On the 20th of January 2017, Serge Hayat was awarded the French National Order of Merit from the hands of the Minister of Culture, Audrey Azoulay, at a ceremony held at the Ministry of Culture.
For this occasion, he wished to express his thanks :
Madam the Minister, Dear Audrey
I am very moved and proud to receive this distinction, and I thank the CNC and the Ministry of Culture for recommending my nomination for the National Order of Merit. It is a great honor.
Audrey, I must say that I am deeply and sincerely touched by the kind and eulogistic remarks you just made about me. It means a lot to me that you, and especially you, are the one to present me this decoration, and I thank you infinitely for that. We used to work together when you were at the CNC. I remember noticing how quickly you understood the cases, and the efficiency of your thinking, coupled with an understanding view of cultural politics and pragmatism makes me realize how perfectly aware you are about all the details of the field. Culture owes you a lot and that is not just because you are its minister.
I also wanted to thank all the members of your team, thanks to whom it was possible to hold this decoration ceremony over here, Rue de Valois. The place is very important to me. First, because it is a place filled with history, and besides, I located a part of my first novel under the arcades of The Palais Royal. But also, because the Ministry of Culture represents two essential values for me. The French Republic, to which I am deeply attached, and Culture, to which I now devote most of my professional and associative life.
Most of you present here know that I am a huge fan of Napoleon. When speaking about decorations, he said “It’s with the rattles that one leads the men”. I really understood what he had meant when I felt this deep-seated satisfaction opening the mail that announced the news of this decoration. It made me wonder what I had done to deserve such a distinction, and I have to confess that I am still not sure about having found the answer. If my “merits” were to be found in the path I took, I surely owe them to the ones who walked the same path with me—All of you who are present here this evening, and all of those who could not come. The encounters, the skills, the shared experiences, the care, and all the support I received made all of this possible, and I infinitely thank you for all of it.
My thoughts especially go out to four people who cannot be here today since they left this world several years ago: my grandparents. They spent most of their lives in Tunisia. And, it is not without regret that they had to leave and join the metropolis when the hour of the choice came. They were deeply attached to the French Republic indeed. My paternal grandfather was only 11 years old when he lost both his parents in a matter of months; he had to start working at a really young age to survive and take care of his young sister; he worked his way up to the top of a Bank in Tunis. As he was not able to study as much as he wanted to, he made sure, and so did his wife, that the education of their children and grandchildren was a priority. My paternal grandfather was 60 years old when he had to restart his professional life from scratch. Already an entrepreneur in Tunisia, he had to leave everything behind in a hurry. He arrived in this metropolis that he hardly knew and decided to create a new company that still exists today. I am sure that they would be very proud to see me here today, a prime example of successful integration. Education on the one hand and Entrepreneurship on the other. These were two highly important characteristics for my grandparents which defined my life.
For most of my childhood, I went to school at the Lycée Carnot, which is not very far from here. It is a very curious coincidence, since my father also went to the Lycée Carnot … of Tunis! I have fond memories of school there, even though I have to acknowledge that I was what you would call an “immature nerd”. It is a splendid high school, designed by Gustave Eiffel, with a hall underneath an incredible canopy. My children also went to high school there. I have been the president of one of the parents’ federations for 14 years now because I truly believe in the School of the Republic, and I want to defend it.
After l’Ecole Centrale, where I understood that I was not born to become an engineer, ESSEC Business School changed my life. I owe them my very first wages. I met my wife and created my first company from there (I clearly do not say it in order, eh!). And, for 30 years now, I have known the intense satisfaction that teaching gives. To meet with students, to see them growing, to arm them for their lives ahead, to help them believe in the future, and to make them simply love life. I take so much pleasure in doing so, especially when I bump into them a few years later and see that they have found their own different ways. They believe that I gave them so much, but it is quite the opposite. They are the ones who teach me and keep me up with the reality of tomorrow.
