Could you start by describing what your current role as Merial’s Global Head of Industrial Operations involves?
I'm in charge of all the manufacturing and industrial activities within Merial. That means providing strategy to leadership and management of all our production facilities worldwide, and to the support functions for industrial operations, as well as overseeing external manufacturing. Basically, I’m involved in the production of everything we sell to our customers.
Merial has 15 manufacturing sites around the world, so you must travel a lot?
I do travel quite a lot, as we have a global manufacturing network with sites in countries around the world which I regularly visit. But I have a team supporting me so I’m not always on the road!
Since I was ten I wanted to be a veterinarian for cattle, on farms. So I actually came to industry in a very opportunistic way."Véronique
You’ve spent most of your career at Merial! Let’s talk about how it evolved. When you went to vet school, did you intend to practice? Or did you always think you would go into industry?
Actually, since I was ten I wanted to be a veterinarian for cattle, on farms. So I actually came to industry in a very opportunistic way.
I was doing my DVM thesis in vet school, and my professor was connected into Rhône-Mérieux [one of Merial’s predecessor companies]. They were looking for a young vet to do some clinical studies on the field, just for a few months. So I said, "Yeah, why not? It looks interesting." It offered me quite a good level of autonomy, I’d be going in the field on farms, investigating and taking some samples, and collaborating with external experts in epidemiology so I said yes.
Then I went on to other activities. I went to Africa, which was another sort of experience where, I was helping farmers growing their cattle herds with good health conditions. I had to negotiate with bankers and official organizations to get funded! Again, not the typical vet job you would expect… So it’s more about opportunities you can catch sometimes—a career is something you can’t always plan in advance. I’m quite flexible and curious, and I’ll change my mind if I find something new and interesting to do
So was there a moment in your career when you realized, “This is what I’m doing from now on—I’ll probably never be a farm veterinarian”?
Well, I spent part of my early career in the human pharma industry, where I enjoyed doing sales and marketing, another great experience. I also did a business administration degree in France. And I realized very quickly that I was much better at managing teams and much more enjoyed running an activity on the business side than I was at being a veterinarian in the field. But I think the veterinary training helps you develop a way of thinking that you never lose—you gain the ability to think fast, look at the big picture, consider potential solutions, make decisions. That’s exactly what dealing with a medical emergency is all about!
You started full-time at Merial in 1996 as a Quality Control Manager—how did you get that initial position?
I found the job itself very interesting—very exciting scientifically, and rewarding from the teamwork perspective and the cross-functional aspects."Véronique
Very simple: I was in human pharma and I wanted to come back to animal health. I had kept connections from my previous time at Rhône-Mérieux [which became Merial in 1997], so I called them and said, "Do you have anything for me? I want to come back!” And I got connected with the Quality Control (QC) Director, who gave me the opportunity to join again.
It was very different from my previous experiences, but I found the job itself very interesting—very exciting scientifically, and rewarding from the teamwork perspective and the cross-functional aspects. I had connections outside the company with official authorities, and the role also involved managing different activities in the labs—it’s a wide and complex function.
During my time in QC I got exposed to global product development, to senior management, and then I moved into a plant director role. It was maybe not a typical move, but Merial has given me many opportunities to develop, to be exposed to new challenges. This is one of the reasons I’m still here today.
As a female executive in a traditionally male-dominated field as industrial operations, have you seen many changes over your years?
At the very beginning when I started, there were no women in these kinds of roles, but today we have more and more women in management positions at the plants, and this is great. The next industrial leadership generation is much more gender balanced and we have developed successful programs to get there. But to me what’s most important is a real diversity of the teams, different countries, culture, backgrounds and mindsets—this is really what we strive for.
What have you found most rewarding about your career at Merial?
Since I started at Merial, I have almost always managed teams. And what I find really rewarding is seeing people move to areas you would not have expected them to do, and achieve great things, when you give them the opportunity and trust and drive to do so. Trust and autonomy are important, and I have always been given those in my career.
What kind of qualities or skills do you think are most important in order to grow within Merial?
You need to work collectively, you need to see more than your own areas, to quickly understand the big picture."Véronique
I think there are several things. To work at Merial, you need to be quite flexible and open, because there are great opportunities here to cross boundaries. So it’s key not to work in a way that’s too siloed and too formal. You need to work collectively, you need to see more than your own areas, to quickly understand the big picture. And even if you’re a more strategic thinker, you also need to be able to connect the dots on an operational level—to DO, not just to think.
Finally, to have a successful career at Merial, I believe you need authenticity. We’re not that big a company! So you have to be close to your teams and be good at communicating and connecting with people.
Do you have a vision, say a five-year plan, for Merial Industrial Operations?
What I learned during all these years is, yes, you can have a plan, but you need to have various options you can activate to reach it. I’m always asking my teams, “Guys, what is your Plan B?” Because you can’t put all your energy in only one thing—what will you do if it doesn’t work?
Finally, since we're talking animal health: If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?
I like the dolphin! Why? Because it’s really a team player. They do everything in their teams, they live in cooperative groups. They always look happy, and I truly believe we need to enjoy the time we spend in our work! And they can explore an unlimited area—the wide-open sea, where you don’t know what you may face. They can go anywhere they want, discover new things—that’s really exciting to me!