For Fabrice Marty, joining INRAE means working for an institute that takes on the major societal issues affecting our food, agriculture and environment, which are all part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. It is an opportunity to bring his personal values together with a sense of purpose in his work. “HR is extremely important here,” says the Deputy Director General of Resources at the new institute resulting from the merger between INRA and IRSTEA. “Work-life balance is key,” he adds. Part-time hours, remote working and parental leave are current benefits offered to employees, and soon flexible working hours will be added to that list. The positive aspects of digital technology are also leveraged to support the Institute.
Working at INRAE means being part of a global network, where cultural and professional diversity, open science, citizen science, and debate are celebrated and encouraged. As the first institute to receive the European HR Excellence in Research certification for our HR policy on researchers in 2010, we expanded the policy to cover all our employees. Diversity is also essential to our organisation. “INRAE must reflect society,” says Fabrice. INRAE has already received the diversity certification, and the equality certification is underway, reflecting our commitment to these values.
“Sustainable development does not apply only to our research – it has to be part of our everyday efforts,” he says. “We want to develop goodwill in the workplace: to be able to try new things, to make mistakes.” INRAE has a budget of €1 bn, 10,000 ha of experimental fields, 1,100,000 square metres of floor space and a remarkable collection of assets. Sustainable development is one consideration in our procurement processes and experimental fields. Most are already using an environmental management system within the Institute. But we still have to do more, and this is something INRAE is currently working on.
Managing decisions with an impact on 10,000 employees
“I love this organisation!” His enthusiasm comes out in his lilting accent from Ségala, in south-western France. His dark eyes light up, his face opens, and a sudden smile spreads across his face. When he talks about INRA, Fabrice, who was named Deputy Director General of Research Support Services (DGDAR) after five years heading up the Institute’s HR Department, lets his guard down... if only briefly. But it is long enough to reveal the deep attachment he has developed over the course of his career, beginning in 1995 with his economics internship director Bertil Sylvander at the INRA centre in Toulouse. Although this grandson of a seed producer from Aveyron grew up in the small town of Rieupeyroux, he knew there were big things in store for him already in high school in the mid-1980s.
Looking out for the greater good
While Fabrice’s professional life took him away the Institute at various times, he always came back. At age 48, he began a four-year term as Director of HR, overseeing an impressive contingent of 2,000 employees. “The common thread of research support is the implementation of the Institute’s scientific policy,” he explains, straightening his shoulders as though to give his words more weight. “It requires investments, hiring, managing the budget for a four- or five-year period, being responsive and in close contact with the units... These analyses and concerns will guide decisions with an impact on the Institute’s 10,000 employees.”
As he gets ready to settle into a new post after having overseen INRA’s HR development action plan, the Institute’s frame of reference since 2012, he says, “Workplace quality of life, mutual trust, common interest – I really believe in good HR practices. I’m proud to have led the HR Department’s strategy. I’m going to miss the teams and the network.” He calmly lays down the cards that gave him the winning hand when he was chosen from among 21 applicants. Fabrice has two other cards to play that make him a true asset to the Institute: “Genuineness and friendliness. I’m always direct, it’s just how I am. I think the unions and my staff get that, and I won’t change.”
Preparing for two transitions
He shows no signs of apprehension about leading the Institute through two major upcoming transitions with regard to digital technology and the relocation of 13 laboratories to Saclay. “The time frame and preparations aren’t variables. They have to be respected. We have to plan everything from scratch: design, tools, leadership.” His tone becomes more serious. “We need to be prepared, empathetic, transparent. We must make the right choices and explain why things are being done – the purpose of the process, the schedule, etc.” He may not be nervous, but he does understand the risks.
When he was involved in creating the Joint Research Units (UMR) at the Ministry of Higher Education and Research, he was 30 years old – and the youngest ministerial advisor under Jospin’s government. He was in charge of GMOs, and later was advisor on consumer behaviour and fraud prevention for Marylise Lebranchu. His thesis dealt with handing uncertainty in geographical designations of origin, and he learned to see risk as more of a partner than an enemy.
Participatory management and risk management
At 35, he became CEO of GEVES (Study group for varietal control and seeds) and worked in direct contact with multinational companies to reorganise the group and relocate it to Angers, France. Such fast modernisation requires a real desire to move forward, a thick skin and an ability to keep a cool head. At the time, Fabrice instinctively adopted a coaching mentality and immersed himself in the great blues standards. He worked gradually, patiently and often on his own in order to solidify the foundation for change instead of falling back on urgent stopgaps, disappointment and frustration.
His move into human resources was a natural shift in a meticulously “planned out” career of a high-level civil servant, experienced in dealing with the authorities, power plays and behind-the-scenes negotiations. It was a logical choice for this engineer by training (1), who chose to set a new course in 2020 for INRA’s 10,000 employees, following in the footsteps of François Houllier, under whom Fabrice served as Deputy Director General for Science and on request of Marion Guillou, INRA’s Chair and CEO until 2012.
Meditation and principles
It is undoubtedly the “why and how” of these decisions and the task ahead that he ponders when he disconnects for a few minutes at the start and end of each day through deep meditation to stay grounded, centred and relaxed. His thoughts turn to his 21-year-old son, who he proudly explains is preparing for the magistrates’ exam in his fifth year at Sciences Po. As he looks back on his own personal journey, he considers how far he has come and affirms his belief in freedom of choice and an appreciation for diversity with regard to both his son and his partner.
When the conversation turns back to work, Fabrice still does not bring up priorities, projects or challenges. He talks calmly about the future of the Institute, mentioning two approaches, which he sees more as principles: participatory management and risk management. Behind these words, which reflect both history and new opportunities, is the same passion that Marion Guillou’s young advisor has had since the early 2000s. He talks about those years with as much enthusiasm as he does his home town. It’s true: he loves this organisation!
(1) Rural, water and forestry engineer, INGREF
50 years old, one son
- 1998: PhD from INRA/CNRS, Université Paris X Nanterre. Thesis: Pluralité de rationalités et traitement de l’incertitude (Dir. R. Salais).1999–2000: Technical advisor on food security (Erika, listeriosis, salmonellosis) and consumer goods, management of sensitive issues for the French government (interministerial coordination on GMOs).
- 2001–2004: Advisor to INRA CEOs (Marion Guillou and Bertrand Hervieu) and Secretary General of the INRA Management Board.
- 2004–2008: CEO of the GEVES public interest group (310 FTE, €20 million budget, 6 sites).
- 2008–2010: Department Head for the Office of Health Risks on Primary Production, Ministry for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries.
- 2010–2011: Deputy Project Manager for the creation of the Paris-Saclay campus (€2 bn, 21 establishments, coordination management with the EPPS public development agency).
- 2011–2012: Deputy Director General in charge of Scientific Affairs (DGDS), INRA.
- 2012–2017: Director of Human Resources, Risk Prevention and Coordination of Legal Affairs, INRA.
- 2017: Deputy Director General for Research Support Services, INRA
- 2020: Deputy Director General for Resources, INRAE