Gérard Mestrallet, Chairman and CEO of GDF SUEZ

Challenges: With 6,000 permanent employment contracts, including 1,200 for executives, GDF SUEZ is one of the largest hirers in France. Why are you hiring?

Gérard Mestrallet: We are now the second largest electricity supplier in the world. However, we are builders by tradition: we build dams or large power plants. In fact, we have just completed a dam in Brazil, as part of a project that involved 26,000 people. Only 200 people will be required to manage the dam on a day-to-day basis. In Europe, conversely, we are leaving the world of large power plants behind for another, completely new world. Over the past 15 years, the size of power generation units has been divided by one million, thanks to digital technologies and renewable energy. This revolution changes everything. In the past, power generation meant large amounts of capital and few jobs. Today, the transition to a low-carbon economy is creating growth (2.5% per year in France), and jobs that are real local jobs. This is distributed energy.


This is leading to change in your organization…

It means that we are switching to service businesses that are very close to our customers in Europe. It is our customers who will determine our new businesses. Micro-generation, micro-geothermal energy, etc. Everything has become micro. For us, this is where the growth is in terms of employment, in renewable energy, in energy efficiency services, and in the new businesses at the crossroads between digital technology and energy. France is at the heart of this revolution, and we are planning to support it via the 6,000 permanent hires planned for 2014, of which over 4,000 are in the energy business, and around 2,000 in the environmental business. Our commitment is to hire 20,000 people on permanent contracts in both areas between now and 2015. If we add our other hires, including fixed-term contracts, to these permanent job numbers, you need to almost double the number.


Is this why you organized a hiring day in France on October 12?

Yes. And we organized it at the company’s 40 facilities throughout France. It was a sort of open day, where anyone could meet volunteer employees at our units and drop in their CV. Over 500 volunteers were involved on Saturday, October 12, in order to welcome job-seekers to our facilities. We received over 6,000 CVs, and are currently reviewing around 1,500 applications.


What do your new remits consist of in practical terms?

Let’s take the example of local authorities, which are our traditional customers, especially for heating, waste water treatment and waste. They want technologies that emit less CO2, and are increasingly focused on the energy efficiency of their equipment. In fact, the Alsace Region has asked us to improve the energy-efficiency of 14 of its high schools. We have made a proposal that enables them to reduce their energy consumption by 30%. Our engineers carried out an assessment, and then ensured that our recommendations were implemented. We have now already achieved a 35% reduction in the buildings’ energy consumption.


What are the candidate profiles that you are looking for as a priority?

Our requirements mainly involve technical and operational jobs, for which the level of qualification is expected to increase, like electrical engineers and electrical technicians, or specialist jobs, like welders and pipe fitters. We also hire 1,200 executives in France every year, 75% of whom are engineers who are project managers or project heads, i.e. the equivalent of three engineering school graduation classes. We have also planned to hire 8,000 young people between now and 2015. GDF SUEZ’s focus on the customer also requires a significant development of our sales teams.


Does GDF SUEZ’s image correspond to what candidates are looking for?

We are designing a more modern image. Our teams have to perform from a technical, energy and digital standpoint, and endorse our values, which are commitment, drive, daring and cohesion. In return, we offer them the prospect of dual career mobility. This includes job mobility first and foremost – we have 300 businesses within the Group – including the option to switch from nuclear power to gas or hydraulics, and then geographical mobility, from one country to another. Two-thirds of our employees receive additional training every year. We are constantly increasing their employability.


How do you attract them?

People like jobs relating to the transition to a low carbon economy, because they symbolize the combat against global warming, and candidates are sensitive to that. We have been involved in sustainable development for years, due to our businesses and our beliefs. Furthermore, we are one of the most international French groups, with industrial operations in over 50 countries, and commercial representation in over 100 countries via our engineering subsidiaries.


Is this international momentum changing the way you work?

Yes. We are able to create multidisciplinary and multicultural teams for international tenders. In Qatar, a young woman managing a team that included 17 different nationalities won a natural gas exploration and production tender. It is a major strength. Over the past six years, we have won 60% of the major contracts put out to tender in the Middle East. Every time there is an international tender, we need to put together teams that are capable of operating in completely different regulatory, legal, financial, cultural and linguistic environments.


What should be done to create a better hiring environment in France?

What we lack is flexibility. Aside from all the efforts to simplify things, we are very keen on work-study programs and on apprenticeship and professional skills contracts. We have 5,000 employees on work-study contracts at GDF SUEZ. Access to training courses that lead to qualifications should also be made easier. I chair the CNAM’s (French National Arts and Business Conservatory) Board of Directors. With 100,000 auditors and over 1 million former students, it is the largest university in France, and is dedicated to promoting work and to providing ongoing lifelong training for adults. We must use it more, and in a better way, in order to accelerate economic change in our country.

Moreover, it would be worthwhile to build new relationships between large and small companies in the same sector or region, so that the latter can benefit from the former’s training resources. Lastly, we need to improve relationships between universities and companies. They are much more natural everywhere else, including in China.


Generation Y is increasingly reluctant to work for large companies. Are you sensitive to this reluctance?

That’s quite right. In fact, we have realized that our conventional vertical organizational structure was not the most appropriate for nurturing innovations and new businesses. I introduced several initiatives to change things in 2013. First, I organized a management seminar that included senior executives, in order to make them work on our new businesses. At the same time, I asked 130 of our high-potential young executives to meet 10 people each in the company, outside the conventional reporting channels, and then to bring me recommendations. Lastly, I questioned the members of a network of 1,000 women in the Women and Networking organization directly.


What was the result of all these discussions?

The plethora of ideas was such that we decided to set up a Marketing Innovation and New Business Department. This department will be responsible for introducing a new way of working. For instance, we are going to create incubators in Europe, America and Asia, and set up small teams that will work on developing their ideas outside the reporting lines. There are very strong expectations that daring will receive greater rewards within the Group. Thanks to these new organizations, we are meeting those expectations. Afterwards, we will have to “deliver”.


Interview conducted by Héloïse Bolle and Anne Tézenas du Montcel for the Challenges Magazine Recruitment 2014 special report.


An ambitious recruitment policy favoring young people and gender diversity

The Group’s commitment to employment in France also extends to its encouragement of youth employment via the generation contract under which 8,000 young people will be recruited between now and 2015.

Lastly, GDF SUEZ has for several years applied a voluntary policy of promoting gender diversity. A European agreement on equality in the workplace was signed in 2012, with quantified targets set for the period to 2015: one management appointment in every three will be a woman, and women will account for 35% of individuals recognized as high potential, 25% of managers and 30% of new employees.