Alumni STORIES – VOL.1 | françois mattens

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“As a student, I already didn’t fit into any boxes. Even if I sometimes have to justify that, I find it very gratifying: it proves that other paths are possible “

Program | Master in International Relations
Graduated in 2009
City of residence | Paris

What made you progress as a student, and still does today?

Not putting on a tie and taking the RER train! I have always considered my career as a means to an end, not an end in itself, so for me it’s mainly the will to change the world, or at least to contribute to its evolution. But also the fact that I can make myself useful through daily good deeds: my students are always surprised when I tell them that the most powerful lever of leadership is benevolence!

Whether he’s rolling down Route 66 on a Harley or scanning the skies of Area 51 in search of unknown aircrafts, whether burying himself for forty days in a cave for a scientific experiment or stamping his passport with surprising visas, François likes to “shake up the ecosystem’s coconut tree and its preconceived ideas”: “As a student, I already didn’t fit into any boxes. Even if I sometimes have to justify that, I find it very gratifying: it proves that other paths are possible. Even today, you have to leave your spot to the new generations; in any case, they won’t hesitate to take it.” As prolific as his life has been, this HEIP international relations alumnus has made this “succession of more or less provoked misunderstandings” his main strength, even if it means keeping the understanding of some people at arm’s length — “generally, my loved ones don’t really comprehend what I do.” But beyond the different avatars that marked his existence, certain canons persist for this expert on issues of security and defense. At the GICAT armaments union for almost a decade, or at the future unicorn of artificial intelligence, XXII, which he has just joined as Public Affairs and Strategic Partnerships Director, François is above all a facilitator, a self-labeled “go-between” — “in the morning I meet people with problems, in the afternoon others with solutions, and in the evening I weave relationships between the two! In short, I create connections where they are not expected.” From his beginnings in a ministerial office to big insurance companies and the Senate, François has built up a long-standing address book, wherein icons of French sport rub shoulders with religious dignitaries, politicians, and diplomats — each with a different outlook.

Coming from a family for whom “the military thing” remained vague, ever since his geek days of chaining frags on Counter-Strike, François showed a magnetic fascination for it — “to be able to access this strategic universe that is highly restricted, confidential, and that really impacts the face of the world, was very stimulating to me.” His dream of becoming a fighter pilot was cut short in mid-air in Advanced Mathematics — “I was simply awful” — but he didn’t give up, not even for a tread, and in Paris, joined HEIP full steam ahead. There, the “hyperactive, but lazy” student appreciated both the ambient multiculturalism and the straightforward speeches given by a faculty composed of senior government officials. Particularly grateful to this school, which left its mark on him and made him “open to the world,” François was able to satisfy his insatiable curiosity — “I learned much more there than anywhere else, I was interested in everything, and the curriculum was also an excuse to travel!” Considering teaching as a vocation, the former Student Union president has since multiplied conferences and interventions, distilling his unique pedagogy, which he proudly promotes beyond borders and other limitations. Because he intends to “make situational intelligence into a diploma,” François is enthusiastic about the idea of breaking with codes and castes: “As a final exam, I give my students a person who at first seems inaccessible to them, and they have three months to have a coffee with them. Usually, half of them succeed, and thank me, because the exercise allowed them to overcome self-censorship and shows that, by adopting a certain mindset, all limits can be surpassed.”

Never one to shy away from working hard in parallel with his studies, in turn a salesman at Decathlon, a grape picker, and a kayak instructor, François does not hesitate to return the favor when a HEIP student asks for help — “a half-hour phone call can sometimes change a person’s life… I remember introducing a student to the Quai d’Orsay spokesperson for an internship, and then it was his talent that made the difference! Today, he has a great job, proof that in life, you are what you want to be.” Since having set up from scratch a startup specialized in defense — “no one believed in it, and now it is thriving” — the reservist, who claims to be “constructively impertinent,” assumes his little eccentricities: “Despite the mockery, it’s really the crazy people, in the sociological sense of the word, who make the world go round!” The ENA graduate, member of the board of directors of French Explorers, high priest in Nevada, and also Scottish lord, will always opt for his panoply of positions, which he switches in and out of on any given day, without a worry for what anyone might say.

Written portrait© Maison Trafalgar | Watercolor drawing © Maison Trafalgar & Camille Romanetto

Updated 18 October 2022