Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Route to the Top- Renault CFO Clotilde Delbos

Route to the Top- Renault CFO Clotilde Delbos

Clotilde Delbos, CFO of the French auto giant, reveals her career path in heavy industry and discusses private equity owners, personal values and the importance of thinking globally.

I’ve always been attracted to everything that is not only French. I travelled a lot when I was a kid with my parents, so after school I didn’t want to start working in France because I was too afraid that if I started working in my home country, I would work all my life in France.

I moved to California after studying accounting at business school in Lyon. I started working with a Californian company which was a subsidiary of French industrial alternators group Leroy-Somer, which was bought by US group Emerson Electric.

An internationalist perspective has dictated all the choices in my career. When Emerson Electric acquired Leroy-Somer it only wanted to take the customer portfolio and the inventories of the business I was in. After two years there I went back to France, joining PwC in Paris. But I left the firm because I wanted something that was more international- at the time when I was in PwC it was too French-focused.

I was headhunted by French aluminium group Pechiney, which at the time was a huge, worldwide company, with a very diverse portfolio. They had just sold a nuclear business, but still had many businesses. Then it was bought out by Alcan in 2003, which in turn was acquired by Rio Tinto in 2007 and the division I was in Alcan Engineered Products was spun off in 2011 into a business owned by private equity house Apollo.

The speed at which decisions can be made was the biggest change. In private equity decisions are made based on quite detailed information. There is extremely regular contact between the shareholder and management, and indeed in order to answer those questions we had to put in place quite a lot of reporting, systems and a very different way of looking at financial information than a traditional owner would do.

What I learned there was how to implement things quickly, which is not always the case in a big group. That’s something I am trying to do at Renault. But it’s not always easy. Because I’ve been working with Anglo Saxon companies for 10 years- between Alcan, Rio Tinto and Apollo (the PE house) where management is clearly different to the French way, I have tried to apply some of these elements at Renault since I joined seven years ago.

The private equity environment is very enriching in some ways, less in others. The values of a PE environment are not exactly in line with my own values. I have worked with heavy industry since I started my career because I like the long-term strategy, I like long term goals and working on a vision of something.

With private equity the vision is very easy- make money fast. Everything they are doing is building a strategy to get the return, which is slightly different. Though you should always have that in mind for your shareholders in any company, it’s a different way of managing a company in my view.

My primary motivation for coming to Renault was to work for a company not owned by private equity, the second to go to a big logo company. That’s why Renault was interesting because it was not only Renault- it was the Alliance which I was entering. I didn’t want to go to a French-only company, the Alliance is a lot more than that. The third point is that heavy industry is my roots, so I wanted to continue in this space.

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