Virginie Maillard, 45
Research vice president, Renault
Family: Husband, Boris; son, Gregoire, 16
Born: Avignon, France
Languages: French, English
Education: Master’s and bachelor’s degrees in mechanical engineering, Lyon Institut National des Sciences Appliquees (INSA) Lyon, France
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
My very first job was in the numerical simulation of the car body. I learned a lot by modeling all the parts of the car body and analyzing their vibration behavior. It provided a good opportunity to understand the how the components function. I remember my first job interview at Renault and in particular the question, "Why are you interested in the automotive industry?" My answer was simple: Because automobiles are an integral part of people's lives. The interviewer seemed satisfied and I am still convinced this answer is relevant, 20 years later.
In 2010, I was in charge of a design team dedicated to opening systems. This team was facing daily challenges, but I remember when we had to develop some specific and innovative systems for the fourth-generation Clio as well as the Captur, Twingo and Zoe to allow each to have its own unique style. Beyond the technical challenges, it was a pleasure to contribute to the success of these automobiles. These cars have been very well received by the public and press because they are very beautiful. Technically speaking, we had to develop specific door-opening systems to make the style possible. For example, the Clio is a five-door car, but it looks like a three-door car. That's because the rear door handles are placed on the upper rear part of the door, which is unusual. This makes the car sportier looking, like a coupe. We are very proud of this achievement that allowed Renault to introduce a very innovative style.
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
It is very important to adapt the way you present things to the people you are addressing, especially when you meet face to face. You can't always deliver the same message in the same way to everybody. So much depends on the context and on the individuals involved. Because of this complexity, I see management skills as something you can improve upon every day.
What is your current challenge at work?
I am responsible for the research teams and research planning for Renault within the Renault-Nissan alliance. My current challenge is to identify and develop new technologies and services to pave the way for innovative products in the future. Also, it is my mission to bring on board the competencies that our engineering divisions will need in the coming years.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
How complex a car is. So many skills are needed to create one: from understanding the customer needs, to the development and validation management, manufacturing, sales and more. The launch of a new car is always a great moment for the thousands of passionate, talented people who have contributed to its birth.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
No matter what your job responsibilities are, always make sure that pleasure is part of the equation.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
Be ready to accept that everything in this industry is in a state of permanent change. The auto industry is a living system connected to the world so it is always a part of society's changing trends and technologies.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
I would explain the company strategy to everyone and make sure the message was spread throughout the company to ensure motivation and commitment. I would also pay attention to developing competencies to their highest levels and to having the right people in the right jobs. I am convinced that it is important for everyone to understand where the company wants to go and in which way they can contribute to achieving the goal. I am, of course, inspired by my company. We have a clear strategy and we are committed. I think that a person's motivation is linked to having a clear message about what needs to be done. It is very valuable for a company to be clear with its objectives.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
One that allows me to work on exciting challenges that are linked to innovation and to the future.
What do you do to relax?
I enjoy cooking for my family and my friends, especially making pastries. It's a real pleasure for me to try complex recipes and share my creations with others. In a way, making a product based on a recipe is similar to an engineer's job.
My first car was a second-hand Renault Super 5 that I bought as a student with the money I earned from a summer job. The first new car I ordered as a Renault employee was a Twingo. I chose a blue metallic paint that was often uses on Renault Sport models at that time.
A Renault Scenic X-mod EDC. It is great for family and leisure activities. The next one will be a Kadjar.
Career highlights (all Renault)
2014-present: Research vice president, Guyancourt, France
2013-2014: Vice president of operation and performance of vehicle engineering, Guyancourt
2009-2013: General manager of opening systems engineering, Guyancourt
2008-2009: General manager of durability test and validation, Lardy, France
1999-2008: Research engineer and research team manager in acoustics, Guyancourt
1993-1999: Mechanical engineer, vehicle engineering, Rueil-Malmaison, France