Welcome to the Forty Over 40 blog. We frequently spotlight one of our honorees and their thoughts on reinvention, mentorship and momentum…plus a peek into what makes them tick.

This Q & A is with Celine Schillinger, corporate activist and pharmaceutical executive using innovative social media approaches to disrupt industry and save lives. Celine is innovating her field of work by launching Break Dengue Community, a global alliance to connect existing initiatives and support new ones to fight dengue fever worldwide.

1)  What was a pivotal momentum of reinvention for you?

When I shifted focus from myself to a bigger purpose. I was 40 and I started a movement for change in the workplace, advocating for more diversity. This was a new beginning for me. It has opened huge new perspectives, and made me grow so much. I’ve learnt about diversity, purpose, social media, co-creation… to the point it has become my job now. In the last few years, I have delivered 2 very successful global projects, adding significant value to my employer and to society, based on what I’ve learnt from the diversity movement.

2)  Who has been a valuable mentor or sponsor?

Each time someone has opened up new perspectives, or trusted me to do something difficult, I’ve learnt and grown. There are numerous people I’m grateful for. My late teacher Mrs Audigey gave me ambition. A business leader hired me to run his operations in Vietnam. Another one, later, in China. They took risks and gave me amazing opportunities. My friend Angus pushed me to start a blog, a few years ago; I felt incapable of doing that, but now I can’t thank him enough. With social media and communities of intention, I feel that mentorship has become more collective these last few years. The Change Agents Worldwide community, created by the awesome Susan Scrupski, is a great source of advice and feedback. There’s so much trust between us all.

3)  What is your biggest goal right now?

I want to change the way organizations work. I want to make business more human and more relevant to what employees, customers and stakeholders at large want today. We can’t stick to 20th Century tools and mindset to create value today. They’re not adapted to our complex, globalized and interconnected world. They’re obsolete. I’ve started to change this in my own organization, with corporate activism. There’s considerable energy when you tap into a broader pool of knowledge, common purpose, social media, co-creation. I want to expand this work within my organization and beyond.

4)  How did you get your first job? How did you jump to your second job?

A teacher connected me with a small company owner he knew, who was looking for someone. That’s how I got my first job. I stayed 18 months there, before the company shuts down. Landing the second job is a more interesting story: I went to Vietnam, on my own, to look for a job. I was 23. I settled in a local family, started to learn Vietnamese, and visited dozen of companies to offer my services. Eventually I became the country manager for a small trading firm and stayed 4 fabulous years in Vietnam.

5)  What time do you typically wake up? What do you do every morning?

I wake up earlier since I moved to the US, a year and a half ago. 6:45 am back in France, but 5:30 am here. Work starts earlier, and the kids’ logistics is different. It was hard at first, but you get used to it! I check my social media feed over breakfast, drop my son to his bus stop, and go to work.

6)  How did you feel on your 30th birthday? What were you doing at that time? 

I was working in Beijing, China at the time. I was heading the radio operations for a French media group. I got a big cake at the office and shared it with our Chinese employees – fantastic people I liked a lot. Plus, a party in the evening with friends. It was fun. At the same time, I was becoming aware of how fast time flies. I was thriving in my job, having great opportunities to grow and learn, but wondering how and when I would create a family. It happened 4-5 years later.

7)  How do you unplug? How often do you unplug?

With social media, it’s harder to unplug. I’m often on my phone or tablet. I find so many interesting stuff there! I have met awesome people – now friends – and have got access to so many opportunities! Just wandering around on Twitter or Facebook is actually, for me, a way to unplug. To really unplug, I cook or do sports. I used to row every weekend back in France. In the US, I go to the gym – trying to do so once a week, but I travel quite a bit and it’s hard. I should run more.

8)  What’s the best networking contact you’ve made? How did you make it?

When I started the movement for diversity at work, I googled for information and articles I could share with my fellow activists. I got interested in Avivah Wittenberg-Cox’ work. I realized she was on Twitter, sharing opinions and articles she’d found interesting. I didn’t need to google anymore! I had all the information available here, curated, along with recommendations of more people to follow – that I hadn’t heard of before. And I was able to interact directly with her! That was a big eye opener for me. I hadn’t been keen on exploring social media before; but now that I had a cause, I totally got the value of it. From there, my connections grew, along with knowledge and opportunities. I can’t recommend enough to go on social media. The best networking contact is one you don’t expect. Serendipity is the key.

9)  What was the last business book you read? 

“The Purpose Effect” by Dan Pontefract. An excellent book. The “sweet spot” is when you find yourself at the intersection of the organization’s purpose, your function’s purpose, and you own. I’m in there, right now. It’s very up-lifting.

10) What is your secret indulgence? 

Marmite, every morning. Yummy.

Dark chocolate covered marshmallow bears (don’t know what it is? Click here). More difficult to find here than

Marmite (which is not a bad thing).

11)  Who on the list of prior Honorees would you like to meet?

All of them! The diversity of talents is so inspiring. I’m lucky to have met the amazing Nilofer Merchant already. I’m also following Cindy Gallop’s work, which is super important. I would love to meet Christina Vuleta and Whitney Johnson, who have created that together. It takes a lot of dedication, and hard work, to make other people shine. I’m convinced this project makes a difference for many women, of all ages. I will actually meet Whitney soon, as she speaks at the BIF Summit in Providence RI. Can’t wait!

Check out Celine Schillinger’s full profile here!

Whitney Johnson
Whitney is the author of the acclaimed Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream. She has been named on numerous Smart Thinkers and People to Follow lists by major media such as Inc. Magazine, Business Insider and Huffington Post and is quoted in Wall Street Journal, CNN, Fast Company, Forbes and more.
Whitney Johnson

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