This interview is part of a series on Trailblazing Women role models (Entrepreneurs and Leaders) from around the world and first appeared on Global Invest Her. You have to see what you can be.
"Do what you love, do it a lot and do it well. Not trying is already losing. You have to try. We are what we become."
Clara Gaymard is Co-founder of Raise. Founded in 2013 with Gonzague de Blignières, Raise is composed of two entities: Raise Investment, a capital investment company and the non-profit Raise Endowment Fund, a philanthropic organization that helps young entrepreneurs.
Clara Gaymard is a Board Member of several companies (Veolia, Bouygues, Danone, LVMH) and also President of the Women's Forum since 2015.
Clara is also a VP or Board Member of several non-profit foundations such as College de France, Fondation Valentin Haüy and IMS Entreprendre pour la Cité.
From September 2006 to 2016, she was President and CEO of GE France.
Prior to joining GE, Clara Gaymard had an outstanding career in the French Administration (Civil Service). After she completed her ENA degree, she joined the State Audit Office as an Auditor, then as a Advisor. From 1991 to 2003, she held several positions in the French Administration, mainly at the Ministry of Economy and Finance where she focused on SME investment and economic development.
In 2003, her appointment as Ambassador and President of the Invest In France Agency (AFII) was a key turning point. As the Head of the Agency, Clara Gaymard brought a more accurate and current focus to innovation and private-public collaboration to improve economic prosperity.
Clara is an Officer of the National Merit Order and Knight of the Legion of Honour. She is also a Commendatore of the Italian Republic Merit Order.
Who is your role model as a leader?
I've never had one person in particular that inspired me to live my life. I admire a lot of people, but never thought I had to be like them. I have my own path, try to be myself and be normal. I never dreamed of being exceptional or different, although I know I am different because of my double culture (my mother is Danish, father French). What matters most, when you have a double culture and in general, is to respect what matters to others. I try to take the best of anything I see or read, although some qualities in people resonate more for me, like being able to have harmony.
"I particularly admire people who work hard, are passionate about what they do and can also have balance in their life, that shows you that you don't need to be extreme to perform well."
That is a quality you find in Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa or in some current CEO's of big corporates like Paul Polman of Unilever who really cares about the environment and shows you can be a successful CEO and care for our planet. You don't only need to have one purpose. Leaders who can reconcile people and bring them together, like Martin Luther King or Gandhi are so precious for society.
What is your greatest achievement to date?
"My family, by far. Everything else I have done because I love what I do. I love life and my job, yet at the end of the day, what really matters is my family. It's very simple."
If you want to be honest with yourself, you have to ask yourself what do you really like doing. Do you prefer going to work, as I choose to do with Gonzagues de Blignières at Raise, meeting fascinating entrepreneurs who build the future, and we are lucky to help them? Or do you prefer to stay at home and do the ironing? I made my choice a long time ago. Mercedes Erra (Executive President of Havas) says "it's more fun to go out and work than stay at home and clean!" We live in a culture, where women feel guilty. It's the worst feeling in the world, because it means you don't take ownership for who you are. I knew I wouldn't be the best mother, first in class, first to win the race.
"I never compare myself to others, I just want to do my best, and to do that, I have to do what I love."
Life is long. I totally understand and respect women who want to stay at home and look after their children. It depends on the time in your life and what you really want to do. The people you love want you to be happy. I don't believe in sacrifice because of love. The first person you should love and respect is yourself, not to be narcissistic, but because you are born with the gift of your body, heart and mind. Your main responsibility is to take care of it, not for your benefit, but to be able to benefit others and the planet. It's terrible if you don't use the tools you are given. When you educate your children and manage your team, you always want them to give the best of themselves. You push them, give them opportunities to grow, that's your responsibility. So the first thing you should do is do the same for yourself. If you don't do this for yourself, how can you do it for others?
My motto is: Do things because you want to do them, not because others want you to do them. Early in my career I had 5 children in 5 years, when people told me I couldn't do that. If you do things because you are afraid of how people will look at you, you forget what you really want. I was successful in my studies at Sciences Po and ENA and felt I had to give back, because I was so lucky to do those studies. I am very thankful to France and have always done what I can to give back to my country. If you have a talent, you must use it and give back.
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman leader?
As a woman, every day is a fight. Now at RAISE we have complete gender parity, but throughout my whole career in the public and private sector, I was the only woman in meetings, travelled only with men. The work and business side is not complicated for women, it's the small talk at dinner and lunch, where men talk about football, cars etc that can make you feel like an intruder. Even when they do their best to make you feel comfortable in the conversation, you are still different to them. Women have to push to have more women on their team, so we can share what matters to us, be accepted and have more fun! Women tend to work too hard, trying to be the best and men seem to have more fun at work! I think it is important for women to tell men when they are make them feel uncomfortable, because often men don't realise they have hurt our feelings. Let them know how their behaviour makes you feel, in a non-conflictual way eg 'you see it this way, understand that can hurt/upset me'.
