Phenomenal Women of AltoPartners – Nathalie Deroche
Meet Nathalie Deroche, Partner at Leaders Trust, one of the founding firms of the AltoPartners alliance. Based in Paris, Nathalie used her STEM training to launch a successful career in executive search, specialising in energy, infrastructure, and natural resources.
You have a master’s in science from Ecole Polytechnique in Paris and from Ecole Nationale de la Statistique et de l’Administration Economique. How did you get into Executive Search?
It was a very lucky accident. I was mid-way through a career in a field that was constantly changing and transforming. At that stage, I had worked myself up from district manager with EDF, the French power company, to an executive role in GDF (now ENGIE). I was part of the team that prepared the IPO when heading up the Corporate Risks practice before the merger with Suez. So I had gone through enough change management programmes to understand the complexity and nuances of what executive committees needed in terms of support and development.
I realised that I could make a better contribution as an external advisor, where I would be free to provide all the behind-the-scenes strategy and support work without the spotlight, which suits me perfectly as I don’t like spotlights!
I was looking for a project I could focus on, one that would give me more agency over my life and my career than I would have in a corporate, which means a start from scratch. I initially trained as a professional coach — I had free time, so it was the perfect opportunity to add to my skill set. I figured I would combine my technical skills with my passion for supporting people to reach their full potential. It was interesting, but I missed collaborating with peers. That’s when I met a head hunter who suggested I give it a try.
How did that go?
Initially, it was tough, and I was frankly not that successful at first, so I needed to persevere. I was motivated to find that elusive ‘nest’ — I love working as a team, whether it’s with clients or peers, and I eventually found the right home that allowed me to thrive. I also found that my criteria for job satisfaction changed over time. Today I feel strong when my colleagues are strong. I love it when clients see me as providing valuable support to their endeavours. But I will never stop questioning if I’m doing the best for my clients and if I could be doing better. For me, it’s not simply a matter of enjoying what I do; it also must be relevant.
As a professional coach, you no doubt appreciate the role of a good mentor. Did you have one?
Not one mentor, but many! I am not particularly special in this; I am just open to advice from people who have more experience than me. If you stay humble, people will willingly share their experiences and provide guidance! Although at the end of the day, it’s you who must decide – you must never abdicate that responsibility.
What advice would you have for your younger self?
Be wary of labelling yourself or of accepting other people’s labels. Stickers stick, and too many people will want to put you in a box. Train yourself to step outside of your comfort zone and welcome the unexpected — it makes you less predictable, which is an advantage in life and work. Stay curious — about yourself and the world around you. As you get older, your world naturally tends to shrink. Don’t let it. Best advice? Listen to understand, not to respond. And always welcome and give feedback – it’s crucial to achieve alignment and alliance.
Who has been your main inspiration to date, and why?
My father remains my best inspiration. He was an entrepreneur – practical, successful, supportive, but with his head in the stars, because there is no limit up there. He impressed upon me that I am in charge of my own destiny and that it’s up to me to make the most of what I have. So far, so good!
Nathalie is a member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Association and acts as a pro bono coach for job seekers. She is a member of Institut Français des Administrateurs, and a non-exec Director of Passerelles et Compétences, a non-profit organisation that links volunteers and charity organisations that need professional skills for free.