People | The Big Questions

Raphael Cheminat focuses on the value of adjusting to ‘local sensibilities’

Emphasis on adaptability for successful global career

by Rob Gilhooly

Contributing Writer

Name: Raphael Cheminat
Title: Japan Group Country Head, Societe Generale (since September 2016)
URL: www.societegenerale.asia/jp
DoB: Jan. 15, 1972
Hometown: Bordeaux, France
Years in Japan: 2


The Japanese markets have closed and the trading floor at Societe Generale’s Tokyo branch is noticeably less frenetic, even though traders remain glued to their computer screens, keeping an eye on movements in other markets around the globe.

“There’s a very different atmosphere during business hours,” said Japan Group Country Head Raphael Cheminat. “In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong is our hub, but Japan is our most important market. We’ve been here since 1973 and it’s a country in which we continue to invest.”

Japan also holds significance for Cheminat, who took the helm here in 2016 following a four-year stint in Korea and six years at the regional headquarters in Hong Kong.

It’s a country that had piqued his interest since joining the French multinational banking group 20 years ago.

“In France, whenever I heard mention of Japan it immediately rang a bell,” said Cheminat, 46, who oversees the company’s four entities in Japan, namely Societe Generale Tokyo Branch, Societe Generale Securities Japan Ltd., Lyxor Asset Management and Societe Generale Aircraft Leasing Ltd. “I always wanted to come to Japan and feel very lucky to be given a posting here. It’s a unique experience from both a personal and professional perspective.”

Cheminat is used to unique experiences. Prior to his postings in Asia, he held various posts, including at the company’s global headquarters in Paris where he started in the audit section of the corporate and investment banking division, which led him to travel to numerous countries around the globe.

He has also held positions at the company’s subsidiaries in New York and Bulgaria, where he met his wife.

Each posting has left their own distinct and indelible mark, though Cheminat insists he’s not one to make “pointless” comparisons.

“It’s natural to compare with other places but I refrain from doing so myself,” he said. “You cannot come to Japan, or anywhere, with a preconceived idea. You come, you discover, you adapt. They are different places so I think it’s best to look at the good aspects of each. Each posting is a different part of my life, personally and professionally.”

On a personal level, each posting has provided one-off life episodes, and not just for himself. “I have two daughters, one born in Hong Kong, the other in South Korea. So they have lived in both those countries, and now Japan. I really believe this will benefit them and enable them to develop a capacity to adapt easily to various situations in the future,” he said.

Cheminat shared one of the elements of Japan that he has found most surprising is the “relative calmness” of the country, especially Tokyo.

“I think many people who come to Japan for the first time are surprised about how quiet a city like Tokyo can be,” he said, adding that his favorite, and relaxing, “off-duty” pastime is strolling around the capital and exploring its multifarious architecture. “If Hong Kong, for example, is a 24-hour, bustling city, Tokyo is perhaps a metropolis where you live more like in a combinational village, which I think is wonderful.

“This is a place where modernism and tradition meet and there is a special refinement here, whether it’s in the architecture, the ceramics, the culture. … The longer you are here, and the more people you meet and talk to, you realize that quality of life is not about material things. It’s very ‘Zen.'”

On a professional level, Cheminat says that throughout his career he has most enjoyed the challenge of working with diversified teams and, “being able to connect your local platform to the region, and globally as well.”

He also feels that while trust and commitment are two important and constant keywords to building relationships in any country, it is important to adapt to local sensibilities at the workplace, too.

“For example, in France when you hold meetings you are there to debate, to exchange ideas,” he said. “In Japan, of course the exchange of ideas and debate happen, too, but the meeting itself will be more to validate and formalize decisions that have already been made beforehand.

“It’s important to understand each country’s culture and ways of doing things and to adapt and try to understand. The onus is on us to do so, because we are the guest.”

Over the next two years, Japan will be receiving many more “guests,” when it hosts two of the globe’s biggest sporting events — the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympic Games in 2020.

Societe Generale officials are particularly looking forward to rugby’s paramount competition, which it has sponsored for almost three decades. 2019 will also mark the first time the tournament will take place outside Europe, Australasia or South Africa since its inauguration in 1987.

Cheminat is bullish on the success of the tournament, which will take place in 12 cities nationwide.

“The decision to continue sponsoring the World Cup was taken very quickly because of the excellent relationship we enjoy in Japan,” said Cheminat, adding that the tournament will provide another opportunity for Societe Generale to continue its ongoing commitment to helping disadvantaged children.

“One major objective is to go beyond the traditional rugby strongholds and develop rugby in new frontiers. If people can get behind the Japan team, I’m sure it will be a success on multiple levels.”

Expansive views 
from working abroad

Raphael Cheminat graduated from Lille University’s School of Engineering before furthering his higher education studies at ESSEC Business School in Paris, where he received a master’s degree. After graduating, he entered Societe Generale, working in the audit department of the company’s corporate and investment banking entity. He continued in that department during subsequent stints at the New York subsidiary before taking charge of the audit department in Bulgaria in 2003. Three years later, he was posted in the compliance department at the company’s Asia-Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong and, in 2009, he became chief of staff to regional CEO Hikaru Ogata. Cheminat then became chief country officer of Societe Generale’s South Korea operations before taking up the reins as the group county head in Japan in 2016. Cheminat is married, has two daughters and on his days off enjoys walking and admiring urban architecture — a pursuit that helps him relax and switch off from work. He is also a regular participant in Societe Generale’s activities supporting underprivileged children.

The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.