On April 3, 2018, Mardis de l’ESSEC hosted Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx. A chance to delve into the kitchen of a key figure in French gastronomy.
A surprising revelation: Thierry Marx cares as much about preparing his dishes as he does about managing his teams. He even admits that the managerial model is the most complicated element to set up in the kitchen; a fact borne out by the violence of certain chefs that is regularly denounced in the sector. Thierry Marx’s recipe for not falling into this trap? "Be tough with the facts but kind to people." Managing 480 employees across his international businesses, he remains close to them on a day-to-day basis while allowing a certain autonomy. His goal is to delegate some of his authority without piling on the pressure. A delicate balance to respect, as is the "3Ws” rule - Win for the customer, Win for the employee, Win for the company - to which he also adheres.
Learn the basics
Thierry Marx’s management style demonstrates a desire to train new generations, teaching them to master French know-how and giving them an appetite for hard work. It’s little wonder that the chef has also created Cuisine Mode d’Emploi(s), a free school for students to obtain a CAP (a first-level professional qualification) in 12 weeks. The results are quite convincing, with 95% of students returning to work in a kitchen or bakery. Success is due, once again, to a mix of authority – lateness and absence are not tolerated - and benevolence: Thierry Marx’s conviction that no one is condemned to failure by their past, or the social environment they come from. Thus the issue of qualifications is never addressed during the recruitment process. Instead, motivation and potential are evaluated with the question: "Where do you see yourself in two years?".
Profession of faith
Thierry Marx is a committed man, living life at the pace of "a combat sport". He briefly served in the marine corps before starting to cook. What connects these two periods of his life is perhaps his desire to fly his country’s flag. Often seen as the standard-bearer of molecular cuisine in France, he became interested in the discipline after realizing that France’s national gastronomy had fallen behind on the world stage by focusing more on its traditions – admittedly delicious! – than on creativity. Hence his involvement in the French Center for Culinary Innovation in Orsay, near Paris, where he works with a chemist to rethink our dietary habits in order to feed the projected world population of 9 billion in 2050.
Thierry Marx is also somewhat politically engaged – although he wouldn’t go as far as defining himself as an activist. He supported Emmanuel Macron during the last presidential campaign, and appreciated Jacques Chirac’s recognition of the French terroir during his mandates. However, Thierry Marx is not affiliated to a political party, which he would find too constraining. Another sign of the independence he holds dear.
Feed the spirit
So, what advice does Thierry Marx, the chef/manager, have for ESSEC students? Never retreat nor give up, even if you sometimes have to stop and observe. Work should be a way of life in order to reach fulfilment. And finally, to quote Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: "To command men, one must know how to love them".
Interview by Laura Baldon (student)
View the video of the full debate here