Mireille Sfeir: “I truly believe that gender diversity is having a great impact on shaping the future of the motorsport industry”

Before a race can even happen, the facilities and infrastructure must be in place to allow the location to host the event. Making sure grandstands, bridges and barriers are all ready for an E-Prix is the responsibility of a team of people who must liaise with companies and organisations in host cities all over the world. Mireille Sfeir is part of this team as a Procurement Manager for Formula E. I spoke to her about this being her first role in motorsport and thriving in an intense and rewarding industry.

Growing up, Mireille was a lover of all sports, however she didn’t feel that motorsport was for her or aimed at her. “I felt that motorsport was something that was more for fathers and uncles rather than something accessible for all ages, let alone something fun for me to watch. It was the men, not the women in my family who were the fans, and as a child there was not much about it that appealed to me aside from finding out who the eventual winner was! Now, that’s all changed thanks to Formula E reaching out to a new, younger audience,” she said. Previous to Formula E’s creation, Sfeir hadn’t had any intention of working in the sport. “Coming from an engineering and construction background both in my educational and professional lives respectively, motorsport was never really on my radar as a career move. I became increasingly interested in electric vehicles during my undergraduate degree however, which led me to do quite a bit of research in my own time into the growing popularity of such vehicles and culminated in my undergraduate thesis in which I designed an electric bicycle,” Mireille explained.

Her current role working as a Procurement Manager for Formula E is her first in motorsport, and came purely by chance. “Having spent four years in a graduate job after completing my master’s degree I felt it was time for a change. At the time I was a procurement professional in the construction industry, an industry I felt it was time to move on from. I was open to new challenges and researching industries trying to work out my next move when I was contacted by a recruitment agency regarding the role at Formula E. This call eventually led to the position I am in now, so it happened quite by chance actually! Perhaps even fate?” Sfeir told me. Her role involves getting the races ready for the E-Prix by sourcing infrastructure. “My current role means that for the cities assigned to me, I am responsible for the end-to-end procurement process for those races. This includes the purchase and/or hire of tangible goods such as grandstands, bridges and the blocks and fences that comprise the temporary race track, as well as non-tangible services, for example the appointment of a local agency to assist us in the delivery of the event. This role entails everything from setting a tender list and performing due-diligence on all potential candidates all the way to contract stage, then beyond with post-event reconciliations,” she said.

As her job involves a lot of work with the actual locations of the races themselves, travelling is an important part for Mireille. “There is quite a bit of travel associated with the role, both during and in between seasons. Trackside, my main objective is to ensure goods and services are being delivered as per our contracts with suppliers, identify and mitigate any issues, risks and/or changes and ensure a proper handover is completed. Away from track however, the role is quite different. It is much less operational and quite a bit more analytical. My role in a nutshell is to collate the requirements from various internal departments, identify suitable companies to implement these and ensure costs are analysed and agreed, contract terms are mutually approved and that payments are made as negotiated,” Sfeir told me. However, the fact that the championship is still pretty new, has also had an impact on her role, and if anything, has made her experience even better. “Much like any other young company, employees have a much bigger voice and the opportunity to make a much bigger impact. That is of course, not a privilege that is given or treated lightly, but I have always felt working for Formula E that ideas and creativity were encouraged and that any suggestion given sufficient thought would be considered and, if possible, implemented,” she explained.

Formula E will soon be in it’s fifth season, and with it being so young, it also presents some difficulties. “New cities always present the biggest challenges and being part of the relatively small team that puts on a world class event in a new and unknown territory can be quite a daunting task, especially in the early days of planning. Attention to detail becomes even more critical than before, and the procurement process alone is not enough as you have to rely much more on additional elements such as professional judgement, past experience and the quality of information given by all parties, while ensuring that you are not afraid to take calculated risks,” Mireille explained. Despite such challenges, working in a sport like Formula E can be very rewarding and exciting. “The successful end of the first Rome E-Prix was probably the highlight of my professional career. This had been a hugely challenging race for many reasons, but probably mostly on a personal note. It was also the first race at Formula E for which I was solely responsible in my department. Prior to that, I would shadow my line manager on his races and he would keep an eye on mine too, but the time had come to own my own events. It was my baptism in a way, one which turned me into the type of person I used to laugh about with friends – I would eat, sleep and drink work in the run up to this race. I would talk about what I was working on and my upcoming deadlines with my friends and family, spend weekends thinking of ways to improve what I was doing, I even dreamt about work! In the end, the event was a huge success and suddenly my legs weren’t so tired any more, the bridges didn’t feel like a chore and that celebratory glass of champagne at the end of the event was probably the best I’ve ever had – we made it happen as a team and that made everything worth it,” Sfeir described.

Mireille Sfeir’s first role in motorsport came with Formula E showing that working for championships themselves is a real possibility for anyone if they’re passionate enough. Despite having no experience in the sport, her previous work in the procurement industry proved she was capable of working in Formula E’s challenging environment. For those worrying the sport is not for them, as Mireille had done, she was keen to reassure that it is open to everyone, saying: “I would say, to any women thinking of joining the industry that may be put off by the idea that it is perceived as male-dominated that this is no longer the case! During my time at Formula E I have had the privilege to work with some of the most inspiring, strong and capable women at various levels within the business and I truly believe that this gender diversity is having a great impact on shaping the future of the motorsport industry. Also, don’t be put off by years of experience or lack thereof, as long as you are willing to work hard to progress in your field. I personally came into motorsport as a procurement professional with little knowledge of the specifics of the world I was going into. I believe this allowed me to look at things with a fresh set of eyes and a hunger to learn all the new things about my new industry.”