It's a CDI Fellow's Life

Day One: At the Collège des Ingénieurs

Morning Course

I arrive for courses by métro at 9am. After enjoying a friendly "Bonjour" from receptionist Alain and collecting the morning's mail, the class gathers. This morning there is a lecture by Marc Bertoneche on financial valuation. He is an experienced lecturer from Harvard Business School, so today's lecture is in English. We are discussing the case of the Airbus A380, how it was financed, and how to make a valuation of the project. This lecture is following on from a series Bertoneche gave in Stuttgart in January, so there has been plenty of time to absorb the theories of valuation. Valuations are generally based on an idea of expected future income, so, having our fair share of aeronautical engineers, as well as a good American representation in the group, we have a great discussion about the assumptions underlying the valuation, the future of the air travel market, and the role of governments and other stakeholders in funding such large projects.


Class finishes at about midday, and a group of us go for lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant; we're combining lunch with a meeting of the APCI, the college committee that organises relations with Collège des Ingénieurs (CDI) alumni. There are many topics to discuss relating to the annual soirée with the alumni network, as well as regular projects such as evenings with key figures from the worlds of business and politics. The CDI has been running since 1986 and now has a very active (and useful!) alumni network of some 800 people.

Afternoon Course

The afternoon session, which starts at 1.30pm, is led by Peter Kraljik, a partner in the McKinsey consulting firm. Kraljik is from Slovenia and is speaking about the issues facing developing economies, especially in Eastern Europe. We discuss the models of successfully emergent small economies, such as the Asian and Celtic tigers. We look at the relation between these macroeconomics and what it means for your own business, in terms of industry clusters and local competitiveness.

Café d'Orsay

We go to our regular café by the Musée d'Orsay at 3.30, which thrives on the business it receives from the CDI! It is a pleasant time to chat casually with other CDI fellows, especially as this week the part of this year's class that is based in Stuttgart has come to join our courses (sometimes we take courses separately). Topics range from Iraq (of course) and one fellow's idea of starting a business offering valuation services to small companies to the recent Six Nations rugby match between Ireland and France.


Kraljik's talk wraps up before 6pm. Most people disperse to get some dinner. I return to Bastille in east Paris to have dinner with my fiancée. Afterwards I do a little work on a marketing project, handle a day's worth of e-mail, and browse the various newspapers. Many of the Paris-based CDI group live at the Cité U, the international student campus to the south of Paris, and the Stuttgart group are staying at a hotel in the north. Nevertheless, a few of us meet up later in a Dutch bar in Paris's Marais district--a sufficiently neutral choice, given that we are a group of Chinese, Italian, English, Canadian, American, German, and Irish. ...

Day Two: At Renault

Days with the client company are challenging and rewarding! Generally up at 6am, with an hour of travel, I arrive at the company at about 8am, the normal beginning of the working day, which runs to about 6.30pm. Though an "external consultant", I have my own permanent office at Renault and work within an existing team.

Japanese phone call

The first thing this morning is a telephone meeting with a colleague at our partner company, Nissan (always in the morning, due to the time difference!). He is deploying a performance measurement for Nissan that I have developed for Renault, and he just needs some advice on the details. This is also one time to speak English; most of my work is done in French, which has improved a lot this year.

Morning Meeting

Today I am holding a meeting at 9am on knowledge management, which is an attempt to structure the workings of the department so that everybody knows what everybody else is doing, and less time is wasted duplicating work. This is a project I have been given on top of my basic mission, and Renault recently sent me to national conferences on the topic, so I could become a local 'expert' on knowledge management theories. The meeting lasts for 3 hours, with a lot of argument as to the best approach and the key issues to address. However we finally agree on a direction for the project as lunch-time approaches.


Lunch is usually at the company's canteen, where I meet the other CDI fellow working at Renault. One of the disadvantages of being an external consultant is the lack of employees' rights, such as reduced canteen charges!

Afternoon of 'Cohérence Industrielle'

I spend the afternoon working on my usual mission, which is called 'cohérence industrielle,' and basically involves getting production lines around the world to share useful information about their current performance and innovations with other production lines and with the relevant design offices in Paris. The rest of the team that I work with coordinates these 'communities of practise,' while I develop new ideas and frameworks for collaboration. My previous training in information engineering is vaguely relevant, but the ideas of motivation and psychology are more valuable and make management an interesting complement to the engineering background.

Today I spend about an hour writing Excel macros to generate graphics to summarise current production line performances. After a brief team meeting, which is a welcome release from the computer, I spend the rest of the day preparing a presentation on some methods of collaboration for tomorrow morning, when we will launch some more communities of practise for the gearbox production lines. One of the benefits of these launches is that I go to the factory site (this time in the north of France) and get to see the concrete effects of the work I am doing, whether there is progress or not. One of the disadvantages is the time involved to travel there, so to arrive for the 8am start tomorrow, we will be leaving Paris at 6.30. Ouch!

This evening I get a lift back to central Paris with my boss, and we have a chat about how things are going, as well as life in general. Traffic is fairly heavy, chaotic as ever, and I'm home at about 8pm. There's just time for some dinner, some relaxing, and a little piano music before I get to bed for tomorrow's early start.

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