What Drives Her: Michelin’s Claire Dorland-Clauzel is Breaking Glass Ceilings and Wants You To, Too

Claire Dorland-Clauzel Michelin

Confidence, Trust and Good People Fueled Her Journey to Lead Michelin’s Global Sustainability Brand and Communications. 

Becoming a widow with three children under the age of 7 might be enough to derail your career goals. But when Claire Dorland-Clauzel lost her husband twenty years ago, she didn’t retrench. She altered the demands her bosses could make of her, continued to build the trust her leaders had in her, focused on her passion and put both career and family first.

It wasn’t easy, but it has certainly been rewarding. Claire is now the top-ranking woman at Michelin and charged with leading the company’s mission of creating a better future of transportation through sustainability and innovation.

I had the chance to sit with Claire at Michelin’s Movin’ On Conference, a three day festival of innovation and moon shot ideas. I wanted to find out what drives her to climb the ranks of companies in industries dominated by men, and how more women can do the same.

See How Michelin’s Movin’ On Conference is Driving A Future of Possibilities Both Endless and Realized

Support and trust—in yourself and from others—are the foundation of success

“If someone had told me I would be at the top of a company in the transport sector I’d have said no, never!” Claire said. “I couldn’t imagine I would one day be responsible for brand and sustainable development in a worldwide company.”

She thanks her parents for instilling in her a drive and desire for a career. “I have three brothers and my parents educated me like my brothers, so I had confidence in myself,” she said.

But who she married mattered, too. “My husband was very supportive,” Claire told me. “At the beginning of my career my husband pushed me a lot. I would not have this trust [in myself] and self confidence without him,” she said.

And that support continues with her children, too. Even when they were young, “they never complained, never said to me ‘mom don’t go [to work].’ Now my kids say I am their role model,” she said. “When I would pick them up at school they would introduce me to their friends with a sense of pride,” she smiled and told me proudly.

But she also found that support within herself. “It’s important to know who you are and what you want,” she said.

A Girls Guide To Cars | What Drives Her: Michelin'S Claire Dorland-Clauzel Is Breaking Glass Ceilings And Wants You To, Too - Claire Dorland Clauzel With Michelins Vision Tire. Photo Scotty Reiss

Claire Dorland-Clauzel with Michelin’s Vision tire. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Dream, Yes, But Grab Opportunities Too

As we talked at a small cafe table in the Michelin space at this art fair meets global innovation summit, Claire tuned out the tasks at hand, from greeting the many global heads of state in attendance to orchestrating the minute-by-minute strategy plan with Michelin’s CEO Jean-Dominque Senard to welcoming and guiding top leaders of global companies such as Hyperloop One, Solar Impulse, BMW and Toyota, who presented on the main stage in front of 3,000 people.

Instead, she paused to passionately tell of her journey and offer advice, her words lilting, elegant and accented in her native French.

After attending the Sorbonne and the Paris Institute of Géographie, Claire trained as a civil servant at the École Nationale d’Administration to learn how t0 put her education to work. She joined the French Treasury and spent 10 years with the agency focused on monetary and banking policy. Then the opportunity arose to serve as a technical advisor to the treasury. “I was the first woman with three young children to do this,” she said.

Trust, both in the people you work with and of them in you, was something Claire learned in her job with the French treasury.

And she was certainly a standout, not only for her accomplishments, but for being a woman; just 15-20% of employees were women in the male-dominated fields of government and finance.

Developing the trust of her leadership was key to being considered for the next opportunity. “When somebody is recognizing you to trust you, it’s important,” she said. Building on this allowed her to keep moving up, both at the treasury and then, into another male-dominated sector, insurance.

“I was headhunted by AXA global insurance company and in 1998 was the first female on the executive committee, first on audit and control and then operations,” she said. Following a large merger, AXA relied on Claire to sort out the many large organizational tasks, or super functions, of the new company. “After that the CEO asked me to take over brand communication and sustainable development,” she said, a function she’d never considered. But her CEO had trust in her and believed she could do it, so she did.

