Founder of Axielles
Hello, my name is Frédérique Cintrat, I am a graduate of the class of 1987 and I am going to tell you how I was identified as one of the 40 most inspiring women in France according to Forbes. After having spent a large part of my career in positions of responsibility at Cetelem and CNP Assurances, I decided to launch Axielles: a professional connection accelerator.
President and founder of Axielles - Class of 1987
Discovering your professional purpose
At the time, when I left the School, I wanted to work in sales and succeed in this field. I wasn't interested in finance and marketing was saturated in my opinion. The companies that were recruiting in this field in 1987 were IBM, Xerox, laundry brands, etc. After seeing several of my friends being interviewed in this type of structure, I applied and was hired by a laundry company.
After four months, I realised that their way of working did not suit me. I didn't feel well and I wasn't getting good results. It was at this point that I asked myself what I really wanted, ignoring the image I wanted to project.
By chance, I met a new company that was atypical, with atypical recruitment, and that wanted to conduct an experiment. Cetelem was indeed an active company in banking and insurance. The people I met inspired me and I wanted to go down this path. The corporate culture seemed to suit me. I often make decisions on intuition, as I did when I decided to join EM Normandie.
Being a woman in the finance sector
I never imagined that I would work in the field of finance or banking. I was offered a challenge: to join the company and quickly become a branch manager. I was still young, so I decided to go for it.
I went on to work for 27 years as an employee, each time in a different job and in a different company. I always oscillated between sales and marketing. I was either an expert or a team manager. When I worked at Cetelem, I was selling credit and savings.
Then I was asked to come and look after the sister company Cardif. In 1991, there were no women in this sector. I was the first woman to manage partnerships at Cardif. At that time, it was considered surprising to have a young woman in this position, that she might be uncomfortable at business lunches with men. Today it would seem quite natural.
I had opportunities for positions with more responsibility and higher pay. At that time, I chose to keep my job so that I could balance my work and family life and have a certain quality of life.
Since the beginning of my career, I have always enjoyed connecting people and sharing my professional experience. It is a natural thing for me.
Getting involved in networks
As soon as I graduated, I joined the EM Normandie Alumni network. Then in 2012, I participated in the creation of the Equilibre network, in charge of promoting gender diversity. I also created an informal network of ex-employees of the company Cardif that I had left in 1998. We organised regular meetings.
An important principle for a network to work is to have things in common. At that time, I had seen in a newspaper that a federation called Financielles was being set up to promote women's access to senior positions in finance. It was headed by someone I had met in my professional life. That's how I later found myself on the Comex of this rather powerful association. I was part of the network that works for gender equality at Caisse des Dépôts.
I was elected woman of the year in the insurance field by internet users, and also woman sales representative of the year in insurance by a professional jury. It so happened that I was more visible, and therefore more sought after by large companies, which offered me positions as sales or marketing director.
At that time, the economic situation meant that new prospects were opening up for me and journalists were interested in my career path. I had a good job and responsibilities and yet at the age of 48, I decided to leave everything behind and try the entrepreneurial adventure. It was the right time to take the plunge because this opportunity might not come again.
The entrepreneurial adventure
There was already a lot of talk about "startups". So I decided to create my own "digital startup" in the digital field, which I had not mastered at all at the time. It was a digital platform that allowed you to develop your network.
I embarked on this project because I had a very big network. I wouldn't have taken all these risks if I didn't have this safety net. When I was in these networks that work for gender equality, I found that there was a lot of talk about the glass ceiling but not much about ambition.
I looked up the word "ambition" on the internet and I came across a recording of a TV programme I did when I was 17, in which I represented the younger generation alongside Elisabeth Badinter and Françoise Giroud. I had passed my baccalaureate quite early and was in a preparatory class. A boy said to me at the time: "Girls, you are taking places in the competitive exams". This made me angry because I was told that, being a girl, I could not claim the same things as boys. So I responded to a call for submissions to this programme on the theme of "How ambition comes to girls" and my letter was selected.
When, 30 years later, I stumbled across the INA archives and got to know the young girl I was again, I decided to write a book on "How ambition comes to girls".
The experience of being published
As a businesswoman, I wasn't going to bother writing this book if I wasn't published! So I started talking to people about it. In the networks I was part of, I was introduced to publishing houses. And then, at an event, the director of Eyrolles was present. I hadn't managed to talk to her during the evening. And finally, by chance, on my way to catch the Metro to go home, she offered me a lift. As I didn't live far away, I thought I had two minutes to tell her my idea, which I did!
She thought it was interesting that I had taken part in this programme. She didn't know my writing skills but I think she was interested in the energy I was putting into explaining my project. She offered to set up a meeting with me without telling me if I was going to be published or not. This made me want to start writing and to find the axis to approach this story. I decided to tell the stories of several women I know and find energetic, as there was little point in telling my own story.
I was not a literary talent. I was trained as a scientist and had never written a book or even dreamed of writing. As a result of the book, which I had never imagined, I was asked to give lectures on the ambition for the network. Everything converged on this new orientation of developing the network and proposing tools to do so. I work with energy. So I asked myself the questions: what gives us energy? What professional world gives us energy? What missions give us energy? What gives us self-esteem?
We also need to be able to accept the way others look at our choices and to know how to change direction in our lives at certain times, depending on our priorities. Changing does not mean failing, it means choosing according to one's aspirations, one's age... One can have many lives in one lifetime, and sometimes simultaneously. This is what makes a career and a life path so rich.