Olivier Klein, the art of transition

09.15.2023 4 min
Bernard Ramanantsoa, Honorary CEO of Groupe HEC Paris, published an analysis of Oliver Klein's recently published book in the September issue of Revue Banque. You will find it below.

Managing Director of Lazard and CEO of Lazard French Bank after having personified BRED for more than ten years, Olivier Klein continues his teaching and his work as an author. A few months ago, he published “Crises and Changes: Small Banking Lessons”. A read which is easy to follow and to be relished.

Olivier Klein, recently appointed CEO of the Lazard Frères Bank, teaches financial macroeconomics and monetary policy at HEC, writes numerous articles on banking strategy, monetary policy, monetary economics and structural reforms, and participates in numerous conferences where he loves to rub shoulders with the greatest economists and leaders of financial institutions. Finally, a few months ago he published a major essay with Eyrolles and RB Édition, “Crises and Changes: Small Banking Lessons”.This book is a must read! Olivier Klein has a way with words and a penchant for well-chosen quotes. Above all, this professor-banker, based on his very well-documented field experience, offers analyses that shine a new light on strategic thinking. For example, how do you change things without breaking them? Followers of the “stakeholder” approach as well as those who support the notion of respecting the identity of companies will find convincing arguments here.

Beyond the abundant ideas that give structure to this book, it is the author’s ability to take action, to express an idea, and to teach that holds our attention. Olivier Klein is, without doubt, a “ferryman” and these days our society is missing this type of profile. We have excellent researchers, who publish in the best scientific journals, we have very high-level business leaders, but the problem of the “transfer” between theory and practice like that between research and pedagogy remains subtle and complex.

Olivier Klein’s career, like his works, is, in many respects, an example of a successful “transfer” and can enlighten us on the importance of this idea.

First, because his career and his approach in his macroeconomics articles show us how practice is enriched by scientific processes and models produced by research. When reading his book, we see clearly that there is no action that is not carried out without reference to clear knowledge. Chris Argyris, a Harvard professor and one of the theorists of organisational learning, spoke of “a theory of use”. Thus, practice, if it cannot resolve to “fit” into a single paradigm, necessarily relies on models, on theories.

From science to practice

We still need to be able to transfer these models into practice at least cost. “At least cost” here means “minimising the risk of misinterpretation of the available scientific results”. This is where Olivier Klein succeeds brilliantly as well. This is no easy task, if only because a single scientific discourse cannot simultaneously resolve all the problems put before the practitioner. This difficulty often results in frustration which leads some to throw the baby out with the bath water, that is to say, to reject all the contributions of theory and science, under the pretext that they cannot solve all the problems at hand. This is where the “ferryman”’s contribution lies. He must help with the transition between science and practice. He must choose the most effective
aspects of the theory, propose a rigorous interpretation of the facts and finally, participate in the nuances of the categories of thought. He must, in some way, offer what we will call a “lesson.” That is to say, his approach must be analogous to that of “good essays”. We know that “good essays” are those which, rigorously, choose certain parts of theories to challenge them without complacency with a particular situation, located in time and space. The “good essay” must also propose to rigorously erase certain boundaries between the different sciences. If these are in fact structured in terms of paradigms, the “ferryman” must be able to propose a “negotiated” synthesis, that is to say created through diverse influences, combining multiple scales of analysis and that is prescription-oriented.It is therefore not a popularisation of science because the “ferryman” must demonstrate great intellectual vigilance when articulating in a global vision several theoretical referents, several insights and several habits of interpretation specific to each practice.This is what Olivier Klein also achieves, especially in his book, and this demonstrates great discipline of thought. The Capitol is in fact close to the Tarpeian Rock: the difficult task of “translation” risks being transformed into a hasty collection of the latest fashions and cursive interpretations of poorly assimilated theories. The “ferryman” can, if he is not careful, become a “soup seller”. This is what Olivier Klein avoids, page after page, demonstration after demonstration.

To conclude on Olivier Klein’s role as a “ferryman”, I believe it is important to emphasise that his works certainly enlighten us, but above all, and this is a major point, that they encourage us to face the future. In our time we are afraid of modernity which excludes, which replaces man, which explores the boundaries, which builds a threatening order against, apparently, “the good old days”. There is a significant temptation to be reactionary and to condemn. In Olivier Klein’s ideas, he invites us to live in the future, optimism (or pessimism) is never the fundamental question. We must “simply” understand our world, and then commit ourselves to exercising our freedom to invent the new tools that are needed! Olivier Klein is undoubtedly a “ferryman” who mobilises.


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