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virginie vast
Virginie Vast

Purchasing Manager at Amazon

I came to EM Normandie after spending three years in the United States for my Bachelor's degree in information systems. At that time, EM Normandie was still called ESC Le Havre.

When I came back to France, I was a bit nostalgic about my years in the United States. I remember this anecdote with my mother who told me that the oil factories in Le Havre were very similar to New York! She was trying to cheer me up.

After my Bachelor's degree, my American visa was about to expire. I had two options: to renew my visa so that I could do my MBA in Chicago or to return to France. My parents jumped at the chance to suggest I come to business school. I think they were afraid I would stay in the US!

I applied for various business schools through entrance exams. I was admitted to schools in Amiens, Grenoble and Le Havre. That's how I ended up at EM Normandie in Le Havre.

An international academic career

I have had a fairly international career. I spent two years on the Le Havre campus and then I did a year of Master's in Sweden in Gothenburg thanks to the School.

During my two years in Le Havre, I also spent six months in Brussels to follow a course in English. I was already attracted to the mix of cultures and working in English. My Master's year in Sweden really confirmed this desire to work internationally.

At the end of my Master's degree in international business, I wrote my thesis on purchasing, a fashionable sector at the time. I sent an application to companies in different European cities such as Paris, London... They all accepted my project. It must be said that in 2005, the centralisation of purchasing was emerging.

Starting out in purchasing at Siemens

I chose to go to Munich where Siemens was in the middle of rethinking the organisation of its purchasing department. So I took my car from Gothenburg to Munich! It was my first work experience right after graduation.

At the job interview I said I didn't speak German. This was not a problem as I was going to write my thesis in English. I was also going to learn some basic German quite quickly.

After my thesis, Siemens offered me a job in the purchasing department for the European part. The job was based in Saint-Denis near Paris. I stayed there for three years.

I really appreciated the organisation of Siemens, which is very structured and the processes are really rigorous. It's very formative when you come out of school. Twelve years after this experience, I am still applying some of the habits I learned at Siemens.

A new challenge at Vodafone

One day, a headhunter contacted me and offered me a position as Global Category Manager in a purchasing centre that was about to open in a small country. Vodafone was looking for someone to manage the global purchasing organisation in Luxembourg. 

At Siemens, I was beginning to miss the international aspect and the very structured aspect sometimes blocked my creativity. I accepted the offer of a position at Vodafone where I would be given a lot of autonomy in my tasks. There was everything to do and I liked it. I stayed there for twelve years.

In Luxembourg, on the other side of the street, the company Amazon had already contacted me before to recruit me. I didn't apply because I liked it at Vodafone. But I thought, if I don't change jobs now, I'll never change jobs. I probably needed a new challenge.

An opportunity with a global e-commerce leader

Amazon is an extremely innovative organisation. When I see that you can place an order and have it delivered the next day, I am impressed. When you get into the "machine", you realise the scale of the logistics behind it. It's quite incredible! I recently visited some sites near Orly. You can hardly see the product on the line because it moves so quickly.

Friendships that last a lifetime

I met my closest friends during my years at the School. This created lifelong bonds. During our studies, a group of friends and I created an association that supported women's projects at the School. It was called the "pink ladies". We organised fun events that brought us together. We still have a WhatsApp group with that name.

EM Normandie is probably the school that has had the greatest impact on me, even though I have also kept contacts from the United States and Sweden. I consider my fellow students at EM Normandie as a family. We did many projects together and did everything as a group, from the organisation to the presentation. We also celebrated successes together.

Trusting your inner voice

During your career, I think you have to be able to follow your instinct and the little voice inside you. You already have an idea of what you want to be, even if it is not always clear at the beginning. Many people will give us advice or tell us to act in a certain way. By listening to your inner voice and trusting yourself, you can better achieve your goals.

I recently took over the whole of Europe in my company. When I want to launch new ideas, some colleagues tell me that these projects never came to fruition and that there is little chance of success. I say that you have to try anyway if you are really convinced. If you try, you can really succeed.

Advice for young graduates

I think you have to know how to assert yourself and say what you accept and what you don't accept. I sometimes have trainees who come to my department and I ask their opinion on projects. They have an outside view and a capacity to innovate that we sometimes lose with age.

If I were to give you one piece of advice: let your ideas be heard without taking the opinions of others too much into account.

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