Xavier Mufraggi (EDHEC Master 1999), CEO of YPO, shares the key success factors of an uncommon network

Published on 15/03/2021
Share with :

After a highly successful career of nearly 16 years at Club Med, Xavier Mufraggi (EDHEC Master 1999) became CEO of YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) last December. This organization brings together 30,000 top executives from 142 countries, and has an administrative staff of 700 for an operating budget of $500 million. Some perspective on generating involvement within a network …                            

What are your current responsibilities at YPO?

I’m required to make sure that YPO continues to live into the future. In particular we’re working on the digital transformation, but also on major challenges like diversity and gender equality within the network. For members we organise some 4000 virtual or physical events addressing various topics: business, family, personal development, etc. There are around 50 digital communities covering both personal and professional topics. We also have partnerships with various universities around the world like Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, INSEAD, the London School of Economics and Singularity (university specialising in innovation).

What is the network’s strength?

Around 10% of our members give up 25% of their time. The organization has given them a great deal, so they wish to give some of their time back to other members. Sometimes they spend several days setting up events for YPO. It’s really invaluable and allows us to enjoy quite exceptional events because these people know exceptional people. Every time we organise an event, members get together or bring their management teams along to move from ideas to action. This methodology of coaching between members is essential as it allows us to grow.

What are the subjects that YPO tackles?

Members are involved at each stage, it’s really more like a federation. I’m not the one, in Dallas or on a plane somewhere, who decides which topics to address next year. It’s the members themselves who set up their events. Some topics resurface regularly and are becoming more important in the current climate: subjects with an impact, personal development, shifting from pyramid leadership to the idea of accompanying staff, etc. When major subjects emerge, we try to find the best guest speakers or THE right person, someone to make an absolutely exceptional speech, like the poet Amanda Gorman at Joe Biden’s inauguration, or Michelle Obama.

What are the specificities of the recruitment model at YP0?

YPO really targets chairpersons and CEOs, who represent 80% of our members. 10 to 20% are business unit directors. That was the case for me when at Club Med I managed a unit with revenue of 1 billion and 3000 employees. We have several criteria: minimum revenue of 10 million and 50 employees (for people in companies). For entrepreneurs the rules are slightly different. The personality of the future member is also a criterion. “Big egos need not apply”. People only interested in joining to do business will be very disappointed because we’re not allowed to solicit business opportunities from one another. We take in people with an ability to listen and who want to progress, because that’s what the organization has to offer them.

We also work by co-option. Top executives propose people via a digital platform, where they can be evaluated in less than 24 hours based on the organization’s values. Then they’re called for an interview with committed members. It’s a way to see whether or not they are motivated. YPO is not looking to expand or make a profit.

How do you bring the community together and make sure members get involved?

The process has two elements: the recruitment of members who share all the same values, and our coaching method. We train all new members (and often their spouse and even their children, in a slightly simplified version) for a year and a half. We explain certain communication rules and practices to them. We do this regularly with all our members so they adopt a shared language. It really is about the benevolent sharing of experience. When eight top executives from different backgrounds have gone through a similar situation and are able to explain what they did, it’s very powerful. The person who first outlined their problem no longer feels any stress or taboo.

Is there an equivalent of YPO in France or Europe?

The method, which is pragmatic and direct, is quite Anglo-Saxon, especially as it all started in English. There are no communities working in other languages but there is no exact equivalent, even in the whole of Europe. Organizations are generally specialized around a particular profession and are often very local. When multiple professions are involved, it’s mainly organizations like MEDEF that kind of serve as lobby groups, whereas YPO very rarely speaks out. The best example I’ve found in France is INSEP (Institut National du Sport, de l’Expertise et de la Performance), because it recruits elite athletes without limiting itself to a single sport. When you bring together athletes from the same discipline, they become competitors. But a tennis player’s mental coach can also help a judoka. Indeed, CEOs are often elite athletes, we know that performance lies in the detail.

Is it important to benefit from the diversity of backgrounds?

