Sonepar CEO, Philippe Delpech, reflects on his three years with Sonepar, and how recent events force us to reexamine how we approach the future.
September 4th 2020, marked the third anniversary of my first official day as the CEO of Sonepar. Even after all this time, people still ask me what I think about the company, whether joining Sonepar was a difficult decision for me and of course, what my strategy is for the Group.
Without doubt the move to Sonepar was audacious, having spent 30 years in ABB and UTC, two global, industrial, listed conglomerates producing high engineering and manufacturing content. While working for these companies I lived in Japan, China, Europe, and the United States, so moving to a family-owned B2B electrical distribution Group based in Paris was going to be a big change. However, change can be good.
I can truly say that after three years, I definitively made the right choice, and that it is really something special to be leading a Group like Sonepar. Looking back, the decision was fully in line with the Sonepar Leadership model: Adapt, Dare and Learn.
It is important to mention that if Sonepar was a listed company, they’d be in the top half of the Fortune 500 list. With €24 billion revenues in 2019, Sonepar is comparable in terms of revenue to Adidas, Starbucks, SAP or Tesla.
The right foundation
The truth is that I have a very pragmatic management style, and I place a great importance on planning, organization, performance, and employee engagement. These aspects of my nature are perfectly aligned with the corporate culture of Sonepar and its shareholders.
Sonepar has years and years of financial strength and discipline, some of the business world’s most passionate employees who we call ‘associates’, and a unique business model that mixes local execution with global leverage.
All of this, combined with almost unlimited growth potential and the exciting challenge of leading the Group’s digital transformation, create solid foundations which motivate me every day, and convince me that the “sky is the limit” for the Group’s development.
Did you know?
Family-run companies have noticeably better results,
with an average annual performance that is 3.5% higher than the global market.
[Source: Ernst & Young / University of St. Gallen Global Family Business Index]
Our people are our future
My mission from day one was to devise and implement a long-term strategy, that would enable Sonepar to keep growing with even more speed than before.
Our customers don’t just buy lightbulbs or wiring from us, they buy technical advice, installation support, logistics expertise, digital interfaces, excellent customer service. Customers trust us every day to be proactive and satisfy their end users. It’s not only a long-term relationship, it is a relationship which lasts a lifetime. We support them, they support us. I have seen time and again, how the standard Sonepar mindset is to exceed our customers’ expectations. We make customers’ lives easier.
During COVID-19 crisis our 3,000 branches remained open even in the worst moments of the pandemic to serve our customers working in critical sectors, (hospitals, data centers, energy production, the list goes on). Sonepar associates’ engagement was exceptional.
Sonepar’s strength is its omni-channel distribution model, serving over one million customers. Sonepar’s opportunity is to digitalize its Enterprise processes and serve our customers with the highest standard of service and productivity.
It only took me a few weeks in the Group to see that any future strategy will have to leverage the engagement of our 48,000 associates in the 48 countries we serve. They are the DNA of Sonepar.
Our formula for success
I believe that the way we treat our customers is a direct reflection on the way we treat our associates. We strive to ensure that our associates feel fulfilled, receive regular training, and are confident working in such an inclusive environment. Therefore, thanks to our associates and their passion for their work, customers feel at ease and are loyal to our company.
Our formula for success is to deploy a combination of performance and care. A lot of listed companies say they care about their employees, but under short term pressure, see employees as a variable cost center. As a family-run company, Sonepar has a long-term view of success. We don’t make frantic decisions or hasty course-corrections just because it will soon be the end of a quarter. We build our financial performance on long-term strategy and associate engagement.
“Our formula for success is to deploy a combination of performance and care.”
A smart strategy is one that is shared widely
One of my management philosophies is that there is no point in having a strategy if only a few people in the company know about it. That’s why I try to communicate clearly and widely about our priorities, our plans and our goals. I call on every one of our associates to adopt that attitude, too. Let’s practice “performance and care” with each other, with our customers, in every country, at every level.
This philosophy is even more important today, because we are living in a disruptive world. Until recently, companies’ strategy was often built on years of analytical past data. COVID-19 has changed the way we look at the world and has disrupted our strategies. Disruption is everywhere, especially in the way digital is transforming our businesses. Today, it is vital to spend more time communicating on the business strategy, which may take more time due to the current climate.
From my first day here three years ago, I saw that Sonepar was not an ordinary company. We are different, and that’s what makes us great, and I am proud to be powered by the Sonepar difference.