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Louis Houdart

  • Programme: EMBA-Global
  • Nationality: French
  • Job Post-programme: Founder and group CEO, Creative Capital China

“The programme was a life-changer – certainly one of the best professional experiences I’ve had. It opened doors and gave me confidence.”

Louis Houdart enjoys a steep learning curve. When he started working in China over two decades ago, interning as a brand manager for the wine firm Summergate, he had to learn Mandarin fast. “My assistant didn’t speak any English, my colleagues didn’t speak any English, my customers didn’t speak any English.” 

What helped were the cultural similarities he found between China and his native France. “We value relationships, we love food and wine.” He first set up Secret Garden, a Shanghai-based floristry company, then sold it to local buyers after 18 months. “I learnt a lot from working in retail. We had created a B2B department, matching flowers to brands – I realised my key strength was in brand creation.”  

He saw the EMBA-Global Asia as an opportunity to spend two years setting up his next business – the branding agency Creative Capital China – while gaining new knowledge and meeting new people. It paid off big-time. “I signed my first client in Beijing while I was still doing the programme,” he recalls.

He says LBS helps people benchmark. “Running a start-up can be cool or it can mean you’re starving. A famous-brand business school is a statement – people see that you’re an entrepreneur by choice. They know that having been to LBS you could have got a very big job somewhere. In Shanghai it gives you instant credibility.”

The programme meant travelling for block weeks of study at London Business School (LBS), Columbia Business School and Hong Kong University – a hectic schedule that’s not unusual for anyone working in China, he says. “This week I’ve been in Korea, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, the UK. In six weeks I’ve only been in Shanghai for five days.” 

As founder and group CEO of his company, Louis now works with large Chinese companies moving from manufacturing equipment for other companies to becoming brands. “We help them sell a story,” he explains. “I have an amazing team of more than 30 people now and some very good clients – we have fun.” 

Why did he choose LBS? “I thought, ‘If I’m going to spend a lot of money on a programme like this, it had better be a good brand. LBS is definitely the best brand in Europe, HKU is the best brand in Asia and Columbia is one of the top brands in the US. Second, I wanted to gain access to a financial network. LBS is well-connected to the private equity world. So it was the proposition of the alumni.”

Beyond that, he says, he liked the human scale of LBS and its international aspect. “It’s global – you gain real depth. There is something about London that is very special and at the same time when you’re on campus you could be anywhere in the world.”

The career impact was huge. “The programme was a life-changer – certainly one of the best professional experiences I’ve had. It opened doors and gave me confidence. I’m very grateful to it.” He remains close to various members of faculty. “It’s really cool building trust and respect with people,” he says. “And I had a great coach who helped me know myself better and optimise my strengths. It was an amazing journey.”