They often ask me if it is a good idea to become an entrepreneur? Maybe I am totally unconscious, but I never really thought about it. It was simply obvious to me, like an absolute necessity. I must say that I had the chance to have two impressive models whom I looked up to, my maternal grandfather—whom I already spoke about—and my father, who has been an entrepreneur all his life. My parents taught me the values that are absolutely essential when you want to be an entrepreneur, the taste of hard work and justice, and the ability to withstand adversity. I always keep in mind my father’s words, who said that “Business comes and goes. If it is only a matter of money, there are worse things in life.” Also, the ability to convince myself that even when everything seems to fall apart, the game is not over until the final whistle is blown is a great value that I learnt from them as well. They helped me understand and feel quite early the pleasure of being free and independent. As could have said Georges Lucas: Entrepreneurship is strong in our family. My wife and my sister also took the plunge and launched their company. And, my brother is an amazing serial entrepreneur. His dedication to entrepreneurship through his association with “100000 Entrepreneurs” is admirable. He always gives me great advice when I need them.
I launched my first company when I was a student. I learned how to become a CEO by being one. I literally dived into it. Actually, my team is the one who taught it to me, making me understand that my role was to coordinate and moderate, to help them becoming better than me, each in their own field, and of course, to be the best commercial representative possible. Making this company grow from 0 to 200 employees and making it go public 12 years later was an extraordinary experience for me.
Just like these three years we spent with my brother in our start up’s incubator during the blessed time of the Internet explosion in the 2000’s. Education and entrepreneurship. These are the two values that we were able to combine by creating under my brother’s impulse, the Entrepreneurship cursus at ESSEC Business School and at Sciences Po.
In secondary school, I already had found a passion: cinema. But, I never really thought about working in this field. When I was 42, I told myself that if I didn’t do it then, I would never get to do it. Many in this room are people working in the cinema or audiovisual industry today, and I am sure you all know how difficult it is to get into this field when you are a Mister nobody! I was not an exception to this rule. It was a complete obstacle course for me. So, I applied the pieces of advice that I always give to my students so that I could have a chance to check their effectiveness: locate the opportunities and dysfunctions, find your added-value, and never back down because you never know what will happen. Thanks to several people amongst you, I launched production companies, the SOFICA Cinémage, the crowdfunding website Peopleforcinema. I took over the talent agency, Cinéart, and renamed it as “Talent Box” and created the companies Capucines to invent a new financial engineering. I also enthusiastically agreed to become an associate of the wonderful company that is Federation Entertainment. Finally, I connected all of that to education by creating the ESSEC Media & Digital Chair.
For 12 years now, with my friends and colleagues, we have worked to support the emergence of new talents, independent production, diversity, series adaptations of an international level in terms of quality, and imagined new financing models. We still have much to do in order to develop a French cultural exception open to the world.
It is only very recently that I dared to tackle what seemed to me the most difficult company that I ever created, while being the smallest with only one product: my first novel. I mentioned many qualities of my family, but I must admit that the limits of the model had been reached. At first sight, the artistic life did not really exist in the Hayat’s DNA. Fortunately, my brother had dared to take the plunge first with his amazing “Momo des Halles”, and that gave me the courage to do so myself. I am infinitely grateful to Allary Editions’ team for trusting a 50-year-old apprentice author on his first novel, especially a historical fiction! Writing and promoting “L’Empire en Héritage” was an incredibly exciting experience.
It has been an incredible journey thus far.
I will wrap up my speech with the most important thing.
Amaury, Lauriane, and Amandine, I might not be a good father for you, but you are the most extraordinary children a father could dream of. And of course, the love of my life, Martine, without whom nothing I have achieved would ever have been possible, since the beginning of my first company. It is not a rhetoric formula. It stands fundamentally true for each and every single day of my life, concretely, psychologically, and emotionally. I vow her infinite love and gratitude.
The presence of each one of you this evening honors me and deeply moves me. I am really lucky to know you all. Thank you, Audrey, to have gathered us for this occasion.