That’s where YPO suits me perfectly. I’ve always been passionate about the challenges faced by other top executives in completely different professions. We all have a lot of appointments, but 8 of us meet up every month for 3 hours. When I first became a member of YPO, I learnt a lot from someone who managed 300 pizza franchises in the United States and another who used to sell air-conditioners to hotels. It opens up your mind to approach problems and ways of doing things without a marketing budget. You acquire a certain level of trust because you don’t feel alone and you walk away with loads of ideas. When you open up, your level of ambition is multiplied tenfold.

What types of online events does YPO organise?

Simply reproducing in video what would happen in real life just doesn’t work. If we can get Michelle Obama to take part in a questions & answers session, then that’s fantastic, but the format will be identical to others you can find on YouTube. We need to avoid passively listening without any immersion. You can hold a vote to find out which questions most interest members in order to generate a dynamic. Another exercise is to divide participants into groups of 2 or 3 to talk about a specific theme addressed by a guest speaker during the first part of the event. These things seemed difficult a year ago, but have now become extremely natural. The idea in itself is not enough, what counts is the action, in other words being able not just to look at people but to say things. Otherwise people will write their emails at the same time and walk away feeling they gained very little in terms of content.

Then there are group meetings every month. For example, we will lay down a diversity and inclusion plan for each participant’s company. And out of the 3 hours in the meeting, one will be used to go round the table and discuss what has been put in place. Sometimes other participants may point out that my plans have not necessarily progressed since the previous meeting … As a top executive, it’s rare for people in the teams we manage to make that kind of comment. Whereas our fellow bosses have no hesitation reminding us of commitments not met by one of us. It’s nice to be able to speak frankly, that way you can progress and move forward.

How is YPO doing in terms of gender equality?

Things are improving, but not quickly enough. In France I think only 15% of CEOs are women. And the impact of the last 20 years is an important factor in recruitment at YPO, since over time many people have stayed on. Since Pauline Duval – Managing Director of Duval, with a staff of 4000 – has been in charge of recruitment at YPO, she has managed to attract 25% of CEOs who are women. We’re trying to get ahead in this area. We set up the Women’s Business Network so women can have discussions with others from around the world. Because the way YPO operates is based on diversity, we absolutely need to attract diversity to achieve our objective. The difficulty for women of joining the organization is linked to the amount of available time they have, which is a problem less openly shared by men. Female CEOs also often have a spouse who works too. They unfortunately face the strong likelihood of covering most of the housework, which as they perceive it is more important than making time for themselves. We are currently trying to develop hybrid programmes at YPO so they can join us. This gives them access to other members at different times during the day: on weekends or even late in the evening or early in the morning to avoid having to make the journey. Then, little by little, they see the quality of the content and work out how to get involved. Not to mention that by including spouses and children they also contribute a lot to the fact that we now organise things for the whole family. I’m talking here about women, but there are many other forms of diversity we are working on, with their own networks within the network.

You took part in the TV show "Undercover Boss" in the United States (NDLR, a programme broadcast on CBS in which top executives in disguise pass themselves off as employees at their own company so they can see what it’s like on a daily basis) …

An incredible experience, especially the American version. 10 days’ filming, 20 hours a day. To get the kind of emotional result you see on the screen, we sleep very little, we are placed in crazy scenarios and at some point the camera records it to get the half-hour needed for the episode. People thought the employees would recognise me, but you must understand that the disguise was as professional as in Hollywood. Make-up lasted 45 minutes, with wigs and loads of accessories. It is extremely important as a top executive to experience life on the ground and appreciate what employees have to say about themselves, they have incredible stories. And it makes you very humble. The show confirmed for me the power of what Club Med represents, young people travelling off around the world to give up their time, have fun and develop. Young people who become village managers at the age of 25 are in charge of revenue worth 15 million with 800 clients and 500 employees from 15 different countries. Behind every brand and every achievement are the men and women who make it possible. The role of the top executive is not only to give them work, but to give them the capacity to change lives. And in changing an employee’s life, you often have an impact on more than just one person. Indeed, that’s the choice I made with YPO: I have the pleasure of running this organization so I can affect 20 million employees through our 30,000 members.

More information about YPO

Career change? Moving house?