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Interview with a Leader - June 2021

For this month's Interview with a Leader, APR had the chance to talk with Guillaume Schoebel from Schneider Electric about sustainability and a company's duty of vigilance.

Guillaume is the Schneider Electric Senior Vice President in charge of the Country Presidents Community.

Guillaume has spent 30 years with Schneider Electric in various roles: he started in finance, then after 12 years jumped into commercial operations and had several leadership roles in different countries, and then took charge of global and transversal projects mainly for commercial functions. His will to contribute to the Ethics and Compliance ambition of the company brought him to lead the project of renewing the company charter of ethics: it has been an intense cultural journey that drove him to meet and share ideas with a large diversity stakeholder around the world.

Guillaume has now a dual responsibility: leading and energizing the country presidents' community in Schneider Electric, and coordinating the duty of vigilance plan. To this end he is the coordinating figure of Schneider Electric's duty of vigilance.

This career path was possible for Guillaume as he has always kept an open-minded spirit, who knows that everyone grows form the sharing of experiences and thoughts; indeed, his career summary stands in two words: Experience and Discovery.

Schneider Electric is an international company providing energy and automation digital solutions for efficiency and sustainability. They are present in more than 100 countries and more than 128.000 people contribute every day to Schneider Electric's purpose: "empower all to make the most of our energy and resources, bridging progress and sustainability for all'.

Sustainability is the heart of their strategy: at the end of the day, two key sustainability pillars must be supported: having a positive impact on the environment, and a positive impact on society.

Schneider’s awareness of the preciousness of energy is their drive, tomorrow’s growing energy demand will have to be fulfilled from greener and cleaner sources: electricity is the energy of the future.

Schneider Electric is a worldwide leader in the energy industry, a figurehead topic of sustainability discussions; but what does sustainability mean for Schneider and in particular the People part of the 3P (Planet, Profit, People)?

Sustainability is a very large topic, but it can be summarized with two objectives:

- Protecting the environment and biodiversity by making sure that the company’s activity brings a positive contribution and reduces the impact of climate change.

- Behaving as a trusted and responsible company that contributes to society.

Schneider Electric has set up new objectives and is going deeper into the value chain to reach those goals.

They are planning to become carbon neutral in their own operations by 2025 and to become carbon neutral in their entire value chain by 2040. This implies working both with suppliers and clients to change processes, develop offers with more optimized components and raw materials, optimize energy consumption, create circular processes, …

Similar ambitious objectives are set up regarding the social pan of sustainability: Schneider is committed to have 100% of their strategic suppliers propose decent work to all their employees, all around the globe (health, safety, salary, protection, …).

Suppliers are widely implicated in those ambitious objectives and a collaborative work with Schneider Electric will be indispensable. Transformation, more than anything else, is a human-based process!

Based on your -very- international career, can you point out some ways in which ‘diversity and inclusion’ designs itself according to the country/continent and its perception from diverse department / hierarchical levels?

It is a fact that reactions to these topics can vary depending on country, culture, and politics.

As a global and very local company as well, Schneider is well aware of the cultural reading each country can make, and although they worked to design global values, they still count on the local intelligence to adapt. The DNA of the company is very decentralized, entrusting local teams to adapt the deployment of these values to local specificities. This agility is key to make sure there are no gaps between global values and strategies on one hand, and local specificities on the other hand; this agility also contributes to a strong employer branding and talent retention everywhere.

To illustrate this, Europe and US are currently very receptive to gender equity matters, accelerated among other things by the “metoo” initiative. China is very responsive on environmental matters, as air pollution is a strong concern over there and they have taken actions before other regions of the world.

In the end, the company is very connected to the country society and this adaptability is important for the brand’s attractivity and agility.

Overall, Schneider Electric employees are proud of the global commitments taken by the company. And when people understand and adhere to the ‘why’, Guillaume sees that the deployment and adoption process is much stronger.

For example, the group is working hard on the gender equity objective for engineering and technical roles: globally, there are too few women going in electrical engineering schools. To develop alternatives, Schneider is opening new career paths thanks to internal promotions and multifaceted careers and is also working closely with schools and universities to promote careers in engineering for women.

You are a licensed business coach: how much do you think a company cultural change towards achieving sustainability objectives should be more of a coaching than a top-down strategy? How do you onboard your internal and external partners to step in Schneider's Principles of Responsibility charter?

Guillaume truly believes that two strategies, top down and bottom-up, are needed, and complement themselves.

Top management’s duty is of course to define the objectives in very clear, and engaging terms, and then to communicate openly, strongly and consistently about these objectives. This requires a detailed backstage work to design the group values, charter of ethics and trust, policies, but the result needs to be simple and powerful. Then of course, all the management, starting from the top, must walk the talk!

However, team engagement will never be achieved only by pushing and imposing; lots of discussions, exchanges and ideas sharing are necessary. People need to assimilate the project to be able to be part of it. And problems and difficulties cannot be a taboo and need to be put on the table as well. All this creates trust and understanding.

Once people are on board and engaged, the energy of employees and their drive is impressive: they lead their own change!

Beware though that the company still must keep a strong supportive structure to guide every step of the way. Guillaume for instance organized lots of training sessions, constituted lots of support groups and Schneider has developed specific networks combining compliance officers and ethics delegates to provide this concrete help that might be needed on the day-to-day activities.

How do you think last year's global events will facilitate or slow down the implementation of diversity and inclusion policies?

For Schneider Electric, last year’s events have undoubtedly been an accelerator: lockdown situations have forced companies to move into new ways of working, and although this quick shift has been mostly successful, it has also amplified specific situations or social frictions that are the reflection of existing anomalies. Inclusion will definitely be a “must” to better live together the upcoming difficult times, both from a company or a society point of view. Sharing and dialogue are key to implementing true inclusion policies.

And once again, a company is the reflection of the society that surrounds it: they both evolve with similar dynamics!

A last word of wisdom?

Guillaume remained surprised and inspired by all the positive energy that came from the teams at the time the group was formalizing the sustainability and social responsibility objectives.

Once objectives are clear, realistic, and honest, the willingness of teams to make it happen is so powerful!

For example, when looking at Duty of vigilance, a crucial element is to consider these laws not only as an obligation or a strict compliance topic, but as a success factor for the company: they give meaning to Schneider’s teams work, they are in tune with the Group’s culture, and therefore the talent of Schneider’s employees will be engaged in this path.

And after all, from a strict business and investment point of view, how attractive is a company that has a negative social and environmental impact? Are investors ready to commit their capital to this company in the long term? Sustainability and consistence between the company’s purpose and its business models are certainly one of its strongest assets.

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