“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.”
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. It was also published on the Huffington Post.
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.
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?
What has been your biggest challenge as a woman leader?
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.
If you could do 1 thing differently, what would it be?
What differences do you notice between men and women’s leadership styles?
“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?
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?
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”.