“Be humble and passionate.” With Fotis Georgiadis & Frédéric-Charles Petit

Be humble and passionate. I learned this from my parents. My mother has always been a hard-working, dedicated person. My father was also an entrepreneur. He set an example for me, in that he pushed himself to achieve professionally, but kept a low profile and remained humble on his talent and authority and in his […]

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Be humble and passionate. I learned this from my parents. My mother has always been a hard-working, dedicated person. My father was also an entrepreneur. He set an example for me, in that he pushed himself to achieve professionally, but kept a low profile and remained humble on his talent and authority and in his interactions with people.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Frédéric-Charles Petit Chief Executive and Founder of Toluna.

Frédéric’s mission is to revolutionize the way brands and consumers engage with one another, with the ultimate objective of transforming the market research industry into a real-time, mass market and social experience. Today ITWP helps companies anywhere in the world make clearer business decisions by bringing brands and people together via its streamlined research platform and the world’s largest social voting community,

Frédéric, and his team, acquired several companies over the course of Toluna’s development, and has grown the company from one individual based in Paris, to a global company of more than 1,200 staff in 21 offices on 4 continents.

​Frédéric is an industry visionary, and speaks often among industry leaders about the transformation of market research, impacts of automation and more. Frédéric holds a Master’s degree in comparative jurisprudence from New York University and a diploma in advanced studies in international economic law from the Sorbonne in Paris (D. E. A.). He practiced as a French lawyer in the corporate department of Allen & Overy’s Paris office, before establishing Toluna in May 2000.

Thank you for joining us! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Istarted my career with the aim to be a lawyer, and studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, and at NYU, in New York. I went on to become a lawyer because I thought law could be entrepreneurial; I had visions of creating my own law firm and building a practice. But, I quickly become fascinated by “the new economy” and the growth of startups in New York. It was the beginning of the dotcom era and it had a huge impact on me. I knew that what I really wanted to do was start a business reflective of the new times. I was very excited about the internet and the fact that I could start a business right now, which was unique.

Then the dotcom bubble burst. All my friends were in law firms, and they all said we think it’s great what you want to do, but why don’t you come back — aka B to C, back to consulting, and B to L, back to law. I was very stubborn and believed that consumer opinions would change the interaction between brands, consumers and ecommerce, transforming the market research industry into a mass market and social experience.

It wasn’t a great time to think this, though — it was the winter of the internet economy in Europe, and honestly… it was awful. I had a sense of responsibility in terms of commitment to the investors. They had trusted me with that fundraising and my role was to fight very hard to survive during that period. And we had a strong belief that our vision was right. I knew that online was going to change the research industry, yet everyone I met with during this time said to come back in another ten years. It was very tough, and the way you survive those moments is to regroup, stay focused on a very few items, and change your business plan. You also change your ambition. In some ways, it’s a day of reckoning — what you wanted to achieve versus what you can achieve within the period.

I was fortunate to have a handful of people along the way who were very supportive. I remember I was all set to move forward on launching a massive advertising campaign aimed at getting people to join the Toluna panel community — the people who opt in to offer their expertise and opinions as panel members. When the ad agency I chose came back with its recommendation — it was: don’t do anything right now. I was so fortunate to have met these people who helped me save the company money during a really tough period.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s not really a funny story, it’s more of a guiding principle.

We had just acquired a company and I’m sitting in the office with one of the business managers from the new company. It’s Friday and the phone is ringing, and this person in the office doesn’t move. I say are you going to answer the phone? He says “yes” but that “we” need to educate the client that they can’t call us after hours. I said, “no, wait a minute, I’m not teaching the client any such lesson.” A client looking for help at a time when most people are transitioning into the weekend must be working on something important. We want to be the partner who is there for him or her. If we are there for them at 6 p.m. on a Friday night, he or she will be there for us on Monday at 9 a.m. It is a simple value — delight the customer.

That moment taught me the value of culture and the importance of having a shared culture. You can be different, you can operate differently, but the fundamental set of values needs to be the same for success. Peers and colleagues need to share the same fundamental set of values for success. It may not be obvious during periods of growth and when the market is strong. But, when the market is tight and all hands are needed on deck, and there are no shared values, that’s when — as the English would say — it becomes a sticky wicket.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to talent today?

I think that the challenge for the industry right now is to understand that the world has changed, that the code for what a research company should be and what type of staff a research company should hire has changed and that we need an influx of fresh energy. If I were a graduate today, and wanted to go into a research, I would show how I was different from the “traditional researcher,” and by that I mean we need people who understand the formality, the rules of research, and the foundation of research but we also need these people who we call data scientists, engineers — people coming from different backgrounds.

