“Sometimes you have to find you own way but there are definitely a lot of doors here opening the way to a multitude of opportunities.”

Knowing no boundaries, the VIE Program career springboard
Behind the scenes
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12 March 2019

Efficiency Project Lead at Air Liquide UK, Francesco Collini, talks about life in the VIE Program, working internationally, turning dusty annual report figures into sales and marketing tools, and the importance of shared values.

Ambitious and talented young graduates know no boundaries when it comes to making their way in the world of work. 28-year old Francesco Collini is one of them.

“I’ve been living far from home for a third of my life now, and honestly, whether I’m in my own country or Belgium or China doesn't make any difference. As long as I am young I like to take my chances.”

Currently Efficiency Project Leader at Air Liquide UK based in Birmingham, Francesco started life in a small city in the Italian region of Abruzzo nestling in the Apennine mountains. Graduating from the Politecnico di Milano, he had a spell at Tongji University in Shanghai before his Master’s degree at one of the prestigious Grandes Ecoles of France - ESCP Europe.

Air Liquide, however, featured quite early in Francesco’s career: “I’d heard of the company during my bachelor’s degree and even more during my Masters in Paris,” he recalls. Impressed by the spirit of open communication he saw at the company, Francesco entered the International Volunteer Program, also known as VIE, joining Air Liquide in Belgium.

“It seemed a decent opportunity with an interesting company, and in an international city. Working for a manufacturing company always appealed to me and I also value a firm's focus on new, environmentally conscious technologies.”

In his first year he spent a lot of time looking into specific companies or segment within particular industries to understand if there was potential for gas supply. “I was immersed in databases, looking for partnerships and associations, trade shows, making presentations, that kind of thing.”

“During my second year I shifted more to a commercial analyst role, meaning monthly reports, and ad hoc studies of operational or commercial decisions. I still spent time with sales when those studies were commercially driven, but I was definitely spending a lot of time with figures.”

In his 15 months in the program, a key aspect of his work involved framing the hours he had spent analysing all those company reports and presenting them as invaluable practical tools to help managers make crucial commercial and technical decisions.

“This was a good way to learn about the business,” he confirms. “I learned about the commercial end of Air Liquide's products and the core technologies of a number of different industries at customer sites based on the market and competition, and how production and especially distribution work in practice. I also learned about Air Liquide’s operational and commercial strategies and how we make decisions.

For Francesco, the move to Air Liquide UK seemed like a natural progression from his VIE program experience as a full time analyst, progressing to supply chain and operations and then a Project Manager role.

“I had learned a lot about the business and it just seemed a waste to be looking around for something else, especially considering things were moving forward quickly and a great opportunity had opened up,” he says about his decision to join Air Liquide UK. “It was also a chance to work in an English speaking country,” he admits.

At AL UK, Francesco’s work involves setting clear priorities based on what would create value for the company. According to him, this often has to do with supporting and keeping in touch with what colleagues are doing, but without forgetting key objectives.

“I like how the company is solid and forms links with so many manufacturing sectors, including some very innovative and eco-friendly ones,” he says, after three years at the company. “The culture is in line with some of my values. I also value the fact that the company is present in so many countries and encourages people to travel.”

But Francesco is also thinking about the future: “It would be great to work in the field in a developing country, maybe with the UN or another non-profit, and possibly for Air Liquide if my role has a concrete impact.”

“Air Liquide has been a good experience and I would recommend it to others starting out,” but Francesco Collini cautions that it’s also important to take responsibility for your own career path.

“Sometimes you have to find you own way but there are definitely a lot of doors here opening the way to a multitude of opportunities.”

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