illustration Louis-Augustin Julien, a man of letters with a passion for numbers
© INRAE

Society and regional strategies 3 min

Louis-Augustin Julien, a man of letters with a passion for numbers

A graduate of Sciences-Po and ENA, the classic training grounds for France’s top politicians and administrators, and with auditing experience at an international accountancy firm, Louis-Augustin Julien is Director of Finance and Procurement for INRA (which became INRAE on 1 January 2020). He is in charge of all the Institute’s financial activities, managing a 40-strong team.

Published on 07 June 2019

Figures: the link to the real world

Louis-Augustin Julien is happy to describe himself as ‘a man of letters with a passion for numbers’. For him, figures provide a link to the outside world ; they constitute the necessary transition between a project’s conception and its execution. And this, too, is how he sees his own role as Director of Finance and Procurement at INRA – his goal is to strengthen the institute’s business model in order to support its research. ‘INRA is a large organisation and it will expand even further through the forthcoming merger with Irstea, giving us a joint annual budget of over 1 billion euros. There are always decisions to be made on how best to allocate funding, most of which comes from the public purse – you have to choose between a host of priorities for research equipment, facilities and staffing. We also need to diversify our income streams to ensure that we can continue to invest.  My job, and that of my team, is to coordinate all this for central management.  This means that we are directly involved  in the implementation of the projects we are there to support, which I find highly motivating. When I was working for national government, what I did was more indirect because my interactions with other government departments were often at a very ‘macro’ level.

Indeed, before his arrival at INRA, Louis-Augustin spent four years in the French Ministry for the Economy and Finance’s budget directorate. ‘After graduating from the ENA, I wanted to understand how the State truly functions. And the budget directorate certainly offers the best vantage point from which to observe the workings of public decision-making in France. Decisions are always taken by the politicians while the work of the  budget  department is twofold: first, it provides expert support and advice and second, it enables what is a political vision to become a reality, while maintaining its neutrality and loyalty at all times’.

A professional quest for enlightenment

Having followed a literary curriculum at school with a maths option, LA went on to study at Sciences Po. He describes this as a way to avoid having to make any choices, such was the range of subjects on offer at the Paris university, from law to economics, history and political philosophy. ‘I started at Sciences Po two weeks after the World Trade Center attack. That sort of event has a profound effect on you ! It led me to work a lot on international issues, on security in particular. One of my dissertations for my Masters in International Affairs was on terrorism and nuclear proliferation. And then, not long  before I left  Sciences Po, I became inspired by a book about the fall of Arthur Andersen. It examined how the global accountancy giant collapsed after approving the accounts of a company that had concealed its debts. So, to complete my training and to gain an understanding of how businesses operate, I worked as a financial auditor for two years (2006-2008) in the industrial and energy sectors. But I soon began to feel that, while I derived great benefit from it and still find it useful to this day, the experience was rather short on action. To broaden my horizons, and as a bit of a challenge, I then decided to study for the École Nationale d’Administration entrance exam.

An international journey

Before starting his preparation for the ENA entrance exam, Louis-Augustin set off on a seven-month trip around the world. Always eager to travel, he had previously spent a year as a student in Germany and worked as an intern at the French Embassy in Ireland. Away from his own country and language and outside his comfort zone he met with greater intensity and diversity in his experiences which required him to be adaptable.  Back in France at the ENA, on being asked where he wanted to go,  he simply replied ‘far’, and duly left for a 4-month placement at the French Embassy in New Zealand where he met his British wife. His second internship, at the Dordogne Prefecture  in  Périgeux, may seem mundane in comparison, but its effect on him cannot be doubted : ‘it was a real eye-opener, a job that allowed me to deal directly with many people’s everyday problems in both the public and private sectors. The sort of authenticity in human interactions that I encountered during my time there struck a chord’, he remembers. ‘Because they are responsible for public security and emergency management,  prefectures are really at the heart of the State’s sovereign purposes. It was meaningful work where you could play an active role, and it taught you the meaning of urgency when dealing with accidents or natural hazards’.

Since his appointment at INRA, Louis-Augustin  has directed his energies to the needs of public research, fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead for agriculture, food and the environment. ‘I believe in research. We have to expand our knowledge and to try out new things. Research is INRA’s driving force, and it is vital for all our futures’, he concludes.

Pascale Molliertranslated by Teresa Bridgeman