Articles

The open mind, hard driving CEO

BI-SAM was ranked 23rd ‘most beautiful’ independent SME in France by the magazine ‘Entreprise’. This annual rating rewards “the French champions in profitability and growth”. Here ‘Interactions’ offers a portrait of one of the Founders of BI-SAM, Alexandre Harkous, who initially graduated from UTC with the Computer Science elective speciality.

The open mind, hard driving CEO

So, what is the most important key to achieving recognition at this high level? "First you must have a good idea", says Alexandre Harkous, co-founder of BI-SAM in 2000, 8 years after graduating from UTC with the elective speciality Computer Science, "and you must really believe it will work".

BI-Sam is a software editor specialised in management of financial assets. Bi-Sam currently has 100 employees, and generates 20 Meuros annual turnover. The company specialises in analysis of performance ratings for asset portfolio managers, as a function of the risks they tend to take as the markets evolve and fluctuate. Before creating Bi-Sam, Alexandre Harkous worked in financial spheres. "The first key step consists of identifying and carefully validating market needs, leading on to the signing of a contract with the first customer" he explains. "It is the first customer who generates the dynamics for the early development phases of the company. Our first contract came 4 months after the firm was set up". The second key to success is to build a good team "capable of believing in the product and committing themselves to succeeding".

"The success of BI-SAM relies enormously on the team. We are a young company and we can count on the UTC network to start the staff recruitment. 3 co-founders, 2 are graduates from UTC and one from a commercial college. We were able to attract talent thanks to our own level of motivation and the intrinsic value of our innovative product", details Alexandre Harkous. Witness the first solution provided by BI-SAM for which the research took two years to mature fully and the company continues to invest 3 Meuros annually in R&D.

"So, what's next?"

The third key feature is to go look for contracts. After 3 years as a start up in Compiegne, Alexandre Harkous was able to leave Compiègne with its ideal scientific and technological environment, and move down to the capital Paris, where the potential customers were. "UTC helps us a lot. The university offered the bases of our first team, and our first office space - 15m² in the Technology Transfer Centre, plus the encouragement of President Francis Peccoud and Mr Joseph Orlinski, UTech Entrepreneur and Head of Placements. The decision to leave Compiègne was a hard one, and we also had to take development costs into our stride and the much level of competition that we would face in Paris. But, it was a risk and we took it", he recalls.

After Paris, he moved the business to London in 2005, then to the USA in 2009 and Hong Kong in 2012. BI-SAM now has 80% of its business in international contracts. "London represented a decisive stage and the company took on a new dimension there. Setting up shop in the USA - at that time in the midst of the financial crisis - was in itself risky and frankly our shareholders didn't believe we would pull through? In the end, they did choose to follow us and today some 35% of our turnover is in US contracts. Each stage called for a risky decision, a new large step forward. And each time, we returned to the question: 'So, what's next?'', without losing from sight our overarching vision".

For BI-SAM, the next stage consists of creating 'a service solution that will enable companies to implement corporate software without having to install it on their servers'. "To do this, we shall move into a cloud configuration thereby enlarging our customers' range of action", summarises Alexandre Harkous. "We are also envisioning a move to South-West Asia and South Africa."

Twenty job positions to fill

Seeing his company ranked #23 in the list of the 100 'most beautiful' French SMEs, was an extra source of pride. "It was a great surprise, an additional shot of adrenaline! But our best successes lie in our customers' satisfaction and the faithfulness of our collaborators, 20% of whom are the BI-SAM shareholders". The other surprise is the difficulty Alexandre had to recruit 20 computer science engineers! The prime requisite is to be able to speak fluent English.

So what makes a good entrepreneur - Alexandre Harkous sees 3 other necessary qualities: "an open, international mind; a know-how for managing and motivating a team; to be tenaciously hard-driving when the going gets tough, to get back on your feet and believe in the next steps".

Bio-Express

  • 1992 : Graduated from UTC with the elective speciality Computer Science; head of computing service, successively at Mitsubishi Bank then Demachy Worms
  • 1995 : Special Missions then Director of the Customer Management Department at SIP (Misys Group)
  • 1998 : Deloitte Consulting, where he developed the Asset Management pole, while working on various missions, notably for ABN Amro AM, Banque du Louvre, CIC Group, Dresdner RCM Global Investors, HSBC and Merrill Lynch
  • 2000 : Co-founded BI-SAM