Dr. Diane Nicklas worked in the glass industry for 20 years as a global commercial leader. She is one of the few women on the front line of the industry. Diane describes her view on the necessity to revamp the image of the glass industry as an employer and attract and retain the next generation of young leaders.

How long have you worked in the glass industry? What was your first job and subsequent roles since then?

I discovered the Glass Industry in 2001 by joining Saint-Gobain Sekurit, an automotive glass producer. And in the six years that followed I headed the global team of Saint-Gobain Solar Glass and engaged into an exciting journey of this booming market. Those were breathtaking years when I did spend probably more nights in planes and airports than in my own bed.

Eight years ago, I took over the responsibility as the global commercial Director for SEFPRO, a well-known refractory producer, based in Avignon, south of France. On top of my experience in flat glass production, this job allowed me to deeply experience and understand the needs and challenges of each individual customer of the entire glass Industry, from container-, flat and fiberglass to those industries focusing on special glasses such as pharmaceutical or display glasses.

What was your major achievement in your last job?

It was the successful transition from an ‘old-style’ product-focused commercial approach into a completely revamped, dynamic and customer centred style, and all the inclusions that it takes.

In short words, how did you do this transition?

When joining, I quickly identified the indispensable need of changing and transferring SEFPRO into a much more customer focused business. I guided my global team to new paths of customer relations and we have put the customer into the centre of our activity, starting by listening and understanding their needs.

And thanks to our new commercial approach we could install trustful and long-term oriented collaborations with our clients. And of course, this has been also very beneficial for the results.

Also, I had the autonomy to deploy long term commercial strategies and one of them was to accompany our customers in times when the entire glass industry undergoes enormous changes. This strategic part of my job has formed the commercial foundation for the company’s future. And of course, all of this is only possible with a great team.

Whom you seem to be quite proud of!

Definitely! I enjoyed immensely to shape and to lead a large global and diverse team. They all have great personalities and were always passionate to walk the extra-mile for their clients, what is essential if you want to provide an outstanding customer experience.

What is it about the glass industry that you enjoy?

Beside the fascinating and evolving technology, it is about the people.

In this rather small cosmos of glass producers of any type of glass and their related suppliers I discovered a tight network of people with an outstanding level of expertise and passion for their industry. Representing my company, I experienced at a global level stimulating discussions on eye-level with my business partners, all following the strong mission to add value and move things dynamically forward.

In other words, to me it is the combination of ‘technology’ and ‘people’ which makes this industry special.

You’re also a member of the Phoenix Committee - what benefits has this brought by being a member?

The networking! In the Phoenix Committee I humbly enjoy being part of a community of suppliers for the glass industry that all share common values and passions: being excellent in products and services, committed that the best is not enough and that people make a real difference to the business. And the informal communication as well as the solidarity in this community is priceless to me.

I participated in three ceremonies, the award to Mr. Surasak Decharin, to Mr. Oliver Wiegand and to Professor Alicia Durán. Each award recipient is an impressive personality, from whom we all can learn from.

You’re one of the relatively few women in industry. Why do you think there are fewer women than men in the industry?

Well, you definitely are right by saying there are ‘relatively few’ women. Indeed, our industry clearly lacks of gender diversity. During my university time we were only a handful of female students and consequently today in my generation you do not find many women in leadership functions. What concerns me is that even nowadays you don’t find many women in junior positions either, which means that the problem of diversity will continue to exist.

So, what can be done to encourage more women to join the industry?

Encouraging young women won’t be enough, I fear. In front of us we do have the challenge to attract an entire new generation. At first glance, nowadays no heavy industry is really appealing to the young generation. We are neither exciting, nor techy, nor cool in their eyes.

I observe and hear what they care for: environment, sustainability, networking & culture, innovation, digitalisation, high-end technology, and working for purpose-oriented organisations.

And aren’t those notions the very same important challenges, if not opportunities, that the entire glass industry faces for the upcoming decades?

Hence, I believe we can be an attractive industry to the young generation, men and also women, provided we address some of those topics in a determined and consequent way.

Do you have concrete ideas?

It all starts with a ‘good and meaningful purpose’! In SEFPRO I hired and onboarded several young talents, out of which more than 50% were female, and they all had one thing in common: they needed a vision, a mission, you might want to call it a ‘good purpose’ to embrace, to identify with, and to engage for.

So, I shaped my company’s image or profile to the outside, allowing to become a relevant, authentic and responsible employer, and consequently attract new talent and skills. This effort paid out; the junior talents are today valuable pillars of the team.

Could you share with us your experience of shaping a company’s profile?

Working on your future profile and purpose is a challenge for industrial companies. It took me some years to profoundly change the appearance and attractiveness of my past company on the market. There is an initial work to be done that starts with a definition of a ‘vision’. Then the defined intents need to be translated into real actions. And finally, you must communicate your actual progress and achievements, allowing you to position your company – if not the glass industry as a whole – in a more attractive way.

I am convinced that our industry has so many good elements to highlight. I think about the sustainability of container glasses, the growing role of the pharmaceutical glass products, the infrastructural projects that need fiber glasses, antibacterial display glasses and so many more. Are we really communicating enough the many benefits that glass contributes to society? The upcoming Year of Glass 2022 is in my eyes a great moment to do so.

And, once the young people are in the glass industry, how can they be encouraged to stay and develop their careers?

Trusting them and providing them with a career path. This upcoming generation of young managers is eager to act and get empowered. Furthermore, they need to understand what the company can offer them in terms of personal development, which is important to retain them.

Giving them autonomy to explore their individual way and accompany them with trustful support from senior management is my leadership style. I believe that this is easier in smaller or mid-size companies, where an entrepreneurial talent is earlier identified and higher valued.

Do you think women can bring different skills to the sector? How do these skills benefit the industry?

It is all about the right mix. Of course, women bring in a very natural way other skills than those you would find in a team composed exclusively of men. Like it would be once you bring men into a team that is composed only out of women. Diversity has proven to be an essential key success factor for teams and companies. I see further benefits for our glass industry if an additional dimension of diversity would be included, namely the ‘cultural diversity’.

This is even more important if the glass company serves customers at an international, if not global level. My experience has shown me that both, gender and cultural diversity, can and will help any company going through a transition, if not a transformational phase.

How and where do you see yourself in the coming years in our industry?

Well, I’ve been active in the glass industry now for 20 years and almost half of this time as a global refractory supplier for the glass industry. I believe that I deeply understand what moves the different glass markets and their suppliers. Then I experienced how to successfully shape the profile of a company in a transition period, how to take true leadership and responsibility for a global team, and how to identify and develop young talents. I am a deeply passionate commercial leader that has experienced and knows how to gain market share by growing revenues profitably and sustainably, and how to create long term relations with customers. With all those assets I would like to continue working for the glass industry. In this sense, I am excited to further explore upcoming opportunities, which the glass industry certainly has, considering the current dynamic market environment.

And should the reader be interested to contact you, how can they do so?

For any existing or new business partner and colleague, I remain reachable via: dr.d.nicklas@gmail.com