Promoting our Experts: meet Gérald, a Safran Fellow Expert
Gérald’s love of mechanical engineering turned into a life-long passion and career. Adding to his already rich and rewarding professional journey at Safran, he’s now one of the Group’s Fellow Experts. We take a look at a highly accomplished member of our staff, who’s successfully combined his skills and vocation with top-flight skills for the benefit of Safran.
It’s been four years now since Gérald, 53, became a Safran Fellow Expert, our highest and very selective level of expertise. He combines this role with the position he held prior to his appointment: Technical Auditor at Safran Helicopter Engines, the world leader in helicopter turbine engines. “Essentially, my job involves mechanical construction,” says Gérald. “Or, to put it another way, I convert functional specifications into high-tech objects. This implies getting to grips with the overall architecture before tackling the details which, in turn, involves bringing into play all the different functions that develop and then manufacture a product. It’s a key skill that’s crucial to project success.”
“You don’t become an expert overnight!”
Gérald began his career at Safran Helicopter Engines’ Research & Development department. At 36, he was made manager of the Engine Integration design office, heading up a team of forty people. “This taught me a huge amount about human relations, which is useful today as a Fellow Expert. But after a few years, I was keen to get back to the product itself. After all, technology is my real passion!”
In light of his recognized experience in his field, Gérald was subsequently asked to become a Company Expert. At the same time, he was put in charge of a small turbine engine design team. “Again,” the cross-functional dimension was crucial,” remarks Gérald. “The challenge was to achieve the right tradeoff between, on one hand, the thermal, aerodynamic and dimensioning aspects and, on the other, the mechanical construction and the industrial requirements of manufacturing and inspection procedures. In a nutshell: build the path from design to production.”
After a few years, at the age of 47, he moved to the technical audit department and was appointed Senior Expert, the first level in Safran’s corporate Expert stream. “Once you reach a certain level, being a manager isn’t really compatible with the role of expert,” observes Gérald. “Not just because of the workload but also because Safran Experts need to be independent and neutral in a sense, which isn’t possible as a manager.” Finally, in 2016, he became a Fellow Expert in mechanical engineering and technology.
Strategic contribution to Safran’s performance
This appointment endorses Gérald’s recognition as Safran benchmark for mechanical systems architecture. “I devote 80 to 90% of my time to providing technical advice for teams. I’m called on by all Safran companies at all project stages – design of course, but also production in order to improve procedures and dimensioning, measurement and inspection, the resolution of in-service incidents, and definition of product strategy.”
As a Fellow Expert, Gérald also plays a key role in shaping the future of Safran. This includes, for example, helping chart technology roadmaps for Safran Helicopter Engines and providing expert advice on new projects undertaken by the engineering departments at Safran companies. “I may express doubts if the proposed technical choices appear a little ‘left field’,” admits Gérald. “But experts are expected to constantly challenge established approaches and assess the level of uncertainty – this is how we encourage and support innovation. Working responsibly in the ‘‘gray’’ (risk) zone is all part of being a Fellow Expert! It’s a big responsibility and I’m proud to assume it.”
Knowledge transfer is another part of the Fellow Expert’s role. In addition to the short, focused training sessions he organizes for the teams he supports, Gérald is about to start mentoring a younger expert to bring him the benefit of his experience and help him achieve his full potential. “I was coached by an expert myself, even though at the time the stream wasn’t as well structured as it is today. Safran has developed a full-fledged approach for recognizing, structuring and showcasing expertise. It’s a great opportunity for engineers about to join the Group who’re keen to become part of the Expert stream,” he adds. Gérald isn’t someone to rest on his laurels. He keeps challenging his thinking by building his networks both inside and outside Safran, especially with leading French and international R&D labs working in the same field.
Despite all these responsibilities, Gérald still makes time for his favorite hobby. And guess what – when he’s not designing things at work, he’s designing and making model airplanes and even full-scale planes and a car using his own professional machine tools (including a lathe and milling machine)! “My private life is closely connected to my job,” he says with a smile. “In fact, this helps me in my different roles.”