The ascent to the CEO’s chair requires not only experience but often also a great deal of time. Capability too is essential for the role, but it requires even more than that. “You need to want it,” Bertrand Camus says. The CEO of French utility company SUEZ was appointed in May 2019, but Bertrand is no stranger to the firm.
With more than 25 years behind him at SUEZ, he admits that if he had stayed in the same place the entire time, he may not have been with the brand as long. Fortunately, Bertrand spent 22 of those 25 years in locations outside of France.
“Being in Asia, South Africa and North America gave me enough variety so that I could maintain the level of passion I needed to do well,” he says. Such a long history at SUEZ allows Bertrand to be perfectly placed to lead the deployment of ‘Shaping SUEZ 2030’, the company’s comprehensive strategic plan announced in October 2019.
For all the talk about climate change, it’s important to acknowledge the specifics. “Population growth and the needs in our societies are growing exponentially,” explains Bertrand. SUEZ needed a road map to meet these factors head on – even more so considering recent global events.
For Bertrand, it wasn’t just about being a good provider of water and waste services. “We have to be the partner of our clients, whether they are government, local authorities or industries,” he notes.
Being a reliable ally is what makes SUEZ different in Bertrand’s eyes. “Every city has a transition plan for low carbon emissions, carbon neutrality, and preserving the earth as well as the environment. The point is how we can help them implement this, and even accelerate the implementation of these goals, with the best technologies at the best price.”
We have great opportunities so we need to align the company and bring the best solutions, and create value for the customers.
For Bertrand, this means making sure SUEZ is not only able to bring solutions to clients, but also create value for customers and grow the business. But this doesn’t mean focusing solely on core competencies for which SUEZ is renowned.
The new strategic vision also includes a restructure at Group level with the goal of saving €1 billion by 2023.
For a long-established company with over 90,000 employees who are active in 70 countries, and a management system that has been in place for a number of years, Bertrand admits, “Our organisation became a little bit complex with a lot of layers and a lot of expenses that were not always used well.”
SUEZ is focused on six regions: France, North America, APAC (Asia, Australia and India), AMECA (Africa, Middle East, Central and East Asia), Northern Europe, and Latin America and Southern Europe. The goal is to have the teams on the ground as close to customers as possible.
There will also be two global business units – Water Technologies & Solutions, and Environmental and Digital Solutions – which will aim to accelerate the development and deployment of smart environmental strategies on a global scale.
During the coronavirus pandemic the Group was fully mobilised to ensure the safety of its employees and provided its essential services every day to customers. “Fully aware of our responsibility, our teams can be proud of all they have achieved. I am proud of SUEZ teams’ unwavering commitment worldwide. This health crisis will serve to accelerate the environmental transition. It is the only way to contribute to preserving our planet’s natural capital and sustainably improve its inhabitants’ well-being and quality of life,” stresses Bertrand. “The Group became even closer to its customers by constantly adapting our solutions to respond to our customers’ needs. For instance, in the Paris region, or in the east of France, SUEZ teams have been able to deal with the increasing volumes of hospital waste. In the industrial sector, we supported Arkema as it reoriented its production line to produce hydroalcoholic gel. In India, our customers showed us their gratitude every day, particularly in water distribution, essential in the fight against the pandemic.”
During the Annual General Meeting of 12 May 2020, Bertrand presented the Group’s first Purpose. “Our Purpose is a reflection of our calling: to shape a sustainable environment, now! For 160 years, our services have played a crucial role in quality of life, human health, economic growth and the development of new secondary raw materials. Our values are a passion for the environment, customers first, respect and team spirit. They allow us to preserve and restore our environment’s natural capital, today and tomorrow: water, soil and air.”
However, this isn’t change for change’s sake, going back as it does to the central idea of the need to solve challenges. As Bertrand puts it, “We have great opportunities and so we need to align the company and bring the best solutions, and create value for the customers.”
These adjustments reflect Bertrand’s experience with the operational side of the business, and he stresses that it is not just about decentralisation. “It is much more about empowerment and accountability in a disciplined way, with clear objectives,” he says.
“The people who make us successful are the ones in front of our clients, who are closest to the operations, so we need to empower them in an especially complex world.” This signifies a major shift in the company’s philosophy, but an important one that has so far been well received.
When discussing environmental concerns, it’s clear that Bertrand feels there is a lot to be done, but he has both the passion and the ideas. On social and environmental responsibility, he speaks only of cooperation.
“To solve complex issues, you need to turn to a partnership model. So, it is our responsibility to propose business models where we can really be a partner and not tackle issues bit by bit, but propose a global solution,” he explains.
Plastic waste is another example of how SUEZ uses innovation to solve challenges. As a founding member of the ‘Alliance to End Plastic Waste’, which brings together over 50 plastics producers and users, SUEZ wants to tackle the problem head on.
Those that are on board are not only ready to invest in new production methods, but also to take care of what comes next by working to reduce plastic waste in the environment, while maintaining the benefits that plastics bring to people and communities around the world.
It’s a careful balancing act, and partnerships such as these require a large amount of trust – a fact that Bertrand knows all too well.
“Our customers have faith in us, they know that we are a partner, and therefore they are ready to innovate and test new ideas, to develop solutions to their challenges,” Bertrand explains proudly.
New management structures, a commitment to creating solid partnerships and increasing shareholder values are only part of the story that SUEZ is creating for its future.
“We are confident we can extract additional savings, and we need to; all industries in the world are embracing innovation, digital technology, changing the way of doing business to be more efficient, more cost productive,” says Bertrand.
“There is no reason our business will be any different from that.” It’s no secret that technological advances are happening at a breakneck speed. But SUEZ is determined to keep up. This means more investment in R&D with a projected increase in innovation spending of 60%.
Bertrand says, “There are plenty of opportunities for us to create ongoing value for our customers. My role is to decide where we want to operate.”
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