The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) new communications
director Franklin Servan-Schreiber has led such a peripatetic existence
that just listening to his history is enough to give you jet-lag.
Whereas most people change jobs, the 34-year-old Frenchman changes
continents. What’s more, his CV takes eclecticism to new heights,
particularly when he gave up a professorship to become a temporary
Servan-Schreiber first started work in 1987 as a freelance journalist
for publications such as Paris-Match and La Vie Francaise in his native
France, which he combined with computer programming and training.
He counts his first ’proper’ job as being assistant to the publications
director of Elle in New York, an experience, he says, which gave him a
grounding in business. ’I was involved in all sorts of special projects
from helping to launch Elle Decor to arranging the relocation of an
office of 120 people,’ he says.
When Japanese fashion house Shiseido approached him to establish a
philanthropy division to support the arts, he jumped at the chance.
Based in Tokyo, the job involved so much travel that he believes he
circumnavigated the globe three times in two years, staging
international exhibitions, finding artists to support and commissioning
works of art. ’It was great fun.
I had a fantastic expense account and everyone loved me because it was
my job to take out artists and negotiate wages with them,’ he
Servan-Schreiber learned both spoken and written Japanese for the job,
which is no mean feat given that it involves 5,000 characters and two
48-letter alphabets. However, he plays down the achievement: ’French and
Japanese are very similar in that the pronunciation is flat,’he
On leaving Shiseido in 1992, he remained in Japan to become a professor
of political science and hatch plans to launch a Japanese fashion
His ’very close negotiations’ with Conde Nast fell through - which in
retrospect he says he is glad about given the subsequent souring of the
In 1994, his father, Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber, ex-minister, left
wing intellectual and founder of L’Express magazine, fell ill and he
returned to Pittsburgh to look after him. ’It was a tough period,’ he
says. He combined caring for his father with earning dollars 7.50 an
hour as a temporary secretary, serving coffee and rewriting other
Meanwhile, he was preparing a presentation of his own.
He wrote a 25-page report detailing how and why Sony should get into the
PC market and sent it to the president of Sony US. The president asked
him to present it to senior executives and Servan-Schreiber was
eventually talked out of his insistence on independence and into a job.
Much of the work he did in the company’s research labs is still secret,
he says. However, when Sony’s strategy shifted away from the PC market,
it was time to move on.
The opportunity at the IOC offered acomplete change of mindset. Apart
from leaving the globe’s heaving capital cities for the peace of
Lausanne, Servan-Schreiber has also left commerce for a more
philanthropic beast and he has thrived in his new environment. A
colleague marvels: ’From arriving at theIOC five and a half months ago
to manage the internet site, to being promoted to communications
director is unheard of. Most people take over two years to achieve
director level, if at all.’
Despite the IOC’s image crisis, following the sacking of six members for
alleged corruption in March, he says the Olympic movement is very
attractive. ’It is about more than just sport. It is about peace,
international harmony and brotherhood,’ he says, launching into an
impassioned list of the IOC’s good works, which include funding athletes
in 120 countries and rebuilding the Sarajevo stadium.
Servan-Schreiber admits that right now he and his team are busy
fire-fighting. However, he points out: ’The IOC does an incredible
amount and there are many good things to say. It is my job to make sure
that we explain what we do much, much better.’
Assistant to publications director, Elle Decor, New York
International co-ordinator, philanthropy division, Shiseido, Tokyo
Project leader, Sony Research Laboratories
Communications director, IOC, Lausanne