[Women Leading Change at TotalEnergies Marine Fuels] Mireille Franco: You fear, but you do it anyway
Blog Article - March 28, 2023
Mireille became fascinated by ships as a child visiting her grandfather in the French shipyard town of La Ciotat, where he worked on huge oil tankers. She became the first in her family to graduate from an engineering school and fulfilled her childhood dream by becoming a naval architect. But until recently, she downplayed her family life to get exciting postings, after once being told a job opportunity was “too dangerous for a mum”.
Mireille has spent the past 20 years working as a naval architect and engineer on countless oil and gas vessels in far-flung corners of the world. These huge hulking ships, such as FPSOs, are the size of two or three football pitches and she knows how to build and repair every nook and cranny of their hull and mooring.
She is now TotalEnergies Marine Fuels’ Head of Health, Safety, Environment & Quality (HSEQ) and Technical, bringing to the role her breadth and depth of knowledge, as well as her mature experience of what can be hair-raising marine operations. And her childhood passion remains.
“I have had really exciting experiences, mostly offshore when you are in the middle of nowhere. I have had the luxury of meeting very extraordinary people, who are brilliant both in their physical capabilities and intellect,” she enthuses.
In her current role she leads a team of five technical solutions engineers and HSEQ experts. They drive the safety and technical development of all TotalEnergies Marine Fuels’ current and future fuels, including the numerous bunkering operations that the company carries out for its 200 shipping customers across 130 ports in Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa. As such, her job and that of her team is to ensure safety permeates every process, action and decision whether through established procedures, new best practices or embedded culture.
Mireille also sits on the Executive Board Committee of the Society for Gas as a Marine Fuel (SGMF), an NGO committed to promote safety and industry best practice and encourage training within the industry in the use of gas as a marine fuel.
“For me the most important value of my team is teamwork. Teamwork and fairness. I think we work very well all together because there’s no big star in the team, each one is a leader in their field, so each member has a moment in the spotlight,” she says, adding that the technical team includes a naval architect, a process engineer, a machine and engine specialist and former ship captain.
A 15-year veteran of TotalEnergies, she began her current role just over two years ago when TotalEnergies Marine Fuels accelerated its development and commercialization of alternative marine fuels such as LNG, biofuels and ammonia.
The adoption of such alternative fuels by shipping at large is part of the industry’s decarbonization journey. But their development has presented a steep learning curve for the people of TotalEnergies Marine Fuels who have worked hard to source the molecules, create the blends and establish logistical and commercial hubs so that vessels can fuel up safely and reliably.
“These fuels are new as marine fuels, but they are not new to the industry,” Mireille points out, when discussing how to ensure the safety of such bunkering operations. “Because we work in a heavyweight company, it means other TotalEnergies entities know these fuels and so we collaborate with them in getting information and the right inputs for these products as marine fuels.”
JUST GO IN HEADFIRST
Mireille says she has seen a significant improvement in the industry for women since she first started work: People’s attitudes have changed, policies have been put in place to encourage women to take on all kinds of roles and practical support is available too.
“I don’t need to hide the fact that I am a mum. Before, I would do everything to make everyone forget I was a mum. Once, I was told – you cannot do this mission to Nigeria, it’s too dangerous for a mum!” she said. “I am not saying everything is perfect but I have seen big changes and in TotalEnergies, in particular, it is very visible.”
Mireille shares that today the blending of roles is now better accepted, there is no longer a requirement for “male” or “female” positions. “I’ve come across brilliant women holding historically ‘male’ positions and exceptional assistants that were men,” she says, adding that there is now more awareness of such bias judgement.
Her advice to young women looking to start work in this industry is to simply try.
“You fear, but you do it anyway. I believe that we regret the things we don’t do, not the things we try. So, if you really like it, just try. I had the fear every time I changed position but I just closed my eyes and went head first. Like a bull!”
Mireille at Gastech