Interview with Isabelle Kocher: “We are at the start of the energy revolution”
Isabelle Kocher joined the Group in 2002, and took over the leadership of ENGIE in 2016. She is the only female CEO of a CAC40 company, and also one of the youngest. Her ambition is to make ENGIE the leader of the energy revolution. She is a born reformer, but what does she believe and what is her background?
Climate change is taking us all to a different world, in which we all have to reassess our lifestyles. How do you perceive this environment?
We are at the start of an energy revolution. The 21st century will bring an end to the cycle of fossil energies, which will progressively be replaced by renewable, low-carbon energies, such as solar, green gases and digital. This will have a far-reaching effect on behaviors. Alongside large-scale installations which supply entire regions, there will be multiple sites responsible for decentralized local energy responsible.
We are seeing the emergence of a world in which energy is no loner synonymous with fear, as it is today because of pollution of all kinds as well as the risk of geostrategic wars. With renewable energies, solar energy in particular, the situation will change dramatically. The majority of energy consumers will also be energy producers. This is already the case in California, where you see that the majority of houses are equipped with roof panels. Another major change is that countries that have no source of supply, such as Chile, will be able to stop being dependent on their neighbors – it’s a country with very high potential for renewables. It will be the same in Africa, where digital technology will make access to electricity made. Finally, whereas the previous industrial revolution left billions of people behind, the new one will be fairer.
ENGIE wants to become the world leader of this energy revolution. How do you intend to achieve this?
Energy transition is something everyone is talking about. We are going to take part in this revolution body and soul! First of all, by the end of 2018 we are going to divest €15 billion of businesses that don’t comply with this approach, such as coal- and oil-fired electricity generation. Next, by investing €22 billion over three years in three businesses in which we already hold leading positions: renewable energies, networks (gas in particular) and everything connected with decentralized solutions. In France, we expect to multiply our installed capacity in solar power by four within five years, and double it in wind energy in the same timeframe. And we are only too keen to expand in hydroelectricity if the Government decides to open up the concessions historically held by EDF. These are all enormous projects. I am convinced that the best way of creating value for the Group is to be in tune with what our ecosystem expects.
In what ways will such disruptive changes result in far-reaching changes in the Group?
Decarbonized energy and digital technology will be ENGIE’s two sources of oxygen for the future. Beyond this, everything fits into our three operating sectors: infrastructure, power generation and energy efficiency services.
We used to have five major divisions, one per métier. We have moved from these five divisions to a geographical organization, directed by people representing all our métiers – the whole toolbox.
The challenge for us, and for our employees in particular, is to reconvert ourselves and be capable of moving from fields in which there will be less growth, perhaps no longer any at all, to fields in which there will be growth. We have put in place a set of rules, entailing a heavy investment in reconversion. What counts is our capacity for innovation, and for entrepreneurship, in all our locations. The Group needs to lower its center of gravity, and transform itself from a whale into a shoal of fish.
Biography: a career dominated by transformation
Isabelle Kocher does not waste time: in 2016, the mother of five became, at just fifty years of age, the only woman to lead a CAC40 group. She manages to reconcile the two parts of her life thanks to a keen sense of priorities and by managing her time rationally.
She was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, on December 9, 1966. She studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where she gained a postgraduate qualification in physics, and qualified as an engineer at the École des Mines.
In both the public and private sectors, her career has been dominated by the management of sensitive issues and taking part in major reorganization and strategic redeployment projects in the industrial sector. Between 1991 and 1997, she handled a project to reorganize the production sites of the Société Européenne de Propulsion (today part of Safran).
She joined the French Ministry of the Economy in 1997, where she earned a reputation for her rigor, her clear and structured mind and her intellectual curiosity. Appointed special advisor on industrial affairs in the office of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in 1999, she handled several key dossiers, including EADS, Thales, Areva, and the explosion of the AZF plant. She joined the SUEZ group in 2002, where, as Senior Vice President for Performance and Organization, she helped the Group focus on its energy, environment and water businesses and create a services division. In 2007, the Chairman and CEO, Gérard Mestrallet, appointed her Chief Operating Officer of Lyonnaise des Eaux, and then CEO of SUEZ Environnement in charge of water operation in Europe. She instigated a program called “New Ideas for Water” and put numerous reforms in place which all contributed to modernizing Lyonnaise des Eaux.
In 2014, the Board of Directors appointed Isabelle Kocher Executive Vice President of GDF SUEZ, In charge of Finance, then Chief Operating Officer of ENGIE in 2015. In 2016, following the annual shareholders meeting, Isabelle Kocher was appointed Chief Executive of ENGIE.