In talent acquisition, I want to hire the person knowledgeable in research that I would not want to see sitting across the table from me when competing for new business. There is so much competition for traditional researchers who are analytical, data-driven and understand specific industries. I try to attract employees with fresh energy — a less traditional workforce. I look for people from outside the industry with different backgrounds who can offer new and different ways of doing things.

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

Our company is based on a foundation of six values: meritocracy, teamwork, integrity and respect, embracing change and being bold, informed decision making and delighting clients. The values don’t just hang on the wall. They unite the employees and help people excel in good times. During difficult periods, when things are not going in the right direction, values help people regroup and course correct.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience).

Meritocracy. Regardless of an employee’s background, it’s critical to give people the opportunity to grow and build a career, irrespective of location or skill set. Recognizing and rewarding talent is one of the most important things that we do.

Act as a team. Work together as a team, which delivers results through common goals and shared values. It’s not just about being one team, but one team that succeeds.

Integrity & Respect. Treat colleagues, clients, partners and customers with respect.

Rapid, informed decisions executed without delay. Make sure that your team is well informed to make the right decisions quickly.

Delight your clients. In our industry, it’s all about exceeding client expectations, so you need to ensure that your team is on the same page. That is why, at Toluna, we aspire to always be available for our clients — answering the phone, going to see them and understanding their businesses. We take it to heart that we are in a service industry.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

  1. Be Bold. Be a person and a CEO who makes bold, brave moves. Think big and embrace change. People who take calculated risks will do better than those who are too safe.
  2. It was a bold move when we entered the research industry, known for projects that could take months or even years. And we said that technology would change this. It is about automating the repetitive processes for gathering people’s opinions. It’s also about scale — reaching hundreds of thousands of people in different countries and time zones. And it is about doing it quickly with mobile apps and virtual focus groups. All this is obvious now. It was a bold move at the time. We revolutionized the industry.
  3. Know Your Clients. Know what they are thinking and anticipate their needs before even they know what they want/need. If you are constantly with your clients, trying to understand their pressures and challenges, you are deepening your knowledge of their industry and their competitors’ business models and products, then you can never lose.
  4. Celebrate. Enjoy and reflect on success. Too many times, companies are focused on the negative or what’s next. Take some time to reflect and celebrate. Toluna will celebrate its 20th anniversary this year and we are going to ensure we recognize that achievement across every level of the business. Every single employee is going to be commended for their passion, skill and commitment in getting us to where we are today. It’s a team effort.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

In industries such as consumer packaged goods, healthcare, media & entertainment and tech, companies use research to make informed decisions, uncover new opportunities, speed products to market and answer essential questions that impact bottom lines.

My idea is to launch a real social network. A network for social good. I would name it Instead of just making financial contributions, what if we all used our skills to help good causes? All of us and any of us can change the world in one day. People donate money but the most valuable gift is time. As someone who spends endless time in planes, trains and on the road, I know that time is our rarest currency. would provide professional services to charities. For example, a charity needing help could connect with a marketing specialist for a campaign or an accountant to help strategize cashflow. would be a network of professional people with skills and attributes, who would donate their time, creating a network of billions of hours of people’s time that would be granted to charities. Just giving one day of your time can change the world.

I’m also obsessed with the idea of using research for good. At Toluna, we do that through two important sponsorships:

Women In Research (WIRe) — WIRe champions diversity in the marketing research industry by arming women with the tools to develop professionally, build connections and stay inspired. They believe in the positive impact of women in business with a mission to advance the contributions and voices of women in research, both for themselves and for the greater good of the industry. Toluna sponsors several research projects for WIRe including their annual member survey to ensure the organization is meeting the needs of its members; and Women In the Workplace to identify milestones and changes in perception in how women are advancing professionally.

ESOMAR is a not-for-profit organization that promotes the value of market, opinion and social research and data analytics. We’ve been providing ethical and professional guidance and advocating on behalf of its global membership community for over 70 years. Toluna helps ESOMAR in its marketing and fundraising efforts.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Be humble and passionate. I learned this from my parents. My mother has always been a hard-working, dedicated person. My father was also an entrepreneur. He set an example for me, in that he pushed himself to achieve professionally, but kept a low profile and remained humble on his talent and authority and in his interactions with people.

Thanks to my father, I aspire to challenge myself constantly, every day. By that I mean something is lost the minute you become complacent. You no longer have the desire and the appetite to grow and change.

Humility and passion are tools that serve you throughout your career. It’s possible to be humble and proud of your accomplishments. It is a fine line, but both can be accomplished.

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