In the early 2000s, Sylvain Goupille faced an interesting dilemma. The civil engineering major had carved out a noteworthy career at PricewaterhouseCoopers. After honing his data expertise, he was advising the French government and other big players about mitigating climate change. His milestone achievements included structuring the European Carbon Fund. Still, Sylvain wanted to make an even bigger impact. Knowing he lacked the financial knowledge to reach his goal, Sylvain made a huge leap. He paused his comfortable career—and went back to school.
“I took a risk to join the HEC Paris MBA,” he says. “It was the best choice of my life.”
Sylvain’s plan was to make the planet cleaner and greener through sustainable finance—a field that didn’t even exist back then.
“I’d joined HEC Paris to learn finance and create a network in finance,” he says. “About 9 months into the program, Professor Pascal Quiry asked me what I wanted to do afterward. Even though he didn’t exactly understand what I wanted to achieve, he introduced me to his peers at BNP Paribas.”
After convincing a BNP Paribas board member to create a position for him, Sylvain joined BNPP’s Corporate and Investment Banking as its Head of Carbon Finance.
Fast forward a few years, Sylvain had established himself as one of the world’s foremost traders and financiers in carbon finance. Next, seeded by BNPP, Sylvain founded a fund management company designed to mitigate climate change and protect forests and oceans.
More funds followed. As always, each focused on generating a financial return coupled with making a positive social and environmental impact. He eventually sold his fund-management company to Natixis in 2019.
“A big portion of my success was driven by the network I set up and the learnings I had because of HEC,” Sylvain says.
As part of his presentation, Sylvain answered questions from the current MBA students in the audience on everything from using impact finance in developing countries to ways of preventing greenwashing.
He also imparted 3 takeaways from his MBA experience:
Focus your career on what you like and on your convictions.
“When you are finished with the MBA, you’ll be offered some amazing opportunities,” he says. “Choose only the ones that motivate you to wake up in the morning and make you proud of what you are doing.”
Take full advantage of the HEC Paris community.
“The HEC Paris faculty are great, and the alumni are amazing,” he says. “People are very open-minded, so build your network and use them as much as you can. You can learn as much from the network as you will from your courses.”
Don’t forget to give back.
“Use the network, but don’t forget to give back to it,” added Sylvain, a major donor to the HEC Foundation. “You can give back financially, but you can also give back by giving your time, by participating in the professional clubs, by coming back to campus and giving speeches to students. It’s about sharing your time, experience and resources with the entire community.”
HEC Paris has graduated more CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies than any other university in Europe, according to the Times Higher Education Index of 2017. Meet a few of the other MBA alumni who are CEOs.