American Adventure

Emmanuel Bruno adjusts to life in the U.S. one swing at a time

When BIC Graphic asked Emmanuel Bruno to move his family from France to the Tampa Bay area five years ago, he was understandably hesitant. “My wife, Florence, had to put her sales manager job and city council duties on hold,” he says. “We were concerned about the integration of our daughter, Marine, because she didn’t speak English. It was a big decision for us as a family, so we agreed to a one-year contract initially.”

Emmanuel Bruno and Familyweb Emmanuel Bruno with his daughter, Marine, and wife, Florence.

After a while, with the school systems in France and the U.S. being very different, the family had to choose to stay or to go back to France. “We’ve decided to stay,” he says, adding that Marine will graduate from high school and go to college next year. “It has been an amazing experience for all three of us.”

Besides the obvious communications difficulties that come from speaking a non-native language, Bruno, the supplier’s vice president, general manager North America, says one of the things that he just can’t understand in the U.S. is the  predominance of cinnamon—“it’s everywhere!”—and the number of commercials on TV. “I’m always wondering if I’m watching a movie with a few commercials or if it is a huge commercial with a few bits of movie mixed in.”

Since he doesn’t watch much TV, Bruno has plenty of time to play golf, which he took up when he arrived in Florida. The challenge of it intrigues him. “You never get to the level you would like and you’ve always got to readjust your game. One bad shot can ruin your round but one good shot can make your day. My problem is that I play more bad shots than good ones,” he says.

What has made Bruno’s transition to the U.S. easier is accepting that “you have to understand the cultural differences and adjust, not the opposite. If you get that, everything is easier,” he says.

How long have you worked in your present position?

I took over BIC Graphic North America three years ago but I have been at BIC for 15 years. Previously I was in charge of operations (i.e. manufacturing and supply chain) for the BIC Graphic division worldwide, including Europe, North America and Latin America, as well as our sourcing operations in Asia.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Before moving to BIC Graphic, I worked for the consumer division until 2008. I will admit that when the company asked me to work for the BIC Graphic division (promotional products division) my first reaction was negative. I believed it was an old-fashioned industry with a limited ability to change. I’m not sure I was totally wrong, but this is why this industry is exciting. Since then I have learned to like this industry; it’s a very entrepreneurial, challenging and interesting industry. I oversee all aspects of the business and when you have such a good team like we have at BIC Graphic, it’s an everyday pleasure. As we say at BIC, “Honor the past, invent the future.” There are a lot of things to be done to make this industry even better.

What was your first job, and what lessons did you learn?

I started as a customer service and financial manager for a branch of a technology company. But the job that really started my career was as a financial planning and analysis manager for a food company. That is where I learned to be analytical and factual. The CEO of the company once told me that his mantra was, “To know, to understand, to act.” It sounded very basic and simple but this is what I have lived ever since. If you don’t know the facts then you can’t understand the reality; if you don’t understand what is happening then you can’t take the right actions. Too often people decide without understanding the consequences of their decision because they don’t know the facts. Then they claim that a bad decision is better than no decision. The problem is not the bad decision but the stupid decision, because you didn’t analyze the potential consequences. There is a difference between making a choice, which is rational, and betting, which is thoughtless because you ask chance to choose for you. If you do bet, at least be aware of the odds you have to win.

What motivates you in business and in life?

The people around me; I’m not very good at networking as I need to know the people I’m with in order to be myself. But they are the ones I work and live for. Family is obviously the most important thing and at BIC Graphic, even if we are a large company, we live like a family. We have arguments sometimes, but at the end the good is what matters. I also need challenges but I find that you overcome them only if you have the right team and the support of your family. I’m lucky to have both of them.

What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

I hope it will be the next one. But what I know is that you never do it alone. I’ve never accomplished anything without being part of a great team.

What advice would you give to an industry newcomer?

If you’re not coming from this industry, take advantage of your previous experiences but forget everything you think you know. Every business and industry is specific but with the promotional products business it seems deceptively similar to other industries (like consumer products or distribution), while it is actually very different. You need to know the industry first, get to understand it, and only then can you make the right decisions and take the right actions.