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Cambridge lessons for a French engineer working for the government

Jordan Cartier, an alumnus of MPhil in Technology Policy (2011) at Cambridge Judge Business School, shares his insights on working life as a senior civil servant in the French government, his career moves, and higher education in France and the UK.

Sens, France: a TGV passing through wheat fields

Jordan Cartier

Jordan Cartier

France is proud of its high-speed rail lines, and an alumnus of Cambridge Judge Business School has been involved in the latest lines to open – between Tours and Bordeaux and between Le Mans and Rennes – both of which opened in July.

Jordan Cartier is Head of Planning and Rail Operations for the ministry in charge of transports, and currently leads a team of five civil servants coordinating the work of SNCF Réseau, the state-owned company responsible for the management and maintenance of the railway network, as well as internal and external technical, legal and financial advisers. In addition to the two newly opened lines, his team is also involved in the next high-speed train line, between Nîmes and Montpellier, for passengers and freight, which is expected to open by the end of 2017.

Also later this year, Jordan will take up a new position as inspector of finances at the Ministry of Economics and Finance, posing new career challenges.

Jordan shared his thoughts about his career in government, and the differences between France and Britain regarding critical thinking and higher education.


Working in the public sector is rewarding. I chose to work in public service because I wanted to make real and positive contributions to my country and because I knew that I would hold senior positions with high responsibilities quickly – and that was (and still is) a powerful driver for me.

One of the biggest challenges in managing a government department is that projects can take on a political dimension very quickly. The life-cycle of a particular project can be hugely affected by political changes – for example by a local government’s decision to stop funding or by the national government’s decision to accelerate new infrastructure projects or put the emphasis on the maintenance of existing networks. So there is not only a ‘technical’ analysis involved – projects that have a positive net present value are not necessarily pursued, whether for political reasons or budgetary constraints, and vice versa.

It’s important to delegate work. But a manager should know all the projects well – to be credible to their team, to be able to negotiate effectively with external partners or other government departments, and to be able to make links between situations and accumulate the necessary experience to assess the added value of various situations.

My MPhil Technology Policy studies at Cambridge Judge Business School provided a broader perspective. At the end of my studies in France and before beginning my career within the civil service, I wanted to spend a year abroad, preferably in an English-speaking country that would help me discover different ways of thinking and solving problems. There were more than 20 nationalities represented in my class, which was a unique and very beneficial experience that helped me understand different ways of looking at things – and particularly during the group project, which involved other people from Greece, South Korea, Australia and China.

Recent teaching stints at the École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees and Sciences Po Paris sharpened my thinking. It’s a pleasure to work with highly motivated students, and I realised that explaining complex notions in simple words allowed me to develop a very deep understanding of economics. It also provided a different perspective, because working in a government department naturally leads someone to adopt more “political” approaches to problems.

There are significant differences in higher education between France and the UK. One big difference is that there’s no word limit for essays in France, whereas Britain tends to have strict word limits. I think the British way teaches students to condense their thoughts, which is very useful in working life. In Cambridge, I learned to write complex things very concisely and with attention to the references and the reasoning, which has been very useful to my positions in government departments.

Jordan is interested in hearing from…

…anyone working in the public sector in the field of transport planning and infrastructure management.