Henri Bong, ESSEC MBA Alumnus, and CEO and co-founder of UnaBiz, one of the most promising tech companies in the Asia-Pacific region, shares his inspiring insights into how to be a successful entrepreneur and manager.
UnaBiz CEO Henri Bong on the keys to entrepreneurial success. From and interview by Tom Gamble
Henri Bong inspires. Not only through what he says, but also through what he is. Speaking to an audience of over 600 students, faculty members and facilitators on the subject of entrepreneurship and management via Videocon across the ESSEC Asia-Pacific and Cergy campuses in late September, many of those listening took away not only a treasure trove of leadership and business tips, but a lasting impression that everything is possible if you combine passion, values and humility – when working on your own dreams and ambitions and when working with others.
His professional career reads like an adventure book and is certainly a model of success for others to find inspiration. After graduating from ISEP, a French digital engineering school, he then decided to pursue his studies with a double-degree MBA at ESSEC Business School and Guanghua School of Management, Beijing University. His journey has taken him from voluntary work in a French embassy, then Senior Trade Advisor in the French Trade Commission in China and Singapore, consulting, Director of Business Development and Sales at SIGFOX, the first global network dedicated to the Internet of Things (IoT), and currently entrepreneurship and the founding of UnaBiz, one of the most promising IoT companies in the Asia-Pacific region in 2018.
Behind Henri Bong’s rise as a star figure in the industry there is not, as one could imagine, a career based on aggressive ambition, showmanship and cunning chess moves, but a belief in humility, openness to others, and values that guide him through the journey. And which provide others with a singular picture of the person behind the business achievements.
Business according to Henri Bong
Traditional perceptions of what business is tend to crumble away when Henri Bong stands up and speaks on the subject. For him, business is not about having an office, money, commercial activity or even a purpose driven by a company vision or mission. ‘Business is the purpose that keeps you busy – as in “busy-ness” – and one which calls for sensitivity to the market and the environment around you,’ he asserts. With this, having identity is all-important. Moreover, for Bong, a key question to ask is what is your higher purpose? A purpose that keeps you busy. Because if the entrepreneur-manager has this, he will have a passion that will nourish the work and effort required and help steer clear of boredom and routine. ‘In this sense, purpose and the passion behind it have to be lasting and intimately linked to the notion of sustainability,’ states Henri Bong.
Starting out – learning from studies, learning from life
Henri Bong has no doubt that ESSEC was fundamental in influencing him and his career, but it has been soft skills – that most business schools tend to leave out of the curriculum – that really made the difference. Looking back, Henri Bong puts a finger on several mistakes when beginning studies at the top business school present in France, Asia and Africa. He wanted to learn fast – and wanted to back up everything he learnt with additional knowledge – too much knowledge according to him. He would spend time comparing salaries between different industries, something that he sees as a mistake. For Bong, the cornerstone of future success is taking the time to find the industry you like and asking yourself how good you’re going to be in that industry. And again – doing everything with passion!
From his stint as a volunteer at the French embassy to five years later when he became senior tech advisor for French Trade Commission in APAC, he then decided to start his own company. And it was here that Henri Bong refers to the calling – the voice that comes to you and tells you the time has come. The voice that tells you there’s a gap you can fill – and only you. This was the call to become an entrepreneur. ‘As a student or participant returning to studies,’ asserts Bong, ‘talk to your professors and mentors and be sensitive and open to that calling. Pick up signals on the future of things, use your skills and experience, and once your enterprise created carry out your business dealings with firm values.’
The secrets to career success
‘What makes a successful manager and entrepreneur? It’s not about what we know,’ asserts Henri Bong. ‘It’s about who you are and the capacity to bring something special. And that’s where soft skills kick in and impact those around you. Know yourself, your preferences and what you’re good at,’ he continues. ‘And when a manager, understand others and especially what the others have in terms of skills, ideas, interests and stakes – listen to them, ask for news and what actions they’ve carried out.’
Creative thinking – or thinking out of the box and shifting the frontiers – is important for Bong too, and his advice is to avoid the easy ticket and only trawl the web for information, something that carries the risk of working solo and subsequent isolation. ‘Involve yourself in collaborative knowledge, learning from others, build your own ideas and be entrepreneurial, wherever you are,’ he states. ‘And if you have a start-up, think about your true value proposition. Be different,’ he says, ‘stating Accenture’s approach of aptitude and attitude.
With a zest of humour, Henri Bong suggests that there are two ways to become successful in a career: be a genius, or, for the lesser mortals among us, be likeable – and this means having a solid set of values that you abide by and promote to others. ‘In whatever job or company you find yourself in, don’t try to push people, but listen to them. And to do that, you need humility,’ states Bong. ‘As a company, you should avoid telling the world that you’re experts.’ His company, UnaBiz, is a glowing example of this belief, having raised $10m in funding in less than two years and recognised as among the top 10 IoT companies in the Asia-Pacific region – made possible by business acumen, but also by sticking to a set of values and promoting them. Humility is one of these. ‘You have to be serious about what you’re doing, but don’t take yourself too seriously,’ acknowledges Henri Bong. ‘And that starts from the moment you’re a student or returning to studies.
A good entrepreneur, a good manager
The importance of others features throughout Henri Bong’s discourse and for him business is inherently linked to this, not least the understanding of what business is all about. ‘Business starts with two people, a team,’ he asserts. ‘Not alone. This makes the difference between being a freelancer and being an entrepreneur. And wanting to be a good entrepreneur or a good manager isn’t something that can be learnt in one day. It’s like brushing your teeth,’ he offers, supporting his claim with humour: ‘it needs consistency!’ The journey to becoming a good entrepreneur and manager – leader even – means taking a real decision, an inner will, and an everyday learning curve. Stepping back to reflect on his own journey, Henri Bong is philosophical: ‘The more I progress, the bigger the space, the bigger the universe I discover. And that’s exciting. And it comes with thinking out the box, intrapreneurship if you’re a manager in a company, and working on your vision and purpose backed up by values. Be proud of what you do.’
Facilitating Henri Bong’s speech, Prof. Christian Koenig, Associate Dean for ESSEC International Affairs, summed up to the 500 participating students: ‘Running consistently through Henri Bong’s message to us is that whatever you do, you should want to become entrepreneurs of your own lives.’
That, indeed, to echo entrepreneur and CEO Henri Bong, would be something to be proud of.
- Link up with entrepreneur and CEO Henri Bong via LinkedIn and Twitter
- Discover UnaBiz – one of Asia’s leaders in IoT solutions
- Read a related article: Entrepreneurship and Diversity: A Singaporean signature dish
- Interested in doing business in Asia? Explore the full-time and executive education programmes on the ESSEC Asia-Pacific campus in Singapore.
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