Felicie Burelle, 37
Executive vice president strategy & development, Plastic Omnium
Family:Partner Jerome; daughter, Amicie, 4; stepson, Victor, 9
Born: Valencia, Spain
Languages: French, English, Spanish, Italian, German
Education: MBA, Instituto de Empresa, Madrid, Spain; bachelor's degree in business studies, double diploma from Ecole Superieure du Commerce Exterieur, Paris, France and London South Bank University, London, England
What was your first automotive job and why were you interested in the industry?
Just after getting my bachelor's degree I joined Plastic Omnium in Spain as an accounting manager. While there I became familiar with the specifics of automotive accounting, such as customer payment terms and gate review payment. However, I also had the opportunity to learn about the complexity of plant controlling and scheduling. On many occasions, I found find myself on the shop floor and I was always impressed with the robots, the bumper paint line process and the overall smoothness of the manufacturing process. I found it very exciting and enjoyed this industry's energy.
What was your big break?
When I was appointed as Plastic Omnium's group M&A director in 2015 I was given resources dedicated toward building and implementing a new M&A strategy. After a decade of tremendous growth, the company needed to make some changes. Within a few months, my team and I implemented a new strategy that put the focus on two Plastic Omnium divisions, Auto Exteriors and Environment. We simultaneously got rid of four non-core activities. Then we completed the biggest acquisition in the group's history with the purchase of Faurecia's 2-billion-euro exteriors business. This complex deal included the disposal of some of the acquired assets to comply with EU requirements. All these moves transformed the company into a strong global player in the exteriors sector. Measured in global sales, the combined value of these transactions was 3 billion euros, which was equivalent to half of Plastic Omnium's annual revenue at the time of these deals.
Your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is to be able to be enthusiastic and fully dedicated to work without compromising my family life. I think I'm fortunate to be able to do this because in my experience it's not easy for women to have the best of both worlds. To succeed requires solid organizational skills as well as the capacity to easily switch between strategic planning and playing Lego.
What was your biggest failure and what did it teach you?
One of the first projects I led was the development and the implementation of an integrated sales forecast and marketing database. This entailed rolling out a new system with new processes, involving IT, finance and sales functions. While the importance of such a tool was recognized, I underestimated what it would take for management to change. Some contributors were wondering what was in it for them. After a difficult start, we adopted a wider and more customized communication approach and developed specific training modules. This additional effort significantly boosted acceptance of the tool, which is now used globally for strategic planning. This taught me that for such a tool to be successful it's important to involve various stakeholders and take into account how the tool will benefit them.
What is your current challenge at work?
I continually assess our industry's changes to help Plastic Omnium adapt its long-term strategy to make sure it remains current with the key megatrends to avoid becoming the next Kodak.
What about the auto industry surprises you?
The first time I went to Silicon Valley, I was told at each meeting that traditional component suppliers like us were dinosaurs. Although it's true that more flexibility and quicker adaptation is necessary, people shouldn't forget that building cars isn't something that anyone can do, especially considering the volumes that are produced as well as the tough safety and environmental regulations that have to be met.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
When it comes to making decisions, keep an open mind and never put yourself in a compromised position.
What advice would you give to a person considering a career in the auto industry?
Don't limit yourself and have a creative approach to whatever you do.
If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
I would make sure the company's organization is aligned to keep pace with the challenges facing our industry. There's still a need to find the right skills and knowledge to develop the product portfolio. However, I believe disruptive technologies and digitalization make it necessary to assess and adapt the organization to the changing ecosystem, increase user-experience and to strengthen the connection to the customer. Otherwise you can get disconnected and miss important opportunities.
What job do you really want to have in the future?
No matter what job I hold, I want to make sure the spirit of the company's founding family remains strong. Our group celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. We have proved that it's possible for a family business to be a fast-growing global player in a highly competitive sector. As we aim to maintain this momentum, I hope I can make positive contributes for many years to come. It is what drives me and keeps me very busy.
What do you do to relax?
I run and like to listen to music to relieve stress and recharge.
What is your pet peeve?
Politics and an overabundance of meetings.
What was your first car?
A blue Volkswagen Polo.
A black Peugeot 508 SW.
If you were a car, which one would you be?
A Mercedes-Benz GLS, which is the car I would like to have because it would perfectly match both my professional and personal lives.
2015-present: Executive vice president strategy & development, Plastic Omnium, Paris, France
2010-2015: Head of Strategy & Business development, Plastic Omnium Auto Exterior, Paris, France
2005-2010: Head of Mergers and Acquisitions, Ernst & Young Corporate Finance, Paris, France
2001-2003: Accounting manager, Plastic Omnium Auto Exterior, Madrid, Spain