“Every encounter is an opportunity in the making“, interview with Marianne Abib-Pech

“Every encounter is an opportunity in the making“, interview with Marianne Abib-Pech Interview 18 December 2023


Marianne Abib-Pech is an international businesswoman, finance expert, author, entrepreneur investor. Marianne joined Carbon Waters Board over a year ago and looks back on her career and shares how she is supporting Carbon Waters.

You’ve had an impressive career. Can you tell us a little about the early years of your professional life?

Marianne Abib-Pech: I started my career in 1996, in Arthur Andersen in Luxembourg, after studying in the UK. This first international experience was a defining moment. It shaped the rest of my career, that has been most exclusively international and in key financial centers: London, Geneva, Hong-Kong.

I always says jokingly, I already had three different lives and I am on the look-out for a fourth one!

My first life was a traditional corporate executive career that took me from audit in Arthur Andersen to the CFO position of Shell Aviation. It was a big milestone in my career and provided an extraordinary opportunity to learn and grow as a businessperson. In the short span of four years, the $20 B revenue company went through a complete strategic reformulation. It resulted in a trove of M&A activities in both mature and emerging markets.

I then authored a book on leadership with the view to share the learnings of my corporate careers with as many as possible and pave the way for a smoother journey.

These two very different parts of my life led me today as an investor-entrepreneur; I use both the creative side of writing with finance structured and risk-aware thinking.

You were one of the few women in Shell Finance leadership team?

MAP: Yes, that is correct with the likes of Jessica Uhl and Sinead Gorman who both became Group CFOs!

Diversity was at infancy level back then and Shell tried to be a pioneer in the field to nurture and promote a new generation of female leaders. It informed my leadership style, the value I see in diversity in the broader meaning possible.

More generally, my experience in oil and gas transformed perception of strategic thinking. As a deeply macro and geopolitically driven sector, it requires to look for asymmetry, play the short and the long game, with a specific risk-reward compass. It changed the way I saw the business world.

You are also the author of The Financial Times Guide to Leadership. Can you tell us more about it?

MAP: I always had a creative steak and a passion for writing. After securing the CFO position in Shell I had a bit of an existential crisis.

When you get your dream job relatively early in your life, I was 35 at the time, the “what I am going to do next?” question comes to haunt you, and having mostly worked in male-dominated industry, the gender element was also at the forefront of my questioning.

I was looking for answers. I did not find anything relatable and decided to write the book I needed myself! 

I interviewed more than thirty women in leadership positions, cross-sectors, different nationalities and age group, emblematic women such as Clara Gaymard or Mercedes Erra, or less famous ones that were doing their parts … in the shadows (she laughs), like Estelle Clark for Lloyds Register who became a mentor.

All the interviews gave fantastic food for thought, a framework to reflect, learn and grow from… and I decided to try to get this published.

Serendipity stroke. Pearsons’ commissioning editor at that time received my book proposal from I believe three different sources and called. As mentioned earlier, diversity was not yet mainstream. She very diplomatically pointed to the limited financial potential of such a book and offered a more generic angle… which I then wrote.

And then you set up your own business?

MAP: Indeed, it felt like a natural next step. My finance background paired with experience in strategic formulation, market entries and equity transactions were boding well for a M&A business.

The global and macro mindset developed through my Shell experience put Iran on our radar, and we decided to bet on it. We believed the fundamentals were very strong and the moment was right.

We made several trips to the country, to get a lay of the land, understand, learn, and assess how we can have an impact and create value. After several visits to the country, we landed on two verticals, tourism and education, and soon landed mandates with high profile French players in aviation catering and Michelin-star culinary education.

And how did you come to work with startups?

MAP: Frontiers markets such as Iran are an acquired taste! They require some risk mitigation as you are hardly in control of anything!

I had started my investor’s journey around the same time mostly in tech. After a while, you develop an intuition on possible startups success– operational, funding etc. While evaluating potential investment, my corporate mindset would always come into play: who could be a customer for that startup? Who would be interested in acquiring them and who do I know?

It developed organically. It made a lot of sense to add this particular vertical to the M&A business as I was already doing it.

Can you tell us about the Transitions First (T1ST), your latest project ?

MAP: Transitions First is THE project for the next forty years! For the past two years, I’ve been interested in understanding the challenges of scale up for industrial startups.

Fast forwarding to today, and taking into consideration macro trends, economic sovereignty is now recognized as a priority, the climate challenge calls for industrial transformation challenge and requires all players (financial, public or private sector, French, European, international) to converge and act. Ultimately, venture capital has to evolve and a true industrial venture capital must emerge…

These are the foundations of T1ST concept thesis. We  are an early-stage venture capital fund dedicated to accelerating industrial transition. Our purpose is to (re)building local, sustainable supply chains and change the way we produce.

We want to accelerate scale up of industrial deep tech startups, by using all the tools in the box: faster revenue generation, cost and CAPEX optimization initiatives through joint-ventures and partnerships.

We want to find, nurture and finance the best deep tech startups born from the most advanced and prestigious innovation ecosystems: Silicon Valley, Europe and Israel and fast-track them to success… and impact !

I am super excited with the fund! It is impact, international and anchored a meeting of minds, shared values and complementarity of skillset as my business partner Alic Chen is one of the founding members of UC Berkeley’s Incubator and previously ran a micro fund. The thesis resonated immediately with International groups such as South Korean giant SK Networks and Japanese investment holding Real Tech Holdings and private individuals.

Carbon Waters is a great example of what the thesis is about.

Precisely how did you discover Carbon Waters?

MAP: I met Alban Chesneau and Carbon Waters just over a year ago and invested personally.

I was impressed by the business value proposition, the technological innovation and, above all, Alban’s vision and personality. I wanted to play a role, even minimal, in unearthing graphene capabilities and driving sustainability mindset in major industries: chemical, automotive, defense, to quote just a few…. and bring diversity into the mix. 

How do you support Carbon Waters today?

MAP: I am part of the Advisory Board specifically focused on financing, and growth strategy– i.e honing business model and planting the seeds for international expansion and growth.

I believe Carbon Waters is going places. Alban’s pragmatic and no-nonsense approach to business, his incredible drive to do the right things and do things right are truly impressive. Thanks to listening skills and understated yet charismatic leadership style he has the potential to drive Carbon Waters to the moon! And it is a great source of knowledge for me. So overall I am very happy to get the opportunity to help and support Carbon Waters.

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