Project Description

Eric Bonnem


Eric has always been an adventurer: During his career he changed from consulting to engineering to luxury industry and today he’s building a unique travel company, called SECRET PLANET. Trips include skiing to the North Pole or a Greenland crossing. Read more about Eric’s exciting career.

  • What was your first working experience?

When I was at school, I was already a bit original because I had my own company. Our idea was to bring innovative products to the market. The first product was a plastic stick that helped you hold a newspaper. Then, we sold a handle for supermarket plastic bags.

I started that in Paris, continued it in Oxford and eventually took a year off before my final year in Berlin. It may sound like a silly product but in the end it became a major undertaking and we sold millions of these handles.


  • Was it successful?

Let’s say I gained a huge plus in experience. When I applied for other jobs I could always bring it up and I became a lot more mature.

“I don’t need money to go explore the world, so the minimum is way enough.”
  • What did you do after graduation?

I did an internship in Munich for 6 months and then I spent a year and a half in Singapore as part of my military service. Military service was still mandatory back then but you could apply to work for a French company abroad instead.

Finally, I started to work for a strategy consulting firm in Paris for four years. I learnt a lot during these years but at the end, I knew I didn’t want to be a consultant.


  • How did you proceed in your career?

Though I didn’t want to be a consultant, I liked the strategic approach and wanted to do it on a more personal level in a large firm. So I joined MERSEN, which had almost 1 billion in revenue, as the strategy guy for the company’s president. Eventually, I became Director for strategy and controlling. And because I had a good way of presenting the business, I also did the investors communication for MERSEN.

I did all this for 6 years and I thought it was a fun experience. But still, at the end of the day I felt like something was missing.

“It was like a dream. Art, models and champagne everywhere.”
  • How did you end up working for Kenzo Takada?

As a consultant I had projects in the luxury industry for example for Yves Saint Laurent. Thus, I met Kenzo, for an expert interview actually. At the time he was trying to change his business and he remembered me.

We met again and he told me: “I need someone to help me because I’m in deep trouble.“ Since 1993 the Kenzo brand belonged to LVMH and Kenzo had left them in 1999. Since then, he did a bit of business here and there but it was quite a mess. He wanted to move more to consumer products and he said, “okay, let’s try to take off this business together.”


  • How was it to work with Kenzo?

It was like a dream. I was living in an amazing house with Kenzo. Art, models and champagne everywhere. If you want to sell Kenzo you need to know what Kenzo’s lifestyle is about.


  • What can you say about the brand Kenzo?

Kenzo always had a global view, an entire universe, but the first thing, which worked very well, was the fashion, the dresses and sweaters. But Kenzo is much more than a fashion brand. And very soon in the 80s they developed the housing, the materials for sofas and chairs, etc. But when LVHM took over in the 90s they focused on the fashion and forgot about Kenzo’s lifestyle and universe. Reviving this universe was what he was dreaming of when we were working together.

“I was never afraid to change from consulting to engineering to luxury.”
  • After two years, you changed to another fashion brand – OXBOW – as managing director.

Yes, a surfwear brand to be exact. It had about $100M revenue and was one of the pioneers of surfwear. But they had been lazy for many years while the world of fashion changed drastically. Large brands like Puma or Adidas were now competing with them in the segment and they needed a fresh start. It was a big challenge to reimagine what OXBOW could be in the future.


  • Can you tell us how you ended up founding your own company called SECRET PLANET, which offers adventure travels and expeditions?

Adventures have always been part of my life. In fact, in the business world I felt like an adventurer. I was never afraid to change from consulting to engineering to luxury.

I did several expeditions to Africa and read many books about travelling. After my job at OXBOW, I did an Atlantic crossing in a 6.50 meter boat and then I decided to merge my passion with business.

“SECRET PLANET is composed of three brands.”
  • What exactly is SECRET PLANET?

Secret Planet is the most adventurous travel company in the world. I really believe that. We offer the rarest expeditions and encounters with ethnic minorities in the world.

When I started, I looked at the market and I knew it would be very hard to enter. I decided to enter by acquisition and today, Secret Planet consists of three sub-brands, called Tamera, Expedition Unlimited and Saiga.

I acquired Tamera and Saiga and set up Expedition Unlimited myself with other explorers who are friends of mine. We offer expeditions that only few teams in the world can do, like skiing to the North Pole, a Greenland crossing or following the traces of French explorer Bonvalot’s 1890 expedition – it’s real magic.


  • Tricky questions: You basically turned your passion into your job – how much of a trade-off was it financially?

That’s a wonderful question. Every year of my career, I was earning more than the year before – and every year, I spent more of it. The more I was earning, the less free I felt.

In my final year at OXBOW, I decided to change something drastically.

It was hard but then, I really got rid of everything unnecessary. All I spent was basically for my children and rent, that’s all. Once I was able to reduce my expenses my life became much easier.

So yes, there is a trade-off but it’s a trade-off with freedom. And now I can do what I love to do. If the vision I’m developing is good enough and I excell others, I can still create something with substantial value. But the less you need the better you feel!


  • Thanks for sharing your story!