,then there’s anxiety,and creativity rises again.” Jacques’ outstanding determination came through in seamless strokes he confidently made,leaving white space at the bottom,and converging power at the top. Twenty-two years after he’d visited my atelier,his painting revealed he’s still carrying freshness,as also unique focus with which he’d made Danone deliver healthy dairy and water globally. Wait,Jacques’ artistic inclination doesn’t end there. After painting,Jacques told me his retirement plan was starting an art gallery. I was there when his Art for Smile Gallery on 28 Quai du Louvre (www.artforsmile.com) was getting its interiors done. This incredible gallery is just behind Louvre Museum on River Seine,Paris,opposite to my art college Ecole de Beaux Arts. When people buy a painting,part of the proceeds go to CARE France,an NGO. Different CEOs often ask how I generated the Painter CEO idea. I’ve spent a lot of time with Jacques Vincent; this incredible story of a high-level corporate leader retiring into the brightness of colours and milieu of artists is an inspiration,among others,that I’ve inherited from French society since my early career. Painter CEO is a truthful manifestation of CEO creativity which has immense value in society,much beyond their professional lives.

Shombit Sengupta is an international creative business strategy consultant to top management. Reach him at http://www.shiningconsulting.com

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