We interviewed Agathe Ridel, 33, who has just taken over the management of the family business, Mecanolav in Neufchâtel-en-Bray (76).
What are the key steps that led you to take over the family business ?
I always liked the technique. My father was a business owner in the industry, this allowed me to discover these trades very early. I went to engineering school without knowing exactly what I was going to do with that degree. Since I loved automation and robotics, I specialized in mechatronics. I was interested in the world of production, so I did my internship at an automotive supplier at a production site in Germany where I then got a permanent contract as an industrialisation and method engineer. When the production manager left Mecanolav, I was offered to take his place. It was an opportunity to join the family business and see if I wanted to take it back. After five years in this role, I felt ready.
What convinced you of that ?
I followed in parallel a master in commerce and administration at the IAE of the Sorbonne. This allowed me to gain height and confidence in my abilities. I realized that I loved the freedom afforded me by the status of leader and the diversity of missions. Also, I have super committed teams and I wanted to keep the company going with them.
Can you introduce Mecanolav ?
We accompany our customers in their cleanliness issues. For this, we design and manufacture machines to clean mechanical parts in various sectors such as automotive, aerospace, general industry. We are the only French manufacturer based in Normandy where we have 45 employees.
All the machines we manufacture are first defined during the sales process, to match the customer’s need. Then the mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and automation offices design them. The purchasing department then supplies the specific components and parts. And finally, we assemble, wire and program the machine from A to Z, in our workshop before going to install them at our customers.
The company was founded in 1924 by my great-grandfather, who at the time manufactured safety shoes. Then, it diversified in the recovery of heat on milk tanks, the resale of cleaning machine, etc. to finally become as we know it today: a manufacturer of cleaning machine for the mechanical industry.
Why did you choose this profession ? What do you like the most ?
I couldn’t have imagined anything other than industry. There is a real diversity of trades and fields, we can change them and it is very rich in terms of apprenticeship. I like to take on challenges, and becoming a leader was one.
Is it more difficult for a woman to hold such a position ?
I had no problem planning to be an engineer as a woman. On the other hand, it was harder to imagine me running a business. I wondered a lot about my legitimacy in taking over the family business. Daring to become a leader has required a real job on me. There are always doubts, but that does not stop me from moving forward. We have to dare to jump the gun and lift the brakes. I have the feeling that women feel more difficult to legitimize, and that’s too bad.
What makes you most proud every day ?
I am proud of how far I have come, for daring to take up the challenge of becoming a business owner. I am also proud to continue the family business and its values.
What do you think of the place of women in industry ?
Personally, I have always found my place in the industry and have never faced sexism. I think that being a woman is a strength. Gender diversity brings a lot. It balances teams in terms of relationships. On the other hand, there are not enough girls in technical occupations, probably because of a lack of female role models to project themselves. I was inspired by my father.
What advice would you give a young girl to encourage her to pursue an industrial occupation ?
Dare! Do not hesitate to experiment, to launch and confidence comes with experience. In the industry, there must be a profession that can match your expectations, technical or not. Women have a bright future in the industry so go for it !