Bernard Laurendeau: A Man Of Execution And Practice


Achieving world-known recognition while having roots in an underdeveloped country is a rare phenomenon. Bernard Laurendeau has managed to become one of those people.

With more than 15 years of Management Consulting experience advising clients on large transformational and strategic initiatives across various sectors and industries, Bernard has been able to stretch his reach throughout numerous industries.

Early Life

Bernard Laurendeau was born to a French father and an Ethiopian mother. He was raised in Addis Ababa and completed his early education in the French-based school Lycee Gebremariam in the same city before heading to France for higher education. Growing up, Bernard had an affinity for math and physics. His exceptional skills were a gateway to joining an intense program in Paris that led him to attend an engineering school in Brest and then later in Atlanta.

College and First Job

After moving to the US, Bernard focused on Aerospace under Mechanical Engineering as his major despite having dreams of becoming a pilot as a child. After acquiring his first degree, Bernard got hired by a French company in the US called Dassault Systèmes, as it was super hard to join a US company since aerospace institutions are highly classified, most times requiring citizenship and security clearance. His year of working for this company gave him the idea of getting his MBA because the practicality of his work didn't seem as tasteful as he once thought. His subsequent decision to transition to management and consulting has crafted a career that has lasted almost fifteen years. 

Bernard, as he was speaking about his educational and work experience, also mentioned the state of the Ethiopian higher education system. Even though he has not experienced the higher education system of Ethiopia directly, his position as a senior advisor for the Ethiopian Jobs Creation Commissioner has given him a broad vision of its condition. The lack of one's choice in education impacts the potential for future employment. He notes that there is a lack of direct correlation between the educational system and practical work and that it is not as firm as it needs to be.  

A patriotic move to his home country

Bernard, like most diasporas, had wished to return to Ethiopia and conduct a patriotic mission to help improve his country. He believes, unlike in the old days, especially after the COVID-19 outbreak, most things are now achievable digitally. There are various options on how patriotic citizens can contribute to their country; for example, investing and sharing their expertise through coaching or teaching. Bernard has achieved this by founding a management consulting firm, including an expert network, keeping in mind the utilization of the country's skilled force that has migrated to different countries as an advantage. Bernard says we must transform all the brain drain into brain gain.

Bernard was living in Silicon Valley when he met many brilliant Ethiopian tech minds he wanted to incorporate into a community. In 2018, this idea grew into a big expert community later known as Ethiopians in Tech. 

Bernard believes one of the greatest attributes of the power America has acquired throughout the years is the uncanny ability to attract talent. He claims that the nation's "grit and execution efficiency" can take any accomplishments to opulent heights. While building his career as a managing consultant in the US, he figured out how to perfect systems in different fields like semiconductors, insurance, FMCG, and banking. He says the most prominent lesson he learned during his stay in the US was "the discipline of execution."

His unremitting achievements in Ethiopia

As a man of practice and execution, Bernard invested in Zayride and Arifpay while living in Silicon Valley. Arifpay started not long after the launch of Zayride, Ethiopia's first taxi-hailing company. The lack of an accurate payment system and the ripple effect of payment sluggishness was the reason behind the launch of Arifpay. 

In 2019, after first being founded by the Prime minister, Bernard met the Ethiopian Job Creation Commission through its Commissioner during one of his projects. He emphasized the role technology would play and the inflection point so that the country does not have to look at things linearly in terms of job creation. Bernard brought forth the idea of sending a delegation to Silicon Valley, which he considers the "epicenter for entrepreneurship." He was adamant about showing the delegation that startups weren't just for young software engineers but could immensely raise a country's economy. 

After pitching his idea, it was accepted with full vigor and given a time of three months to execute, even though it finally took four months and a half. A group of decision-makers from the government, successful business people, and well-known experts from different fields teamed up with Bernard to go to Silicon Valley and assess the situation, resulting in a successful trip. This marked the beginning of his involvement in the job creation sector. 

The birth of Enkopa

During his time as an advisor, amongst other things, Bernard and his team suggested an all-encompassing digital entrepreneurship vision and strategy. They pitched their idea to the Commissioner and received funding from the UNDP to start the project. The project persisted and grew to be called Enkopa, which means gold ore, a brand name inspired by the untapped potential in Ethiopia. 

Over the past year, Enkopa has unveiled a large program around digital entrepreneurship, which includes setting up a private sector-led blended finance fund for startups, an incubation program, FROG (Freelancing-Outsourcing-Gig) economy initiatives, lobbying for the Startup-Act, etc. Some of their contributions are helping startups with promotions, advocating for the creation of new policies, and filling any noticeable gaps, especially concerning grants. 

Bernard believes that the first aspect to focus on when embarking on any digital transformation initiatives or startup ecosystem-building efforts is to have the ability to change people's mindsets. For example, with regards to the Startup Act, once policymakers understand the nature and benefits of startups, they themselves will propose new incentives for them and become an ambassador for startups unlocking untapped potential or creating new markets.

Bernard's contributions, amongst many, are the establishment of an Entrepreneurship Fund. In addition, even though he mentions, regretfully, that there are only a few incubators and accelerators for a country with such a large population, it is still an endeavor that should be encouraged, and Enkopa is also working on that. The lack of a good working model has hampered the development of other incubators, but the ones that are up and running seem to be doing an excellent job. Bernard believes a win-win scenario should be the foundation of the incubator and accelerator system, which is currently lacking in the working model. 

A particular corporation should fund an incubator embedded in its premises, while a few government bodies could be involved at the city administration level (instead of federal or regional bodies). The intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs being incubated within the corporation get to solve real-life problems and help the corporation improve its performance. This is a win-win-win format that ensures sustainability. Corporations improve their performance and can ultimately choose to even invest in a startup growing out of its sandbox through a Corporate Venture Capital mechanism. The startup is exposed to the industry and fails or scales rapidly. The incubator stands on its own two feet through a sustainable business model rather than constantly chasing development partner grants.

Bernard's outlook on the gig economy in Ethiopia

The concept of remote work is still a foreign idea in Ethiopia. Bernard has worked on different projects that are uncommon here, like short-term gigs, freelancing, and outsourcing. He is adamant that there are no signs that the gig economy will slow down as it is indeed an informal sector that is the lifeline for the Ethiopian economy. Finding the ideal candidate to jump in and close the digital skills gap at any organization is now simpler than ever, thanks to services like freelance and other listing sites. Because of the digital revolution, candidates are no longer required to live close to the job location for many online or software-based positions. Employees don't even need to be on the same continent. 

Bernard believes the government can address unemployment issues by working with the private sector. Trying to keep up with global advancement is going to be very difficult, which is why more effort is needed to inject technology and entrepreneurship into Ethiopia and use digital initiatives to alleviate the unemployment rate within the country. 

Bernard's last words for Ethiopian Entrepreneurs

A good business person has drives that help them accomplish their goals, and one of Bernard's is solving macro issues. He believes that in a country like Ethiopia, the only way to get ahead is by focusing on macro problems and market-creating innovations. Ethiopia needs to focus on building things at scale, which is seldom the case. Tenacity and hard work are the only way to achieve long-term goals in these difficult times, and seizing opportunities is just as important. 

News Alert!: Bernard has now added a new role to his portfolio: he is officially the CEO of Arifpay, on top of being the Managing Partner at Laurendeau & Associates.

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