Today, Richard Attias is also a brand name. What is the secret to building this concept that you are adapting? What are, essentially, your African ambitions?
Before being a brand name, Richard Attias & Associates is first of all the fruit of over 20 years’ experience in the field of strategic communication. This is translated by the conception and creation of platforms, conferences and summits. It’s true that we have become a benchmark, because the WPP group, which is still a far more powerful and well-known brand than ours – the world’s number 1 in terms of communication – has acquired at 30 % stake in our company.
What clinched the WPP’s choice – a group we have known for a long time, including its Executive Director, sir Martin Sorel – was the desire to complement the WPP Group’s services, specifically by bringing this international experience to the table, both in terms of business areas and geographical presence. We are very well set up in the Gulf countries, Asia, Europe and, of course, the USA, especially in New York where our main office is. Africa accounts for a third of our business operations.
The other aspect we specifically bring to WPP is a complementary access to emerging markets. I have always been passionate about the pioneering spirit in the economy.
The emerging economies are part of it. Helping countries to become real brands and real benchmarks, not only for potential investors but also for the different audiences of these countries. It is a real challenge.
What are, in reality, your African ambitions now?
More than an ambition, it’s a mission: which many people unfortunately do not understand. I’ll explain: when you are totally independent, as I am today, once you reach 50, you say: “What will I leave behind? ” The Americans call it legacy. When you are born in Africa, with deep roots, and when you see such exceptional young people, who represent 60 % of the population on the continent, you cannot remain apathetic.
There is a higher risk of social unrest if young people don’t have hope or a future outlook in terms of, in particular, jobs. Consequently, you have to help them. The only way to help them is to revitalise the African economy.
It will also help them build a stable, sustainable and profitable economy. As that is the only way to create jobs. That’s my mission! All of these huge projects we are working on in Africa point in this direction.
This continent is massive – 54 countries, 1 billion people – we cannot confine ourselves to just one pan-African forum. This is why we are in the process of multiplying our initiatives – and I insist on using the word ‘initiatives’ – in Africa. For example, I would very much like to be able to look into the economic challenges in Tunisia, and in Libya, to help them to stabilise themselves.
What is your view on the Arab Spring countries?
First, I think that currently, we must bring together the conditions needed for dialogue. Finally, I have learned over my 20 years of experience in this field that political stability and social peace come from economic development. I do not wish to be pretentious, but any political leader who does not understand that their priority must be the economy is, in my view, missing something fundamental. We cannot undertake major social projects, major ecological projects or major projects in the field of health if we do not have the financial means to do so. And you have these financial means when the economy is fully developing. I’ll use a metaphor to express an idea: today, there is a patient who is fairly ill: he is the economy. He is starting to recover, but he needs to heal properly and be made prosperous. And that is our mission!
How can we define you today? A lobbyist? A political communications strategist?
None of that. I believe that I am a catalyst. I had learned in my engineering studies that, ultimately a catalyst is a chemical reaction that is produced when you put positive things together. And so, there you have it, I am a catalyst. That is to day someone who tries systematically to bring people together. That’s why I believe strongly in meetings in person. In that respect, I am not a fan of all these virtual social networks. They are only simple tools!
Above all, I am therefore a catalyst, who tries, specifically, to bring communities together. As it is only from these exchanges that ideas and big projects are born.
The Americans call me a “Global Influencer”. Quite simply, because when you are the architect of these huge gatherings, you have a bit of influence. I never forget that my passion is to create, and therefore I love to work with my teams on creating strategic content that really addresses the concerns of the day. I try to make it so that we don’t leave our meetings unless there is a practical road map on the table.
Has this immersion in Africa changed you? If so, how?
That is a good question, especially given that the theme of the New York Forum Africa 2014 is change and transformation. Yes, I think that closeness to the African continent, for a several years now, has, above all, imposed a certain number of values on me.
Being part of daily life in Africa is a very good lesson in humility. You encounter courageous people, sometimes with no means at all, who have this zest for life, this faith, this confidence like no others. It’s therefore a very good lesson in humanism and humility. Next, the other thing, is the solidarity and kindness, which are real African values, in which I find myself and share, with pleasure. There is a kind of optimism, a love for life, which makes the African continent – although I am not a permanent African-optimist – with all these components in its DNA more than able to shine across the world.