Christel, a mother of two, is currently Project Department Manager at Serimax. She tells us about her love of the job and what it means to be a woman in the welding business.
Christel, to begin, can you tell us about your training? How did you get into the world of welding?
I trained as a mechanical engineer at the Technological University of Compiègne (UTC), in the Acoustic & Industrial vibrations department because I initially wanted to manage the acoustics at concert venues. I then spent several years at the Technical Center for Mechanical Engineering (CETIM) in Senlis. My first job was to check the structural integrity of pressure vessels using Acoustic Emission Testing. But, during an initial or periodic proof test, you are above all trying to detect possible crack growth in the welds, and it was that experience which made me want to learn more about welds. So, I did an additional training course at the welding institute in Villepinte, where I obtained a diploma from the specialized welding school ESSA (Ecole Supérieure du Soudage et de ses Applications). My cohort was small, around a dozen people. Not many people were interested in welding at that time, unlike today. It was a very male-dominated world; I was the only girl in the class!
It was a demanding and difficult course, even more so because I was pregnant, which made it harder to do some of the practical welding exercises, but I did all and I am proud to have stuck it out because it was a very enriching experience. Where there’s a will there’s a way! There may not be many women with this technical background, but we can get great jobs. I think it’s all a question of motivation. But one thing is for sure; in this job you need to have a strong character!
How did you then come to work at Serimax?
We were introduced to the world of offshore welding as part of our courses, and it really sparked my interest. I got talking to one of our instructors who knew Serimax well, and I learned that this company had a lot of opportunities and adventure to offer. That’s why I wanted to join Serimax, and I began my career in 2002 as a Tender Engineer in the Tendering department. It was a very interesting first job that gave me insight into the different aspects of the company and helped me really understand the ins and outs of our business.
How did your career path then unfold?
My aim from the outset was to join the project team, which I achieved in 2011 by initially landing the job of project engineer, and then that of project manager for the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Asia). It is a completely different job and that is what I like about Serimax : the mobility. You can try your hand at very various jobs, both in France and abroad. In my new job, I got to experience the entire life cycle of a project, from the invitation to tender through to the production launch: define the contract, establish the project schedule, choose qualified personnel and appropriate equipment, and liaise with the client. For me, the production launch is the most interesting phase of an operational project!
Can you describe an average day’s work?
At that time, most of the operational projects were offshore, with the team working 24/7, and because I was the main contact person for our clients, I always had my phone close by. For me, responsiveness and communication are essential for good teamwork. No one person has all the skills, so the key is finding the right person to deal with the issue in hand. Being a project manager is like conducting an orchestra. You need a group of talented musicians to carry off the best performance possible. Our projects involve large budgets, and every wasted minute is expensive. The success of a project depends on respect, confidence and honesty between the teams on the field and me, coordinating from the office. Excellent interpersonal relations are absolutely essential. Another challenge was that we were often working on several projects at once. When one starts up, another may just be going into production or be in the qualification phase, while others are coming to an end. So you need to be very flexible and know how to adapt to any situation.
Can you give us an example of a project that really made an impact on you?
Yes, the CLOV project in Angola. It was the first time that we had used our SATURNAX 09 welding equipment on a worksite. I got the opportunity to be mobilized onboard the Pipelay vessel Borealis, and it was fascinating to see the worksite “up close”, as and to be part of such a close-knit team. It was hard work. We were on our feet at least 12 hours a day every day of the week, over a long period of time. I learned a great deal on this project, not only technically but also about the cultures of the other staff working at the site.
How did you get to where you are today at Serimax?
After several operational projects, I had the opportunity to lead the EMEA-CIS Project team. It was another challenge of managing Project Managers & Engineers, and I think I succeeded rather well, guiding, and supporting my team on a daily basis, always with the desire to achieve operational excellence for the satisfaction of our customers. Still looking for new challenges, I then decided to move to R&D and take part in the design and manufacturing of our new welding equipment. Back to project management with very ambitious goals to achieve in terms of delivery times and manufacturing cost control, it was yet another great experience with new internal & external stakeholders. This eventually led me to my current position as head of a newly created Project Department for the development of new equipment with the aim of building a strong team of Project Managers and prototypes, capable of managing complex developments in accordance with company strategic requirements. Managing people but also projects, whatever they are, that’s really what I like to do! It’s so exciting! This is how, when I take a quick look in the rear-view mirror, I realize that it has already been 20 years at Serimax, with so many different and enriching positions and experiences. In the end, my ESSA instructor was right: what an adventure at Serimax! and I’m now convinced that being a woman in such male environment should be considered an asset.