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Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal Tricoire

The chairman and CEO of Schneider Electric on the estimated Rs1,400 crore investment the company is making to set up factories in India, the importance of empowering local teams, and lessons from his long career

Rajiv Singh
Published: Mar 27, 2023 03:18:33 PM IST
Updated: Mar 27, 2023 04:39:31 PM IST

Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal TricoireChief Executive Officer of French electrical equipment giant Schneider Electric, Jean-Pascal Tricoire Image: Joel Saget / AFP

Jean-Pascal Tricoire loves verbs. Though in power (a noun) for almost 20 years—he became COO of Schneider Electric in 2003, and three years later was elevated as chairman and CEO—the 59-year-old Frenchman prefers to talk about what has powered (a verb) him for so long rather than a moniker, laced with power, that is used to refer to him.

“I don’t know who called me Napoleon,” smiles Tricoire, alluding to the term ‘Napoleon running Schneider’ used in the global media and among the investor community for his alleged reputation to control every decision. “I actually encourage people. I believe in people,” reckons the CEO, who joined Schneider Electric in 1986, was at the forefront of digital automation and energy management at the French automation and software giant, and is stepping down as CEO this year. “Great people make a great company,” he says. “And I don't think that great people obey discipline,” adds Tricoire, who first came to India in 1993 as a backpacker.

Three decades later, Tricoire—who is addressed as ‘JPT’ by his Indian colleagues—reckons that India is at an inflection point in terms of economy. “It is on its way to become one of the top three, if not top two, economies in the world,” he says.

Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal Tricoire

Under Tricoire’s leadership, Schneider Electric has tripled in size, has expanded exponentially overseas, including China, India and the US; and back home in India, it has emerged as the biggest country for the French major in headcount, and third-largest in revenue. The CEO, who does not have a designated cabin in office, says he learns “on the field” and does not have a passion for corporate activity because it can “isolate you from reality”.

He was recently in India to take stock of the electric pace of growth of the company. “Today, we have 30 factories in India. And we are building five more,” he says in an exclusive interview with Forbes India. Schneider exports around 50 percent of what it makes in India from its 30 manufacturing units across the country. “Around 80 percent of the products sold in India are developed in the country,” he adds. Their first duty, Tricoire stresses, is to make sure that everybody gets access to energy. “I've always been convinced that access to energy is a passport to a decent life. In fact, it’s your first step into a decent life,” he says. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal Tricoire

Q. You are not a control freak, right?
I'm just contrary to what you described. I believe in people. I believe in micro economy and not in macro economy. I believe in studying in detail the behaviour of the customers, their problems and frictions. I'm not too interested by the big statistics. Market is big enough. Even if there is a recession, we can still grow a lot if we solve big problems. But you can identify big problems only if you know in detail the life of the people. Inside the company, I don't start by organisation, I start by people. I don't believe a company is a family. The company is a team, and I see myself as a coach.

Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal Tricoire

Also read: Help develop global leaders at your organisation: Schneider Electric

Q. As a coach, what kind of people do you love to have in your team?
A resume without failure is very fishy. People who've never once had a little bit of problems don't have the skin to go to the top. I'm always suspicious when people claim that they have never encountered failure. If you have never failed, it means you didn't try hard and you didn't really make decisions. I'm always interested to see how people repaired their mistakes, and how they took care of the people around them, and took care of the business. Though it’s good to have a look at people who have driven big successes, I would also look at the ones who've taken enough challenges and might have failed.

Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal Tricoire

Q. Have you ever failed?
(Smiles) Of course. I will take you back to my early days. In one of the parts of Schneider, I was in charge of setting up a new business.  I worked like a dog for two years. And then my job got cancelled because Schneider made an acquisition, which cancelled the interest of what I was doing. My second failure happened when I went to Italy to develop a new business. I went there because nobody wanted to do that. So I bought a company, and built it into a small and medium enterprise. But again, Schneider bought a big company in the US, and needed money. I had to sell everything that I had built in five years. So I lost my second job at Schneider (chuckles). And then I went to China, and this time it was a massive success.

Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal Tricoire

Q. But China again was a risky gambit, right? Back then, not many would have been dared to take a bet on China…
I went to China in 1994. Nobody wanted to go. In fact, one of the common characteristics of all my first jobs at Schneider is that nobody wanted those jobs. And this is one of the things I often tell to those who ask me how I become a CEO. I always took difficult missions, and they were off the mainstream. And this is why nobody wanted them. Taking difficult missions with a huge potential of success and failure teaches you much more than positions which are mainstream.

Back then, in the 90s, nobody wanted to go to China because it was hard to live there. But it was also obvious that no other country at that time would present such a potential. And now when you move to India—compared to what and where it was 20 years ago—it was obvious that because of the population, the talent, lack of energy infrastructure, and digitisation, India was bound to be the place for Schneider in the future. It was difficult at the beginning because people are extremely demanding. It's a very competitive place. But it was difficult for everybody, and was probably a place where we should be.  Now we are setting up five more factories in India, which will need an estimated investment of around Rs1,400 crore.

Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal TricoireQ. What has worked for you in India? How did you crack the Indian market?
I believe it's very difficult to make an impact in India if you're not Indian. What this means is I have to empower the local team, and trust them. I don't believe in big. I believe in fast. And if you want to be fast, you have to be local. And if you want to be fast, you have to trust. Trust is probably the big thing that companies forget when they grow big. What I also believe is that one has to be very clear strategically and stick to one’s direction and goalpost. One must be agile. One never knows what will happen tomorrow. Who could have predicted Covid, disruption in supply chain and the energy crisis? People spend a lot of time making five-year plans. But what is the use of such plans if you can't forecast what's happening in the next three months? And what is the interest to globalise the plan if actually 90 percent of what is happening in India is fixed in India, 90 percent of what is happening in Europe will come from Europe, and 90 percent of what is coming in America or in China will come from local places.

In our sector—energy, electricity and digitisation—India is set to see the biggest growth in the world because of the population, speed of the development and the rate at which India is repairing its energy infrastructure. Look at most of the countries around the world. They are either redoing or rebuilding their energy infrastructure because it is not fit for the future. It is full of carbon and fossil fuel. It makes them dependent on the outside world, which weighs on its deficit of trade. The US and Europe are investing billions of dollars and Euros to redo their infrastructure. But look at India. Energy consumption will double in 25 years, and electricity might get multiplied by six times. There is no equivalent of this in the world.

Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal Tricoire

Q. So is India building rather than redoing?

Yeah. And the great chance is that India can build things from the beginning. Nobody has the chance to do so at such a scale. The probability of the most innovative technologies in the future in electrification will be invented from India is quite high. So I see a lot of potential. There is no other place in the world where we invested as much as in India over the last past 20 years.

If you look at this huge future surge in electricity in India, around 55 percent is supposed to happen in the buildings. It's really important that India puts in place a code for building so that the buildings in the future are energy efficient from the beginning. Think about it. Three times more buildings in the next 25 years. Let's do them well because then the pressure on the energy will be much less and then it'll help everything.

Exclusive: 'I'm neither optimistic, nor pessimistic. I'm activistic': Jean-Pascal Tricoire

Q. As a CEO, would you have any advice for the ones who aspire for the top post?
You have to be stubborn strategically. And don't be afraid of making decisions. Because at the end of the day, you will be judged for the decision you make.

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