Benedicte Durand, Altheora: There is a place for you in this exciting industry!

Bénédicte Durand, managing director of Altheora, believes the composites industry presents excellent opportunities for women. She tells us about her own career in this Women in Composites interview, and explains her commitment to promoting sustainable industrial growth.

Benedicte Durand, Altheora: There is a place for you in this exciting industry!

4 minutes, 40 secondes

A flair for business runs in Bénédicte Durand’s blood. She comes from a long line of entrepreneurs. When the time came to choose an area of study, joining one of France’s top management schools was a natural choice.

“In my childhood, I was eager to grow up and gain the independence that came with adulthood”, she remembers. “Growing up in a family of business leaders, it was a model that had a profound impact on me. So, when I enrolled in ESDES Business School, I naturally turned to entrepreneurship and management courses.”

Some years later, she delved deeper into these topics through an MBA programme at Emlyon Business School.

“However, this time, I approached the programme with a different mindset since I had been working for a few years already. The business cases and situations presented during the programme aligned with my professional experiences, making it all the more engaging. What I found truly inspiring were the exchanges with the teachers and other ‘professional students,’ who were themselves successful business leaders. Their insights and perspectives added a whole new dimension to my learning experience.”

A fascination with manufacturing
Bénédicte always knew that she wanted to pursue a career in industry.

“It was important for me to work in a tangible and concrete sector. The concept of manufacturing has always fascinated me. Witnessing the results of the team’s hard work is something that I find particularly satisfying. Moreover, the industry sector is responsible for manufacturing everything that we use in our daily lives. Without it, our lives would come to a standstill.”

She first worked at Générale Frigorifique France (GFF), a leader in the distribution of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment. Over the course of 11 years she enhanced her business skills, progressing from roles in finance to the position of customer service and export director.

“GFF provided me with a valuable opportunity to develop an intrapreneurial project within the organisation. The culture at GFF reflects that of a large American corporation (UTC group), where one can undertake any project with adequate resources. During my time there I acquired skills such as discipline, business agility, and a strong focus on customer satisfaction (internal and external).”

Bénédicte entered the world of composite materials in 2015, accepting the position of sales and marketing director at Mecelec Composites, in Mauves (Ardèche). Established nearly 90 years ago, the company is experienced in various composites manufacturing processes and produces parts for the mobility, rail, energy, sports, leisure and marine markets.

Bénédicte at Mecelec Composites in Mauves. © ALTHEORA

Mecelec had been acquired in 2010 by a regional private fund, which included members of Bénédicte’s family.

“A few years after my family took over Mecelec, a company that was struggling, there was a pressing need to strengthen the management team. Meanwhile, my desire for greater autonomy and my entrepreneurial spirit were both gaining momentum. It was during this time that I joined Mecelec, which presented the ideal platform for me to fulfill my aspirations –the opportunity to lead an industrial company.”

Responsible industrial leadership
Bénédicte quickly advanced to deputy CEO in 2016 and then to managing director in 2019. In 2021 she created the holding group Altheora, with the objective of developing an industrial ecosystem in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region which encompasses companies with market-recognised expertise and start-ups working on innovative industrial projects.

“As CEO of Mecelec Composites, I focused on making the company competitive and sustainable”, she explains. “Once we achieved this, I turned my attention to the urgent issue of climate transition. As an industrial leader, I believe we have a responsibility to our local communities, and I realised that our success at Mecelec Composites could be replicated to revitalise the industry in our region and promote sustainable growth. Altheora was founded to become a model of responsible industrial leadership. To this end, I aim to create a symbiotic ecosystem where selected companies and start-ups can share resources, knowledge, services, and even find value in their waste. The primary objective of this ecosystem is to drive sustainable growth and revitalise the regional economy.”

The Altheora Group comprises four business units: Altheora Composites (led by Mecelec Composites) specialises in the processing of composite materials; Altheora Injection offers thermoplastics injection expertise; Altheora Coating supports businesses in the glazing and industrial painting sectors; and Altheora Shift is the group’s innovation division and an accelerator for selected industrial projects.

An automated SMC compression press at Mecelec Composites. © ALTHEORA

Bénédicte is passionate about the potential of composite materials to create innovative, sustainable solutions for many markets.

“I am a huge fan of composite materials. They are truly amazing because they allow all industries to reinvent themselves. For example, the automotive industry needs to reduce its weight to transition to electric vehicles, and composites are the perfect solution. Similarly, the railway industry requires materials that provide greater safety to passengers and can withstand fire and smoke, so they are increasingly using composites. Even the city of Paris, which wanted an aesthetically pleasing, waterproof and responsible material, turned to a bio-sourced composite made of flax fibres for its Morris Columns. In fact, Altheora won a JEC Award for this innovation! Last but not least, what I find most appealing about composites is that they are a dynamic and living material.”

Mecelec won a 2020 JEC Composites Innovation Award (Design and Furniture category) for the flax fibre composite roofs it produces for Paris’s iconic Morris Columns.

Excellent opportunities for women
She believes that women bring a fresh perspective to the business world and there are many different opportunities available to them in today’s composites industry.

“In the industrial sector, as a woman, I’ve learned that trust is not easily granted, and I had to earn it by proving myself. However, once I gained that trust, I never encountered skepticism again. I believe that women have a different approach to leadership, often relying on intuition and a keen sense of team dynamics. As a result, they can bring a unique perspective and foster a more collaborative and supportive work environment.”

“The composites industry presents excellent opportunities for women, as this sector actively seeks diversity”, Bénédicte concludes. “In our Group, we offer more than 90 distinct professions, providing a welcoming environment for all profiles. Whether you’re an experienced professional or just starting your career, there is a place for you in this exciting industry.”

More information www.altheora.com