First Women have the last word – with Estelle Brachlianoff

First Women have the last word – with Estelle Brachlianoff

The professional woman I most admire is Claudie Haigneré, who is not only a French doctor and politician, but a former astronaut with the Centre National d’Études Spatiales and the European Space Agency.

She joined the French space agency in 1985 to research the effect of space travel on human physiology and as an astronaut claimed many ‘female firsts’, including: first woman qualified to command a Soyuz capsule during re-entry and first female cosmonaut in Europe to take part in a flight to the International Space Station.

She has also served in several political positions in France, including minister for research and new technologies, and in 2005 the European Space Agency chose her to be adviser to the Director General.

To juggle my work and life balance I allow myself to switch off, as I think it’s very important to unwind over weekends and while on holiday. Leisure time is important for reducing stress and looking after your health so I always stick to my own work-life boundaries.

My biggest career break was when I was just 27 and I was managing a team of 90 people working on a major project for the French government. I was in charge of the design and delivery of miles of motorway and I soon appreciated the job was as much about motivating and managing people as it is building a road.

The biggest influence on my career was my first executive role as CEO of Veolia Cleaning and Multiservices, because it was all about people and purpose, and building a team. It enabled me to establish myself within the organisation.

One thing that makes me mad in business today is complacency, arrogance and a lack of ingenuity. I find these characteristics really slow a team, and business, down.

Boardroom quotas are necessary or nuts? For me it’s about balance. Of course, it’s important to have goals so you can monitor and track progress, but equally it’s about the journey.

Over the course of a task, whether long or short, there are always learnings and working within a team brings new innovative ways of thinking, and this is exceptionally valuable.

My one tip on negotiating a pay rise is dare to ask, as it’s often uncommon for female managers to broach the question.

In five years I see myself hopefully being as curious to discover new things and having fun in what I do.

My number one piece of advice to young women starting their careers is discover what you really want to do and go for it. During our lifetime it has been estimated we spend a staggering 99,117 hours at work, so it’s important you find a career that motivates and challenges you, and ultimately makes you happy.

My favourite wind down activity is for me it’s all about three things: reading, jazz and my kids. They’re sublime and truly help me relax.

The last book I read was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was recommended by a friend. I don’t really read futuristic or sci-fi novels, but this was both fascinating and scary where human clones are a reality.

The one thing I can’t live without is my family. After a long day or miles of travelling it’s always a pleasure to get home and spend time with my husband, daughter and son. Family time is very important to me and I prioritise spending time with them from weekends away to taking my children to school each morning.


About Estelle

Estelle Brachlianoff leads Veolia’s combined water, waste and energy business in the UK and Ireland. She was appointed to the role in July 2012 and she also sits on Veolia Executive Committee. Prior to her current position, she was in charge of waste management in the Greater Paris area and also the facility management and cleaning services branch. She started her career heading a team managing major infrastructure projects and constructing highways and tramways within the Val D’Oise region of Greater Paris.


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