Isabelle Kocher: “Everybody’s talking about the energy transition. We’re doing it.”
How are things going for ENGIE and its transformation plan to support the energy revolution? After two years the news is very good: the Group has been able to keep its promises to develop green energies on an international scale. Isabelle Kocher reviews the progress that has been made in Paris Match.
Extracts from an interview with Isabelle Kocher by Anne-Sophie Lechevallier for the news magazine Paris Match, March 25, 2017.
Paris Match: You are giving yourself three years to transform ENGIE. Is this a gamble?
Isabelle Kocher. We have launched a three-year transformation plan that aims to make ENGIE the world leader in the energy transition. Everybody’s talking about it, but we’re actually doing it. People like Donald Trump may be skeptical, but is is definitely going to happen because it is in the interest of a lot of countries, emerging ones in particular. This trend is the way of progress. The good news is that when we began on the plan a year ago, 80% of our business were already at the heart of the energy of tomorrow. We have opted to divest the remaining 20% of our businesses.
How do you answer those who say that the project is a leap into the unknown?
It’s an ambitious plan that aims to make ENGIE an essential player in this new world. It’s not a gamble because the 15 billion euros from our divestments are being reinvested in businesses where we have already proved ourselves. We are also investing 1.5 billion euros in solutions that are not yet mature, such as hydrogen. This will not ensure growth within three years, but it will prepare for growth in the medium term.
How much of these technologies will not be viable?
We are aiming to launch a large number of initiatives, rapidly spot those that have a chance of working and be capable of abandoning non-viable options.
Why aren’t your results at breakeven?
When we announced the plan a year ago, investors and observers said to us: “It’s a good, brave strategy, but can you really do it?” Well, not only have we done it, we have done it faster than planned. We have sold the businesses we wanted to dispose of at a good price. Our share price rose 10% within two days of our results being announced. And we will return to organic growth in 2017.
Why have ENGIE shares been performing badly on the stock market in the last few months?
I have had a series of meetings with investors and I have noticed a change in atmosphere with regard to ENGIE. They welcome the coherence of our “3D” strategy: decarbonized (oil and coal replaced by renewables and natural gas), decentralized (a large part of the energy produced on the site of consumption) and digitalized (real-time sensors, big data, etc.).
Couldn’t this transformation destabilize your employees?
A company is a human structure. For this transformation to be successful, it’s essential that our employees are signed up to the project. Our professions are changing: some will develop, others will disappear. The company’s role is to support these changes, particularly through training. We are investing 300 million euros in training over three years. I also believe in au travail collaborative working and entrepreneurship.
Is it possible for renewables to become the major energy source in France?
Our country has a very competitive nuclear network. It has to conserve this advantage, as long as safety can be guaranteed. We must also develop renewable energies. ENGIE is the number one for solar and wind energy in France. In 2016, we installed renewable energy facilities around the world equivalent to twice the energy production of the Fessenheim nuclear plant. We have increased our growth in solar energy seven-fold. This will enable emerging countries to have access to energy independence without needing to construct large networks.
Isabelle Kocher, the CAC 40’s only female chief executive
Isabelle Kocher is the only woman CEO of a company of this size in France. She works in partnership with her predecessor, Gérard Mestrallet, who is staying on as Chairman of the Board of Directors until 2018. The twelve members of the Group’s executive committee now include three women and five nationalities; in the past, it was entirely Franco-Belgian. Among the 350 top managers in place at ENGIE last year, more than 30% were women. “For a company to be successful,” maintains Isabelle Kocher, “it has to resemble the society it serves.” When she was appointed to her post, she was surprised at how much attention it attracted. […]
In an op-ed article published on the LinkedIn social network on March 8, she highlights an alarming figure: in the energy sector, only 13% of senior management posts are held by women, who account for just 1% of CEOs. Herself an engineering graduate of the Ecole des Mines engineering school and holder of a postgraduate teaching certificate in physics, Kocher, age 50, is also struck that the proportion of women in top-level post-secondary scientific education has not increased since her own days… back in the 1980s.