A Girls Guide To Cars | What Drives Her: Michelin'S Claire Dorland-Clauzel Is Breaking Glass Ceilings And Wants You To, Too - Claire Dorland Clauzel Celebrating With The Michelin Man At The 2016 Michelin Guide Gala Photo Michelin

Claire Dorland-Clauzel celebrating with the Michelin Man at the 2016 Michelin Guide Gala. Photo: Michelin

Carrying Michelin’s passion and unwavering mission to a sustainable future

10 years ago Claire was asked to join Michelin to lead brand and sustainability, a critical component in the future of the company. She was excited to say yes to “one of the most beautiful, meaningful brands. They asked me to manage external relations—communications, licensing, guides.” Yes, the Michelin Guides, the prestigious authority on the top restaurants and hotels around the world.

Claire sees this century-old brand pairing of tires and gourmet guides as a natural transition to the Michelin of today. The guides were originally designed as a way to encourage consumers to travel the countryside by car to visit the best restaurants.

Today, the mission is just as much about enabling people to enjoy the best life has to offer. “I am passionate about sustainability,” she says; there is a “lot of consistency between the brand position and results,” she said.

As we talked we sat just a few feet away from a display framing Michelin’s view of the future: The Michelin Visionary Concept that will not only change the way we drive but how we draw on science, nature and responsible use of resources to enable that journey.

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Dream the Future, Then as a Team, Build It

“I like to lead people to achieve a mission,” she said. “I like to have a team of people who are more skilled than me, and to lead them to achieve a goal.” At Michelin she strives “to push people to have dreams. It is meaningful to say to people to find the rational purpose [for a project or product], but also dream.”

Claire boils success down to three key pieces of advice:

  1. Keep your mind open and accept challenges
  2. Attract the right people to your mission or journey
  3. Trust people to achieve the goal

When AXA’s leadership asked her to step up to help the company transition after the merger, it was a role Claire wanted. “I said yes because I can help the company to grow.” What she saw was a solid, powerful brand that needed to find its footing throughout the company. “A brand incorporates all the reason for being. The role of the leader is to understand that.”

Demanding what she needed do the job, including putting the kids to bed at night

“I like to convince people of my convictions,” Claire told me. Part of that was her dedication to her young children after her husband died.

“My mother role is more important than my business role,” she said. “I prefer my mother role. But it’s not necessary for me to choose,” she said. She was able to have both motherhood and a successful career, and in figuring out how that worked she set new standards for others, too.

“What a lot of men didn’t understand was it was important for me to be there at the key moments” for her children, who are now 27, 25 and 23. She was unwavering about what her commitments were. “I said ‘I will not be at the office before 9,” so she could take the kids to school in the morning. “Of course there are exceptions, but for me it’s very important to read [the kids] a story at bed time, so I won’t be at work after 8PM,” she said.

“I had to fight for that. When I was at the office of the treasury people were at the office at 7 in the morning and there until late. I said no. I may put the kids to bed and go back to the office,” if necessary, or bring files home to work on after the kids were in bed. But she refused to miss these key times with her children. “It was difficult, but I did it.”

And, she’s finding, it’s not just women who appreciate her fighting this battle; many men appreciate it too. “Some men say, we are very happy you say that; we would like to see our kids and wife at the end of the day, too.”

Claire’s dedication to making life and career work for her has become a model for the company. Michelin’s Women’s Development Network, which has networks in the US, Europe and Asia, is designed to develop talented women. The network helps women to share their issues and problems and find solutions, to be mentored by both women and men, to help young women solve problems and develop the self confidence that will allow them to face challenges and grasp opportunities.

Currently “we are far from the right level,” Claire says, but it is a clear and attainable goal, and critical to the future. Because building a team of talented people to carry the company into its future is how Michelin’s mission, its brand and its future will be sustained.

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Journalist, entrepreneur and mom. Expertise includes new cars, family cars, 3-row SUVs, child passenger car seats and automotive careers... More about Scotty Reiss