Cécile Bernheim, CEO
President and Founder of S2E Partners

Digitalisation: putting people at the centre of the technological progress

Sherpany: Digital leadership is one of the latest buzzwords when it comes to tackling the challenges and opportunities related to digitalisation. What is different now compared to 5 years ago with respect to digitalisation?

Cécile Bernheim: A few years back, digitalisation was a topic for specialists. Now, it has become a topic for everyone, since digitalisation impacted us all with the development and usage of smartphones, apps, the web, e-commerce and technology, in general. Even in the case of companies, digitalisation has shifted from an expert's question to everybody's question. It is marking everyone, one way or the other, through big data, the development of software, factory 4.0. etc.

More and more individuals are involved in digitalisation, so it is fundamental to take the human factor - people - into account.

It's even more important when you are in a leadership function to make sure that, first of all, you involve everyone, not just the IT department, the Data managers or the Chief Digital Officers, but also people from R&D (research and development), production, commercial. Secondly, you need to bring everybody on board, so you have to inspire your staff by explaining what's going on. That way you involve them and get their commitment faster. You can do more and more with digitalisation, and that would be expected in terms of technological progress, but it's not only about technological progress, it's also about people. In my view, that's the main difference in digitalisation practices over time.

Sherpany: From a C-level perspective, what is key to mastering a company's digital strategy and digital assets?

Cécile Bernheim: It's key to have the vision, and ask the right questions: where do we need to introduce digitalisation in our systems, processes, way of working so that we keep abreast of what's going on and keep ahead of competition? This will help a company be more efficient, quicker, more precise.

Digitalisation is a way to reach company’s goals
and improve operational excellence.

Take for example the automotive industry. If you go on a company plant in an automotive industry, you can see everything is automatised. Automatisation is based on digitalisation. Consider companies that are very good in the distribution arena, as well. One example is E.Leclerc, the French company, that has very powerful customer programs. They are mastering the data through very precise CRMs (Customer Relationship Management), building promotion and retention plans that fit every individual - it's really micromarketing based on digitalisation.

Another example is the e-commerce Leboncoin, a website where you can buy and sell things. Its core business bases itself on using data and algorithm that allows people to sell or buy efficiently. It's important to see in the end, based on your own industry, where to be good at digitalisation, and then digitalise.

Sherpany: Organisations with women in leadership positions seem to have decreased in the number of board seats held by women, according to a report by Deloitte. For example, women serving on CAC 40 boards are now counted at 42%, compared to 2015 when numbers showed 48%. How do you see this trend in connection to leadership practices, especially in countries such as France?

Cécile Bernheim: France is at the leading edge when it comes to women on board, thanks to the Copé-Zimmermann law which enstore quotas. The quota states that a board needs to have at least 40% of one gender, so it has either 40% women and 60% men, or 40% men and 60% women. Since the law passed in 2011, the percentage of women on boards automatically increased from about 13% - 15% to above 40%, and that's for CAC 40 companies only, proving the importance of being proactive to foster change.

At start, chairmen and board members elected women to be compliant with the law. Now they continue because, looking back in the mirror, many boards are recognising that it was beneficial for the company: changing the atmosphere in the board room, having more rounded and deep discussions, generating more value.

You may see the female representation evolving overtime, always within the 40% minimum threshold. This is only normal and linked to the election/re-election process and the fact that board will always ensure to have the best talent, male or female in their board. For example, the French energy company, ENGIE had at one point over 60% women in their board, which meant they were no longer compliant with the law. It's not about 40% and increasing the number, it's really being respectful of the law, with a 40% minimum of one gender.

The next step is to go from 40% women representatives on board to 40% in the executive committees, in the leadership teams. We need to make sure that men on boards and chairmen really understand the value of women in leadership positions. This is clearly recognised by external entities through various reports on explaining how women are creating better performance, creating better atmosphere in the boards and so on. These women are becoming role models, and this is very important as there were few women role models up until now. At present, we are not there yet, and this is really where things need to move.

Sherpany: Former CEO of Lenovo in France, Mrs. Elisabeth Moreno, mentioned in an interview that "mastering digital technology is a factor for women to progress in their careers". In your opinion, how does digital fluency create leadership opportunities for women?

Cécile Bernheim: I think companies are slowly but surely changing, a lot of top companies have diversity programs to promote women. Women really need to dare, to put forward their talent and skills, so that they can get leadership positions. As mentioned previously, companies are developing their business with the help of digitalisation, and women - the few that are in tech - who are digital experts or are digitally agile will clearly have more opportunities offered to them, just by the essence of the numbers. Women are as competent as men, no question about that.

Sherpany: What do digital leaders look like and what is your advice for those who aim at becoming digital leaders?

Cécile Bernheim: The big difference is the importance you attribute to people in digitalisation. I think a good digital leader is someone who is able to inspire, to have a vision, to include digitalisation in his/her vision, and be able to share this with all employees. The leader needs to make sure it's not something which is imposed top-down and that everyone has an active role to play, understand their role in the development of the company and its digitalisation process. It's not only a question for leaders, but for everyone: how can I impact the company through what I do?

These type of leaders are curious people, open to what's going on in and outside of the company; they are able to call upon talent and expertise, either internally or externally so that they can enrich their vision and the programs they're building. I also think that they need to be humble enough to try things and recognise when something is not going the way it should be, stop, change and go in another direction. This takes agility and humility, because the world is not - as French say - a "long fleuve tranquille" (a long calm river).

The world is uncertain, marked by changes such as globalisation, the evolution of economy and technology. If you are not ready to understand the different facets of any given situation, then you won't be able to manage this uncertainty, more so in a digitalised world.

Sherpany: Thank you, Madame Bernheim.

Cécile Bernheim, CEO
Cécile Bernheim, CEO
President and Founder of S2E Partners
Cécile Bernheim is President and Founder of S2E Partners, a strategy firm that advises CEOs of small and mid cap companies on strategy and execution, in fast moving consumer good and pharmaceutical companies. Before that, for over 20 years, she held senior executive positions at the Coca-Cola Company in General Management, Strategy, Sales and Marketing roles, in France and internationally. She also acted as Strategy Consultant with Bain & Cie. She started her career in R&D in the Pharmaceutical industry. Mrs Bernheim is co-President of Professional Women's Network Paris, too, a dynamic networking and leadership development platform promoting equality in the workplace and advancing professional development of women. Certified Non-Executive Director from ESSEC, she invests in start-ups and acts as member of strategic committees. Mrs Bernheim is a pharmacist and biologist, holding an MBA from IMD Lausanne.

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Approfondimenti e Risorse

Andrea Ratzenberger, AISCA & Sherpany

Sherpany entra nella Top list 2020 di Forbes Italia


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