Project Description

Simon Péneau

Campus manager at Ubisoft

After graduating, he started his career as a PR assistant at Ogilvy Public Relations. He worked for several companies in France, the U.S.A., Cameroon and Spain. Today he is the campus manager at the international headquarter of Ubisoft in Paris.

  • What was your initial plan after graduation and where are you today?

My initial plan after I graduated from ESCP Europe in 2009 was to go to Cornell University in the US because I had the opportunity to do a dual degree program with them. I studied Human Resources (HR) and really wanted to study and work in the US.

Today, I’m the campus manager for Ubisoft in France.

  • How was your time as a student?

My student years were great. I started my studies in Bordeaux in South West France where I am from. After I got my degree from Sciences Po Bordeaux, I really wanted to join ESCP. I wanted to build my knowledge and experience at a global scale. I got accepted and it was already interesting and diverse at ESCP. Then at Cornell, I had the chance to really experience broad diversity. It was an amazing experience for me.

“He said, ‘if we hire people who are bigger than us, we shall become a company of giants”
  • What was your first work experience and how did you get interested in HR?

My first proper job was at Ogilvy (advertising agency) after I graduated from Sciences Po Bordeaux. I worked in their worldwide PR in Paris and my interest in HR was not love at first sight.

We had several clients at Ogilvy, and one of them was the French ministry of labour. I got the chance to work on their communication plan for the employment of senior people in France. It was the first grasp at a real HR challenge for the modern economy.

I realised HR really has an impact on a company as well as a country and then the philosophy of the founder of Ogilvy was really interesting; he said: “If we hire people who are bigger than us we shall become a company of giants.” I thought it was really a revolutionary way to look at talent.

  • Your first job after graduating from Cornell University was at Schlumberger in Houston, Texas. How was it?

The American experience was a really exciting period of my life because I had always dreamt of working and living there. Schlumberger is the global leader in oilfield services. Basically, they work with oil and gas companies such as Exxon Mobile and they help them with characterizing oil fields, then producing, drilling, etc. It is very much an engineering company with a lot of expertise.

I had a huge responsibility from the beginning and was part of an internal leadership and development program called “Keystone Nomad”. They only had 20 or 30 people in the world doing this international fast track.

My job was to be the HR contact for a big population of employees. I was helping with all their HR enquiries, with mobility, onboarding, etc. Also, I assisted two HR vice presidents on global projects. For example, we wanted to have more female managers in front line management. So we had to set up a plan and deploy it globally.

Days were busy and I never got bored. It was really great.

“I was so disappointed that I quit.”
  • Why did you change to Ubisoft in 2012?

Well, as part of the “Keystone Nomad” program at Schlumberger I was transferred to a subsidiary in Cameroon in Africa. In the end, it was a personal decision to leave Schlumberger.

I moved to Cameroon with my wife and children and you know, we were very privileged: I was highly paid; we had a chauffeur and people to help us. At the same time there was increasing violence in the country and our life was very different from the rest of the population.

I could have continued like this but for my wife it was too much of a cultural shock. I asked Schlumberger to be transferred but they replied: “Well, you signed for two years. You stay for two years. Or you quit.” I was so disappointed that I quit.

But I took this pitfall as another opportunity to start over. I came back to France and was lucky to find a job quickly. I had three choices: HR consulting at Deloitte, Corporate HR at L’Oréal or here at Ubisoft.

I didn’t know Ubisoft that much. I played some of their games such as Assassin’s Creed but I didn’t know the brand behind the games. And then I discovered an environment where I felt really good. I took the job.

  • How would you describe Ubisoft as a company?

I would say Ubisoft is the right combination of a big company – you know it’s the global leader in its market with big brands, 10.000 employees and international opportunities – and the DNA of a start-up. People are very approachable; there is a lot of creativity and entrepreneurship as well. We want people who challenge the status quo and come with new ideas.

“The quality of the relationships with people at Ubisoft is something I realised is very important.”
  • How does Ubisoft keep this startup DNA in your opinion?

I think first of all, the CEO and co-founder Yves Guillemot is leading by example on this. He’s a very positive, optimistic person and approachable. People look at that and follow him. We also bring in people who fit our corporate culture.

It’s a lot of things like being simple in the way you do things and communicate with people. But at the same time being demanding because we are in a very competitive market and we are the leader.

Schlumberger was different; it was very structured. Here you’ll find less structure, more flexibility and more creativity.

  • … in the end you also sell a completely different product.

Yes, exactly. When I was at Schlumberger I thought a few times: “Well, I work in oil and gas,… for the bad guys.” And I arrived at Ubisoft and I mean there’s no harm done by our products. I remember that I was asked in my first interview here: “Is it okay that some people get killed in our games?” And I said: “Well yes, because it’s in a game!”

The quality of the relationships with people at Ubisoft is something I realised is very important. It has such an impact on what you do. You feel at home but at the same time challenged to perform within your team. You have this environment that is helping you out in achieving things.

  • How do you summarize your time at Ubisoft?

So far, I’ve had three positions in the few years that I have been here. It’s great because I like going fast. I started as an HR generalist for the headquarter in Paris.

Then, I had the opportunity to go to Barcelona and integrate a recently acquired business. As an HR manager I was responsible for communication with the HQ, performance management schemes, benefit plan, collective bargaining, as well as financial planning.

I have my current position as campus manager since September 2014 but I kept on working with Barcelona for six more months along with my new job. It is intense but I love it.

“On top, I look for a lot of energy, positive preferable.”
  • What’s the plan for the future?

Ideally it’s at Ubisoft. But you never know what’s going to happen. If I stay at Ubisoft the plan would be to go back to HR management and maybe move to the US or Canada. There are interesting opportunities and I think I could use my experience and develop myself. But as I said: you never know.

  • What are you looking for in people when you recruit them?

What I’m really looking for is someone who brings in new ideas. Because when you start working it’s a great opportunity to reinvent and question things. You need the ability to take a step back and look at the global environment, to have the big picture. To think out of the box.

On top, I look for a lot of energy, positive preferably. The drive is very important since it’s not the type of company where you are told what to do. We can accompany you in what you do but you have to tell us what you want to do.

“When I meet someone I think of where I could see this person in two or five years.”
  • How many people have you recruited so far? Have you found your “Giants” yet?

Sure, I’m recruiting giants every week. Since I’ve started I probably recruited more than 500 people. For us it’s very important that the experience at Ubisoft is as positive as possible – no matter if you are an intern or an employee. That’s why we are in Happy Trainees, a survey where trainees and interns can give their opinions and we became first in France among 1000 companies.

When I meet someone I think of where I could see this person in two or five years. And it’s great, I’ve seen people develop within the organisation. It’s very fulfilling.

  • What are your thoughts on Paris?

I love Paris because it’s a very big, open and exciting city. It’s been suffering recently but it still has a lot of potential. When people were confronted with this huge difficulty they reunited and really gave the best of themselves. That’s really what Paris is about.

  • Thanks for sharing your story.