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"I don't have a professional life and a personal life, I have one life and no other"

Interview with Cécile Béliot-Zind, Managing Director of Danone Waters France & Benelux

Tobacco and alcohol companies, be on your way. Cécile Béliot-Zind, 41 years old, will never work for you. Even if she does admit you have "nice brands." She just doesn't feel like part of your world. It's not in her nature.

There's no doubt that the Managing Director of Danone Waters France & Benelux knows exactly what she won't compromise on, what she won't negotiate. It's the same with her agenda. Before 09:30, no meetings. Or only in very exceptional cases. She always has breakfast with her family and drives her children to school in the morning. But this doesn't mean she isn't a hard worker, just not a workaholic!

Being Managing Director was never Cécile Béliot-Zind's goal. In fact, if you'd asked her if that was her ambition two years ago, she would have clearly responded "no." Being the boss isn't what drives her. On the other hand, she does like "driving" strategies and people and has a real passion for transformational leadership. She also has her own method for managing her career, a code she willingly shares and advises all her team members to adopt: the PIN code.


You've been working for Danone for 15 years now, have you ever wanted to see what it's like elsewhere?

Cécile Béliot-Zind: "Yes, of course. I've had a few breaking points when I've considered it. I was working for the biscuits department when Danone sold it to Kraft. I knew what Kraft had become. Their model was different to Danone's. I could have gone to Kraft, but I preferred to hand in my notice to Danone. I went to the telecoms operator SFR, to be their director of marketing. I stayed there two months..."

Did you miss Danone?

"Clearly yes...(she laughs) In fact, Danone contacted me. They wanted me to come back to work for them in another sector: water. I accepted because the challenge was definitely worth it, I would be opening the Brazilian market. And also, I must admit: Danone is a company I love."

That was a stroke of good luck! Do you believe in fate?

"I believe in choice more than fate. I could have stayed in the biscuit department and had a career at Kraft. I had courage and I made the choice to leave. If I hadn't left Danone, they would never have asked me back. Our choices create opportunities."

Is there a method to managing your career?

"I'd say more of a code than a method, a 'PIN' code. The P is for performance. The I, for image. The N, for network. Together, they are the key to success.

Performance is important at the start. I'd say you grow within a company through your performance, by emphasising the letter P. But when you reach a certain level, everyone performs well. That's when your image and your network make the difference.

Image isn't about making yourself look good. Using your image allows you to make yourself known. What you do and how you serve the organisation. It's sharing what you do.

Networking is meeting as many different people as you can so you can benefit from the experiences of others, experiences that will allow you to grow. But also sharing your own. That allows you to build a new perspective."

Don't you also need to take up a challenge abroad?

"There are several ways to break into an international market. You don't necessarily need to live abroad. When I opened the Brazilian market, I lived in Paris and made return trips."

What have you learnt from your experience with an emerging market?

"A great deal of things. Business is very different there. You don't pilot things in the same way because there are less studies and data than there are here. You therefore have to use your gut, your convictions, to make progress. You learn to manage uncertainty and to react quickly.

In this type of market, the growth rate can very quickly become astronomical, and then suddenly you have to deal with dips which are just as dazzling. This can be a source of stress; however, the teams always remain enthusiastic, engaged. There's a fundamental belief there that tomorrow will be better. This gives you energy, an endless desire to learn and to grow.

I try to pass on this attitude to my teams every day. I'm a firm believer in transformational leadership. The impossible is possible."

Are you a workaholic?

"I'm not a workaholic in the negative sense of the word. I'd describe myself more as a hard worker. That said, for me, my work isn't a job, it's what fulfils me, what allows me to grow. In fact, I don't have a professional life and a personal life, I have one life, and no other.

Even if my work does take up a lot of time, there are some things I won't make concessions for, or very few of them. In the morning, I take my children to school, so I won't arrange any meetings before 09:30. In the evening, I always spend an hour with them when I get home. We share small things which make us happy."

Is there a place for vulnerability in business today?

"There has to be. Being vulnerable isn't a weakness. We need to move away from this hero culture and allow ourselves to ask for help. To dare to say completely honestly what we feel. I've had two burn-outs in my team. That affected me a lot. I should have protected them. I've also explained this during a seminar with my colleagues. I tried to explain to them how important it is to say what you feel. Truly..."


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