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International Women’s Day and Celebrating Female Leadership

Mark Powell, Head of our Leadership & Talent Consultancy, asks us to raise a glass of bubbly to Madame Clicquot who displayed a number of leadership qualities that Mark has mapped to our own GS Altitude model that describes behavioural excellence for leaders.

For many the celebratory fizz of champagne is synonymous with celebrations, this article celebrates the leadership behaviours of a woman who made a huge contribution to the Champagne industry, indeed if it wasn’t for her ingenuity Champagne would bear little resemblance to the clear, sparkling wine we know today.

In early 19th Century France the wine industry was male-dominated, indeed little has changed with a recent study suggesting that in the Champagne region of France only around 15-20% of grape sellers are women. That is what makes the story of Madame Barbe-Nicole Clicquot so inspiring. Madame Clicquot married a wine maker in 1798 who then promptly died in 1805, at which point she displayed a number of leadership qualities that I have mapped to our very own GS Altitude model (naturally!) that describes behavioural excellence for leaders:

  1. Courage and Tenacitythis behaviour is about being optimistic, resilient and persevering. Madame Clicquot was just that. Following her husband’s death she managed to convince her father in law to let her take on his wine business and set about learning about the wine trade, boldly risking her inheritance to do so.  She faced bankruptcy a number of times but believed in her product and proactively readied the production of Champagne for a post war market which eventually opened up.
  2. Tackle Tomorrowthis behaviour is about driving transformation and innovation. Champagne, before a brilliant innovation from Madame Clicquot, had fizz but it was also cloudy and visually unappealing due to dead yeast collecting in the bottle.  With a stroke of genius she invented a method called ‘riddling’ that manipulated the yeast through turning and twisting the direction of the bottle over time allowing the removal of the yeast and the creation of clear Champagne.  This made her Champagne production faster and of higher quality than other manufacturers who employed less efficient methods.  Her method is still used today.
  3. Build Team Unity – this behaviour is about bringing others together through trust and common goals. As you can imagine her competitors were pretty frustrated, especially Jean-Rémy Moët who simply couldn’t replicate her methods but her secret remained safe despite employing many workers in her cellars.  The fact that they remained loyal to her suggests she built a strong, trusting culture, indeed it would be decades before other Champagne houses caught up.

Despite revolutionising the Champagne industry and creating a global brand (Veuve Clicquot) Madame Clicquot never left France as it ‘would have been inappropriate for a woman to travel alone during that time’, she also never remarried, as doing so would have meant giving up control of her business.  The fact that she triumphed at a time when the lives of women were so restricted, and the leadership and entrepreneurial capabilities of women so hidden, is inspirational, indeed a quote from a letter to a grandchild certainly supports her capacity to inspire :

 “The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.”

So when you next raise a glass of bubbly (Veuve Clicquot or otherwise) thank the amazing leadership skills of Madame Clicquot for adding clarity to your glass!

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