27 Jul 2015

Women in Leadership: Interview with Isabel Bardinet, CEO of the European Society of Cardiology!

Special interview of one of the most recognized women in the meetings industry and MPI member since 1998!

It is a great honour to present you with the interview of one of the most recognized women in our industry. After starting her career with a leading French PCO, Isabel Bardinet took over a management position at the Palais des Congrès de Paris. In 2005, she joined one of the most prestigious medical associations in Europe  - the European Society of Cardiology, as Director of the Congress Division, before going on to  become CEO of the ESC in 2009.  Read about her professional triumph!

How it all started… 

« I read Law, English and History, with a major in History of Religion, which has turned out to be of particular relevance in association management! 

As many other students, I wanted to be independent and so found a job teaching English to adults. One of my students was actually the future president of an international congress…  So, I ended up working for him to organise and manage his congress and association! 

From that moment, I chose to work for SOCFI (a French PCO & Association Management Company, today COLLOQUIUM) and stayed there for 17 years, holding positions from trainee to General Manager. »

Moving forward in the Meetings Industry…

« After 17 years with a PCO, I decided it was time for a change. Consequently, the move to a congress centre was deliberate.  I felt then, and still do, that all aspects of the meetings environment should be linked and understand each other.  Later on, the move to an association, especially the ESC, was a dream come true. »

About being a woman in a leadership position…

«Throughout my career, I have always been fortunate enough to work for exceptional people - key opinion leaders in their different specialties. This has been an honour. And I think being a woman probably made the relationship easier! » 

Empowerment… with a little help of a mentor…

« The founder /owner of the first PCO SOCFI, who took me through all the steps from trainee to appointing me as General Manager of the company, was definitely my mentor. I think it is a role which is underestimated today and it should be defined and encouraged.  I try to reproduce this with younger people around me. »

Sometimes life can be unexpected…

« Surprisingly enough, I was offered the position of Congress Director at the ESC while trying to convince them to come to Paris with their congress (I mean the European Congress of Cardiology) as I was working for the Palais des Congrès de Paris at the time! The ESC was, and still is, one of the most innovative and impressive organisations in Europe (and probably in the world), organising up to 8 congresses per year, including the largest medical congress in Europe which welcomes over 30 000 participants every year.  Who would turn down such an offer? »

Two different worlds…

« Although I had the experience of medical societies from a PCO’s perspective, joining the ESC was a different story.  PCOs and medical associations are two different worlds, each with a very different business model. Also, the relationship with the "owner" of the congress is not the same.  In addition, I was appointed to organise the ESC Congress, which is a large and complex event. It was a challenge but I guess I like challenges! »

From heading the ESC Congress Division to leading the whole organisation…

« When the previous CEO left, the Board opened the position via a Head Hunting company and I must admit that I did not think of applying at first.

Then, I was asked by board members to consider applying, which I did. When doing this, I was of course in competition with other male candidates since the ESC is definitely male dominated. And I am pleased to say it is the first time the ESC has a female CEO! »

An organisation dominated by male Doctors… What is it like?

« Surprisingly, our recent surveys show a gender flip in preparation - over 70% of cardiologists in training are female!

While doctors tend to have the reputation of being difficult, I would rather say they are dedicated. They do indeed have high expectations and when in such positions, by nature they have high capabilities. Consequently, they tend to expect the same dedication from their collaborators. They can seem "invasive" sometimes and do not know what a weekend or evening means!  But they give so much, it is impossible to hold it against them. »

Which advice would you give a young Meeting Professional?

« Apply Confucius proverb: Do what you love and you will never work a single day of your life

Would you do things differently if you could do it all over again? 

« Don't regret, learn to change today for tomorrow »

Article brought to you by Maguy Sicuro, Managing Director of SICURO EVENTS & VP Membership MPI France-Switzerland Chapter.

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