10 Questions for Martin Avidan


Created 2011-04-01

In this edition of the AUP Magazine, we would like to shine our spotlight on alumnus Martin Avidan, who studied at AUP (formally the American College in Paris) from 1978 to 1980.  After leaving ACP with a BA in International Business Administration, Martin went on to study at Thunderbird, The American Graduate School of International Management, where he received his MBA.  Upon graduating, he was hired by Citibank in their Middle East/Africa Division.  After a 7-month training course in Athens, Martin spent two years in Bahrain, and was able to travel extensively throughout the Middle East.  In 1984, he returned to the United States, joined Credit Lyonnais, and with the exception of a four-year stint in the late 1990s when he worked at a start-up hedge fund, he has been working for French banks ever since.  Martin currently works for Natixis, the corporate and investment banking arm of BPCE. 

Regarding his career path, Martin writes: 

Although it was anything but planned, the language skills and cultural awareness which I acquired during my studies at ACP turned out to be a significant factor in my professional development.  Even if many French in the finance industry speak English fluently, there is an appreciation for a non-native speaker who makes the effort and can work in their language.

Martin has been married for 20 years, and has 17 year old twins.  They live in the suburbs of New York and Martin works in Manhattan. Away from work, Martin enjoys the great outdoors:

I’ve been a climber for many years, and enjoy all kinds of climbing, rock/ice/alpine.  I also enjoy endurance racing, primarily triathlons, and have been fortunate to race the Ironman Triathlon World Championships, twice.  The race is held in Kona, Hawaii, and for one week every October it becomes a happy little community of the best endurance athletes on the planet.

Childhood home?

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California.  I did travel some, but my first trip to France was to attend ACP.

Favorite place in the world?

I have to admit, I love New York.  And Paris.  But outside those two places I would have to say Yosemite National Park in California. 

What books are you currently reading?

I’m reading Keith Richards’ autobiography.  I’ve been a Stones fan for years and it’s very entertaining.

Who has been an important mentor in your life?

I’ve been lucky to have a couple of mentors; when I was a bike racer in California in the mid-70s I had a great coach – a retired professional cyclist from the UK.  He was very focused, and helped me develop self-motivation and goal setting.  He lives in Vancouver now, and we are still in touch.  In my professional life, I have had a mentor in banking with whom I have somehow worked, on and off, for nearly 24 years.  Over the years he has had a significant impact on how my career has developed.

What do you love most about Paris?

So many things!  It’s a hospitable, livable city, smaller and easier to navigate than New York or London.  It’s full of surprises; sometimes you walk into a courtyard, behind big wooden doors and you find all sorts of unexpected things.  It feels welcoming, albeit on its own terms.  Sometimes when I’m in Paris on a business trip I’ll take a different route to the office just to check out a new neighborhood or area. 

What do you do in your spare time?

I’ve always had hobbies; for the past several years it has been endurance racing.  My latest project is a relay race, in late March, running from Paris to the French Alps to raise awareness for a charity focused on organ donation.  I’m part of a 14-person team and we’ll be running 24 hours a day.  (To learn more about the race, visit: http://courseducoeur.natixis.com/)

What made you decide to study at ACP/AUP?

I spent my first two years at UCLA, as a somewhat indifferent student lost in a school of 30,000 students.  At a certain point I realized that I really wanted a small, liberal-arts college experience and had some idea about possibly living abroad.  While I was visiting my sister at UC Berkeley, I wandered into the Education Abroad office and saw the brochure for ACP.  Paris seemed very exotic, ACP had the major I was looking for, and I was at a point in my life where I was ready to try something new and different.

What activities were you involved in when you were at ACP/AUP?

I participated in the student government as a representative for the business major and also went on many of the University’s cultural trips including to Mont Saint Michel, the D-Day landing beaches, and skiing trips to the Alps.

Best memory from your time at ACP/AUP?

There are so many, but let me put down a few:

• Arriving in Paris on my birthday, going to ACP and celebrating that evening with new friends.
• Going to new unfamiliar parts of town, like the Marché aux Puces and just exploring around. 
• Hitchhiking down to Spain over Christmas holiday with Chuck Nardi ‘80 my first year.  The weather was cold and miserable until we got to Spain, but we met great people who took pity on a couple of clueless Americans who barely spoke French, feeding us and inviting us into their homes.
• The diverse student population; there were kids from just about everywhere, each with his or her own story of how they ended up in Paris at ACP.
• My little 5th floor walk-up on Ile de la Cité, in an old (OLD!) building which had Roman columns and marble artifacts in the courtyard.  I remember being very aware of living on an island in the middle of the Seine which had been occupied for a couple of thousand years.
• Zipping all over town on my moped.  Rolling past the Louvre at night on my way home, looking up at the building and reminding myself of how fortunate I was.  Normally it’s hard to appreciate something until it has passed, but I never took living as a student in Paris for granted.

What inspires you take such an active role in AUP now?

Over the years, I have come to appreciate how unique and important my AUP experience was, and would like to see the University continue to be able to offer such an exceptional education and life experience to others.