Isabelle Kocher interview for Le Parisien (extract)

 

Isabelle Kocher

You will soon be heading up one of France’s largest companies. What kind of relationship do you have with Gérard Mestrallet, the current Chairman and CEO, who will stay on as Chairman of the Board after May 3?

We have an excellent working relationship! After all, we’ve been working together for 14 years. Gérard has always set me increasingly difficult challenges, and the fact that I am now taking the helm of the Group is thanks to him. I never wanted the role of chairman, and I pleaded with him to remain as Chairman of the Board. It’s come as a surprise, because the French are not used to these governance roles being separated… But the fact is that it could hardly be clearer: it’s the CEO who runs the company. Gérard Mestrallet is the man who founded our Group. ENGIE is now preparing to undergo far-reaching transformational change. So it’s important that he’s there with us.

What kind of transformational change are we talking about?

Renewables are revolutionizing the energy industry. I believe that solar power particularly will transform our world. Not only is it available in unlimited quantities, but it is increasingly becoming economically – and therefore financially – profitable to generate and use.

How do you plan to exploit this new resource?

We will be investing €1.5 billion over three years in new solar technology innovation and development. We need to go much further than a simple solar panel. In less than 10 years, we will be able to apply transparent films to our windows to heat our homes or on our car windows to provide them with energy!

How will this energy revolution impact on your strategy?

From now on, only industrial projects that work towards delivering this revolution will be launched. And we’re Draconian on that issue! We want to focus our investments solely on generating low carbon energy and innovative integrated solutions for our customers. We’ve also made the decision to launch no further new coal projects. The future of our Group lies neither in oil, nor nuclear, nor shale gas. So we are redesigning our entire portfolio.

You’ve just announced significant losses (€4.6 billion – ed.). So how can you go ahead with such an ambitious program?

We are in a loss-making position, but we have published excellent operating profit figures. To deliver this transformational change, we intend to dispose of assets valued at €15 billion to develop the business lines of the future, like renewables in combination with storage and digital technologies. Renewables are intermittent, so the resulting energy needs to be stored, which is where digital technologies have a role to play. We’re planning a €22 billion program of investment over three years, €7 billion of which will be earmarked for maintaining our existing facilities. ENGIE must lead the way and be a trailblazer, by which I mean a force in the market that accelerates the breadth and pace of this energy revolution. With 155,000 employees in 70 countries, and 21 million personal customers, our Group intends to be the international industry stakeholder that will facilitate the emergence of these new energy forms and new patterns of consumption.

Thinking about your employees, how are you going to manage such far-reaching change from the human point of view?

It’s the very shape of our Group that’s changing so dramatically. I’m convinced that we have to create an entirely new governance model, which will focus predominantly on decentralization. The world we live in is changing all the time. Innovation is a continual process that is becoming faster and faster. The result is that some occupations will inevitably disappear. Others have yet to be invented. So we will be investing €100 million in training our employees to make sure that they can find the right place for them in our new Group. ENGIE must be capable of constantly reinventing itself. Not only for its existing employees, but also for those young people who are entering the jobs market. Our Group must become ‘The Place to Be’.