“I don't fit into any pre-conceived boxes,” laughs this athletic woman (she runs half-marathons) who currently holds a job at France's Naval Group that she invented herself: Managing Director, Collaborative Innovation and R&D Programmes.
She started bucking the trend early on. At school Béatrice's teachers pushed her into doing biology rather than the physics and chemistry she loved, probably because it was considered more suitable for a girl. So she dutifully passed her Bac D (science with a biology major) school-leaving exam and started studying biology at university.
“But I very quickly realised that that just wasn't me, so in parallel I re-sat my baccalaureate exam, this time sitting the C version (science with a maths and physics major) so that I could study chemistry and physics at university.” She followed up with an engineering degree in innovation and advanced materials.
But then, as she says, her path “did not at all follow a straight line.”
Her first job was with a company in Switzerland specialised in thermal spray materials for aeronautic, automotive and medical applications “which met my interest in new materials, notably composites,” she explains. But four years later it was back to school to gain a double MBA in strategy and finance from the Cranfield School of Management in the U.K. and the EM Lyon business school in France.
Her next job had little to do, on the face of it, with chemistry although she says that “my scientific background did help me to understand how one integrates new ideas into a company.” She eventually became the youngest ever female associate partner in KPMG Peat Marwick, meanwhile following an online executive management programme at New York's Cornell University, gaining [another!] degree in strategic thinking.
By this stage chemistry was far behind her and when she left Peat Marwick after nine years, it was to become a shareholder and manager in a company that provided early stage investment services in Switzerland, France, and the U.K. In parallel she was the founder and managing director of a company that provided consulting in strategy and the development of new business lines, as well as managing organisational growth and changes.
“So this means that I can talk about raising funds with financial managers, about new technologies with computer geeks and can challenge our naval architects!” she says.
It was in autumn 2012 that she heard about changes being implemented in the French naval systems group, called DCNS at the time. She read up about it and came up with some ideas and projects which she submitted to the CEO. He hired her to do a job that she'd invented: Director of a new Equipment Division and launching the “Intelligent Use of Oceans” transversal strategic think tank.
“Naval Group is an extremely masculine environment,” she says, “and very different from the other companies I'd worked for because the main shareholder is the French government, our clients are only those approved by the shareholder, the subject is defence, there are multiple actors in the decision-making process, and our products have a life-cycle that is very long, between 35 to 50 years so the teams working on them change.”
Her first challenge was to gain an understanding of the principal products: submarines and frigates. “So,” she says not a little proudly, “I managed to convince the Navy and Naval Group to let me spend a few days aboard a submarine during a mission, one of the very first women ever to do so in France! But I was very careful not to take up space,” so, she adds with a giggle “I didn't shower for the few days I was on-board!” She's also spent time aboard a frigate so understands what kind of innovations could be introduced both onto ships that are already operational and those that are still on the drawing-board.
Her other challenge is “to open up Naval Group to work with academics, scientists, start-ups, which is not easy because of the confidentiality issues involved.”
But she says that her managers “are prepared to let me get on with it” and use her management skills to “get people who are a little stuck in their ways to change!”
Beatrice does not have a problem managing men “although of course I've had challenges” and she believes that women generally have a very different approach to management. In what ways, I ask her? “I am a binding agent, I bring empathy. I don't get involved in people's family problems but I think people need to feel supported even if they've suffered a failure.” Something she thinks that male managers are not always very good at.
Right from the beginning of her professional life, Beatrice says she vowed to maintain a balance with her personal life. She helped her husband to create his own company eight years ago and still occasionally contributes financial and strategic insights. He “accepts my frequent absences and helps a lot around the house.” She is very proud of the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit they have developed at home. And when a project like the Natick Project, the world's first immersed data centre, keeps her in the Orkneys a long way from home for weeks, family and friends “are very supportive”. The balance is fragile but is “the salt of my family's way of life.”