'Choose your road carefully then stick to it'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am

My education in Morocco and France included going to university at the age of 16 and it helped me create my proudest achievement, the wine and spirits event Vinexpo.

My father was a French administrator in Morocco, which won independence from France in 1956.

We lived in Casablanca, known as the White City for its large number of dazzling white buildings on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

It was an easy existence in that all of my family was there including uncles and my grandfather.

I went to a French school where the education was much the same as it would've been had we lived in France. The students were mostly French as were the teachers.

I knew from the age of eight that it was maths that I liked. I'm not sure why but it probably was something to do with having a father and grandfather with a science background.

After independence we moved to southwest France.

For me it wasn't a difficult transition because I was young. Probably for my parents it was less easy as they were in their 50s and had spent their lives in Morocco.

School was more of the same, though I did find that in France the students were of a higher standard and I liked that.

I guess I was in the top five in class and gravitated towards physics and maths. By then I liked the idea of finding solutions to problems.

One physics teacher was particularly memorable. He seemed quite old and was very proud of teaching his subject to his students.

What I didn't enjoy were subjects such as Spanish, English and French, though I liked to read.

I also was no good at music. I remember being dismissed from class with the words: 'Robert, you can go outside and sing.'

Sport was an important part of school for me because it was a way of expending energy and meeting other like-minded people.

I was into soccer and rugby, handball and basketball. In fact, I used to play basketball for the young French national side.

While at school I'd initially quite liked the idea of a career in medicine, such as being a surgeon, but when I looked into it I knew it meant 10 years of study.

I also knew that I didn't want to be an engineer, despite my interest in maths.

So I decided to study economics at the University of Bordeaux where I went a year earlier than normal and then went on to do a doctorate.

While I was there, the student uprising against the old order began in Paris and spread across the country to Bordeaux, where there were about 50,000 students.

It was an exciting time, though I wasn't militant.

Two years before the end of my studies I did a work placement to prepare me for the start of my career. I spent half my time at university and half with a large garment company which employed 1,500 staff. They liked having a student working with them.

I went on to work for them but eventually the company closed and I joined the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce of which I'm vice-general manager.

At that time in the late 1970s, the wine industry in the region was in crisis and the chamber asked me to see how we could turn it around.

I came up with Vinexpo which has established itself as the No 1 event for major international operators in the wine and spirits sector.

I think young people today have far more opportunities than when I was their age.

Students in France can now spend a year in Spain or Germany or travelling to the US, which is tremendous.

My dream was to go to Harvard or Stanford in the US but I didn't because I could study what I wanted to at Bordeaux.

I think any student should choose their road carefully then stick to it. You have to be strong and to persevere.

Don't change all the time, don't ask too many questions and don't hesitate.

It's been a great experience creating something such as Vinexpo from nothing.

It's my baby if you like but unfortunately I don't own it - the chamber does. I'm just a shareholder and the chief executive.

Robert Beynat is the chief executive and general manager of Vinexpo Overseas, the organiser of Vinexpo Asia Pacific which runs in Hong Kong from May 23-25.