After spending the first part of her career in the oil and gas industry, Laurence Vaux joined the nuclear division at VINCI Energies as manager of the Actemium Cadarache business unit – a new challenge for this accomplished triathlete.
Some vocations start at an early age. For Laurence Vaux, everything began on the banks of the Étang de Berre, a lake located around 40km from Marseille in southern France. “As a child, I lived in the area and was fascinated by the huge refineries and distillation columns, especially at night when they were lit up. That’s what sparked my interest in working in this world.” Today, the Actemium Cadarache manager’s track record has far surpassed the ambitions she had as a child.
Having completed engineering studies in Toulouse and a Master’s degree in oil and gas at the prestigious IFP School in Greater Paris, Laurence Vaux started her career in 1998 in one of the supermajors of the sector, BP. She then went on to spend 15 years at GE Power & Water. “At BP, I learned what goes on inside refineries,” she says. “GE, where my role was more sales-oriented, helped open up the entire energy sector and indeed the world for me.” At the time, Laurence Vaux was travelling regularly, particularly to Africa. Thanks to this experience, she developed a robust network and a strong attachment to the continent, where she “learned a lot.”
She says that being a woman in a very male-dominated environment is not something that has affected her. “I never felt a difference in the way I was treated. That’s probably due to the fact that I have worked in British or American organisations where the mindset is more open. But also because I don’t put limits on myself, I’ve always been bold,” she states today before adding that “the oil sector has moved on in that respect. You now find women working on oil platforms.”
Leading by example
After 20 years in oil and gas, Laurence Vaux felt the need to “do something different, preferably in a big French company that could offer a broad range of business lines.” Having completed an Executive MBA in 2018, she joined VINCI Energies as VP of business development for Sub-Saharan Africa, still in the same business sector. “I learned a great deal about energy transmission (high voltage power lines) and I had the opportunity to manage a wide variety of stakeholders across various countries, in collaboration with major institutions like the African Development Bank and the World Bank.”
“Nuclear is a marathon, not a sprint.”
She added a new dimension to her career in October 2021 when she was appointed manager of the Actemium Cadarache business unit (in the Bouches-du-Rhône department in southern France). “I changed business sector by joining the nuclear division at VINCI Energies. The role is very different to those I’ve held previously. A business unit manager needs to have a vision for their business and know how to communicate it. They need to lead by example. It’s a new challenge to overcome. I am being supported by VINCI Energies, not just in financial management but also through the nuclear division’s AVENIR operational excellence plan which is based on ‘getting it right first time’.”
The business area is also very different. Clients now include the CEA (French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission), the ITER project (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and nuclear reactor specialist TechnicAtome. “Beyond our technical assignments (electrical engineering, piping, ventilation and radiation protection), we must also meet stringent regulatory requirements while taking a long-term view, and by that I mean a nuclear view,” highlights Laurence Vaux. “And all of that needs to be reconciled with earnings and profitability targets!”
Perseverance and commitment
As the head of a team of 35, Laurence Vaux enjoys the autonomy and responsibility that her new role offers. “You have to be pragmatic as our work has a strong operational aspect.” She is also proud to play a part, at her level, in the great energy transition adventure! “Together with the CEA, we are contributing to progress in research. For example, the RJH [Jules Horowitz reactor] project aims to produce isotopes for use in medicine and to study the ageing of materials. But the most exciting project is ITER, which could ultimately represent the future of energy.”
This skilled triathlete is not fazed by these long-term projects. “Nuclear is a marathon not a sprint,” she says. Perseverance and commitment are qualities that Laurence Vaux is not short of: on 9 July, she plans to take part in the cycling Tour de France stage between Annemasse and Morzine in the Alps, wearing a bib from Mécénat Chirurgie Cardiaque, the charity supported by VINCI Energies.
Photo credit: ©yellow studio-Christine Criscuolo