Innovator takes the road less traveled

Sébastien Bardon of France believes the MIT Sloan Fellows Program is for those who want adventure beyond the charted path

MIT Sloan Fellow Sebastien Bardon When it comes to innovation, Sébastien Bardon of France is the real deal. Product and process development director, Automotive Emission Controls, at Saint-Gobain, he will spend the next two years as an MIT Sloan Fellow immersed in, well, innovation. Process innovation. Workplace innovation. Leadership innovation.

Perhaps most important of all, Bardon has come to MIT to learn everything he can about managing innovation. He's spent the last seven years heading the development of a filter that promises to revolutionize the market for diesel automobiles.

The problem with diesel fuel is that it burns dirty, resulting in carbon emissions — particles that are toxic to humans and detrimental to the environment.

In response to this challenge, Bardon's team at Saint-Gobain has produced the diesel particulate filter (DPF), a breakthrough that eliminates particle emissions through oxidation, but requires no customer concessions in terms of maintenance, fuel economy, and engine output.

For Bardon, one of the most demanding aspects of launching this innovation was working with carmakers to optimize Saint-Gobain's DPF design, which is more expensive than traditional diesel filters.

Thus, a pivotal aspect of his role was to create a practical and economical product that also worked at the regulatory level. He accomplished his goal — the filter is now in use throughout Europe, and U.S. carmakers will be adopting the DPF in 2007.

Tossing the compass

Fresh from this success, Bardon decided it was time for a time out. He wanted to complement his skills in science and technology with skills in management and finance.

He decided he could do all that in the MIT Sloan Fellows Program, especially with the program's distinctive innovation component. The Sloan Fellows experience has more than met his expectations.

“It's exactly what I was expecting,” Bardon says. “The quality of the program is excellent. At times it's exciting. At time's amazing. And at all times it's incredibly efficient. I'm learning everything I wanted to learn and more.”

But ever the innovator, Bardon didn't cross the Atlantic just to follow a prewritten path.

He chose MIT Sloan, he says, because he wanted to throw away his compass and explore new avenues. And also because he wants to be well prepared to follow those new avenues — into a general management position at Saint-Gobain, for example.

“The knowledge I'm building is good grounding and provides excellent credentials for any future work I undertake. I know that whatever I do in my life, I'll likely be managing innovation. Here, I am learning from faculty and other fellows who spend their lives doing just that.”

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