In April 2014 Théophile Mounier was at the swimming pool with his children when he bumped into a friend, Dr. Pascal Gallo, a physicist at EPFL working on an interesting start-up. The scientist was in the process of setting up a company to manufacture high-quality lab-grown diamonds for use in the tech and jewellery industries; he needed help reviewing his financial projections and valuing the company before approaching investors. Théophile offered to do this and their collaboration was born.
Fast-forward to June 2015 and Théophile is still part of the team of nine as CFO and partner of what has become LakeDiamond. Looking back to that day at the pool, the finance expert says that his confidence to volunteer his services so readily to his friend came from attending IMD's Strategic Finance program two weeks previously.
The course had enabled him to practise the discounted cash flow (DCF) method of valuing companies and had given him other valuable insights. For instance, it taught him the importance of cash over profit, which he calls "the company's blood". The course also provided him with a vision beyond just profit and loss, teaching him how to leverage value creation thanks to financial strategies.
For the finance director, a highlight of the program was also a simulation exercise based on the real case study of the merger between Anheuser-Busch (AB) and InBev. He and his team had to value the company being taken over (AB) and he learned some useful negotiation tips along the way. "We could feel the tension, as this was like a real deal".
Théophile says interacting with other participants, all of whom were finance professionals, was also enriching. "If I had conducted the exercise at university with students, it would not have been the same as doing it with executives with years of experience."
Within LakeDiamond, which grows, cuts and polishes diamonds for a broad range of high value applications, Théophile is involved in many areas of the business, which he enjoys as previously his scope of work had been narrower when working for multinationals. As part of his remit as LakeDiamond's CFO, he also focuses on finding investors. "A firm offer has been received already from a major hedge fund, and an executive of the fund found the business plan very credible and robust," he explains.
Helping him in this quest has been attending regular IMD alumni meet-ups where Théophile meets business angels and other useful contacts for his venture – people he believes he would not have had access to before attending the course. On one occasion he was fortunate enough to meet a diamond specialist with 30 years' experience. "Usually if you work in the man-made diamond business, people from the natural diamond industry won't always talk to you so easily, but he gave me amazing insight into the business."
Théophile also values staying in touch with IMD's professors and was recently invited to present his venture to one of the school's MBA classes. The executive students' challenge was then to recommend solutions to some of LakeDiamond's main issues. "They all came up with amazing advice and this was priceless," he says.
As for words of advice on life and business, Théophile believes you make your own luck. "I think luck is something you need to work on and I can really say that the SF program was a way to give me access to more luck – I certainly think this story is reproducible for others."
Strategic Finance (SF) helps senior financial and business executives discover how to create value for theirs companies and boost financial performance.