In the past, I sometimes accepted things that were unacceptable, because I didn't want to rock the boat. Now that I'm the boss, my biggest challenge is accepting I can really express how I feel and that it doesn't make me more vulnerable by doing that. For example a journalist once wrote a derogatory article about some research that said 'blond women were paid 75% more than brunettes' and ended the article by saying blonds were less clever than brunettes and included my photo to illustrate the article! I chose to publicly laugh about that rather than take it personally. If you take things personally you are wasting your time!
At work, if you want to be successful when there is a crisis or difficult decision to be made, just step back, take yourself out of the picture and see the situation for how it currently is, not how it can hurt you. Take as much emotion as you can out of the decision. A few years ago, when I was part of the negotiation for the takeover deal between GE and Alstom with our respective governments and companies, I had to make some tough decisions that could have had big repercussions for me personally. When you do what is right, you need to focus on the success of the outcome for the organisation above all else, not for you personally.
How do you grow people in your organization?
I really like to get to know the people on my team. What really matters to me is not only their knowledge and expertise, rather what they are passionate about and like doing in their lives. I learned this earlier in my career when I was 35 year old, working for the French government. A male colleague had been working for me for over 2 years and it was only when we were having a lunch to celebrate his move to a new position, that I discovered he was an avid painter at the weekends! My wake up call, was that I realised I had worked closely with him for over 2 years, yet I did not know his passion for painting, because I had been focused on his job, not him as a person.
"When you focus on what drives your people and what they are truly passionate about, you discover so many treasures and they give the best of themselves."
When I was at GE, I couldn't remember what degrees the people on my team had, but I knew what motivated them. When I first gave them a job, I told them I hoped that what they would be doing now would only be 50% of the job of their job in future, and that they should feel free to create the other half and do more of what they love doing. I always gave them regular feedback and asked them to explore new areas to work on. At Raise with my partner Gonzague de Blignières, we raised $350 million for our Private Equity Investment Fund and we and the team give 50% of our profits of that to our Foundation to support entrepreneurs (biggest foundation in France for entrepreneurs). It was my team who came up with the idea for Raise Ventures, it's so powerful when you see your team building with you - they push you when they feel comfortable - it's so fascinating and energising! I try not to give too much guidance, and ask them to come to me with proposals to discuss. With Gonzague, we have to let them do things, trust them and let them know they are there because you value their talent. Your power is not your power, it's the power you give your team to grow and fly.
If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?
I would do everything differently! I would love to have another life, not because I don't like my current life, rather to be able to experiment and do other things, be an architect, a singer... I love what I have done, but if I had to re-live my life, the only thing I would keep is my children, my family!
What differences do you notice between men and women's leadership styles?
I don't like to say there are different types of leadership between men and women. What I notice is that when men are only with other men, they behave a certain way, and it's the same with women only working with women. If you have mixed gender teams, you won't have leadership differences, if you have full gender parity. When everyone is the same, that's what creates distortions in management and leadership. I really believe that. It's not true that all women are open-minded, kind and sweet and that all men are fighters and tough. You have sweet men and tough women!
"When you put clones together, they work like clones - when you have diversity, things come to life and you get better results."
How would you describe your leadership style?
There are 4 things that matter to me:
1) Excellence and performing well. As children, my father always told us "do what you love, do it a lot and do it well." If you want to be successful, you have to be dedicated, try hard, keep trying and do it well.
2) Never miss an encounter. When people knock at your door, even if it's unexpected, listen to them. Life is made of encounters. When I was at GE, I always asked my assistant to keep 10% of my time free for what really counts, that was non-business focused.
3) Share. Share your experience, share your success, share your money. My leadership is about sharing.
4) Have fun and laugh! We only have one life. We spend so much time in our office - if we don't have fun and laugh at things, it's not worth it. Do things seriously, but don't take yourself seriously.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would have loved to hear this when I was younger (I didn't have anybody to give me advice then): Do what you like, do it a lot and do it well. This is really important. If you are true to yourself, maybe you will hurt some people around you, but if it's the right thing for you, the hurt won't be as much as you think and it will go away! Yes you have to make choices, it's not easy, and you have to take some tough decisions, that others around you may not understand. But if it's the right decision for you, they will get over it.
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
To be honest I don't know! When I was 18, 25, 40 I didn't know what I wanted to be!
"Some people know early on what they want to be, but most of us don't know and it doesn't matter. I think it's very important to say that."
A lot of young people don't know what they want to be and feel guilty about it, or stupid. But who dreams of being the Marketing Director of a big corporate? It's a great job, but how can you dream of it when you are 18 ? The only thing I know, is that I want RAISE to be an example for others, because I don't know any other Private Equity company where the team gives 50% of its earnings to a foundation for entrepreneurs.
"I hope we will help and support a lot of entrepreneurs to be very successful. My dream with RAISE is that we help the economy, by supporting more entrepreneurs who create jobs."
3 key words to describe yourself?
I also love the quote from a Jewish, lesbian photographer from 1920's Germany who said
"I'm going where I am, but I'm still not there" - "Je vais là où je suis, mais je n'y suis pas encore".
Watch Anne Ravanona's TEDx talk on Investing in Women Entrepreneurs.