Leïla Ojjeh

1971

Head of EPFL Alumni, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne

"And to progress in your career, you have to not be scared to put yourself forward, negotiate and develop your network. That’s essential if you want to progress and have an impact, and it’s something you have to learn."

My career path

As the head of EPFL Alumni, I manage a community of 30,000 talented EPFL graduates, providing them with an exclusive, international network, a link with their school and a number of other services, such as career management advice. My work is very varied. Together with my five-person team, we manage communications, organize more than 180 events each year, oversee 27 international outposts, provide career services and offer a support programme for startups. There’s no time to get bored.

I’m passionate about creating value for individual people, the school and society by tapping into the network’s potential. Through our work, we make it possible for people to meet, for projects to come to life and for innovation to take shape. Every day, I get to work on a highly stimulating campus and meet students, researchers and graduates who have done some truly amazing things.

My career path. I chose to study chemistry at EPFL because I wanted to combine my passion with a solid education. Once I got my degree, I went into marketing and worked for l’Oréal. I then went back to finish off my studies and got an MBA from INSEAD, near Paris, which made me realize just how important an international network can be.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I came back to Switzerland and joined Firmenich, innovating in the fascinating world of flavours. When my third child was born, I left Firmenich and got involved in other fields through various projects. After going back to industry to work in security inks, I got the opportunity to turn my hobby into my job. I made a final change of course in my career and joined EPFL to manage its global community.

From early on, my parents encouraged me to be independent and then helped me a lot with childcare. Certain managers taught me a great deal and helped me to progress. The INSEAD and EPFL networks have been very useful. And my husband has been a huge support throughout. It’s not always easy to manage two careers and three children at the same time. We’re a great team, and that’s really important.

A downside or obstacle ? Early on in my career, I didn’t really notice any particular obstacles. It was when I had children that things became more complicated. Going on maternity leave, being more limited in where I could move to, and the huge task of organizing family life made it a really difficult period to get through. You have to know how to share tasks and to delegate, and accept that you’re not perfect, while also giving your children the care and attention they need to grow. And to progress in your career, you have to not be scared to put yourself forward, negotiate and develop your network. That’s essential if you want to progress and have an impact, and it’s something you have to learn.

What I’m proud of. As a graduate of EPFL and a business school, I understand graduates’ needs and the importance of having a network. I’ve also used my experience in marketing to develop an attractive programme that will make alumni want to get on board. We have, for instance, set up two projects that I’m particularly proud of : a mentoring programme and a project for International Women’s Day that gives more visibility to female engineers.

The Proust Questionnaire

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Au-delà de votre profession

Les voyages, l’innovation, le yoga, l’éducation et le développement personnel.

Des personnes qui vous inspirent

Amy Cuddy et son TED talk «Your Body Language may Shape Who you Are».

Un livre & un film

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Stephen Covey) et Le Seigneur des Anneaux (J. R. R. Tolkien).

Un modèle

Mon père et mon frère, grands bosseurs, ont joué un rôle clé dans mes choix d’études. Ma première Cheffe chez l’Oréal qui pratique le management «bienveillant» m’a montré qu’il était possible de gérer famille et carrière. Une amie proche, qui a quitté une carrière brillante dans la finance pour se lancer dans le coaching où elle excelle. Et les entrepreneurs toujours très inspirants.

Un objet

Un catalyseur de réactions chimiques (ou humaines).

Une couleur

Le bleu

Un rêve

Faire le tour du monde avec mon mari et mes enfants.