Engine that drives human potential
Carmen Oprea – Dear Mr. Thierry Blain, for over 2 years you are managing the corporate support functions of SG EBS, from internal control, L2C, communication and CSR to finance-accounting, legal, procurement, real estate and HSE. Considering the growth of the company with more than 1,000 additional employees onboarded during this period, the role is fundamental for ensuring a healthy and steady business environment. What was the deployed strategy in this stage of development?
Thierry Blain – Thinking about the experience in coordinating the corporate support functions of the company during this period, I can say that it was a challenge for me to join SG EBS and to discover the teams, as I had no banking background. My main target was to influence and change positively the business through the deployment and updating of the information systems that would support automatization, simplification of the multiple tasks and existing processes, while increasing the capacity of the company to comply with the stakeholders’ requirements and with the local legislation. The central role of support functions is indeed to insure a steady environment for the company to grow. If I remember correctly, we were 860 employees when I have joined SG EBS, and we ended up 2019 with over 2,500 employees, so we have tripled the size of our teams and I think the support functions have demonstrated their capacity to evolve and to cover all the business needs of our colleagues in the delivery divisions. That is the purpose of a collective effort – neither department could have reached the current outcome without the support of the others.
Carmen Oprea – You are a French executive covering different regional roles, both in Romania and France, commuting frequently between those 2 countries and working with French, Romanian or mixed teams. How would you describe the common attributes of the two cultures and how did this experience influence your leadership style?
Thierry Blain – French and Romanian nations have common bonds, strong historical links and important culture similarities, therefore the adaptability of a French working in Romania or vice-versa a Romanian working in France could truly support any business from any area of activity. I have discovered that Romanian people are a bit more optimistic and willing to embrace changes then my own kind which is more conservative but more attentive to taking risks. My entire professional experience is helping me in the current role to generate changes that bring value in the organization, combining the specific elements of the two cultures for the benefit of the teams.
Carmen Oprea – Do you see Romania as a beneficial business environment?
Thierry Blain – For sure. Shared service centers are going through an era of deep transformation of technologies, information systems, not to mention data automation domain which is just at the beginning of the journey. It is a very strong competitive advantage to be positioned in Romania where we can find high educated people open to embrace changes that are coming in the industry.
Carmen Oprea – Coming to SG EBS and its mixt Romanian-French teams, how is the diversity impacting the working environment and human interactions?
Thierry Blain – The collaboration and dialogue are the foundation of the team’s interaction and the two elements have clearly evolved over the years. Even if our business environment is very demanding and fast changing, I can feel the commitment of the teams, both in support functions and in the delivery centers and this is an extraordinary feeling. The mix of teams, the diversity, the average age of 31 years, are factors that supports and animate the involvement of people in achieving strategic goals of the company.
Carmen Oprea – The number of French colleagues has grown over the years, both in managerial and non- managerial roles.
Thierry Blain – Yes indeed, team diversification is part of SG EBS strategy to and in addition to this, we have also started to onboard non-EU colleagues. This new approach has a positive impact for the mix of cultures within the organization and it is aligning to the Group mission. Societe Generale is a global company, with more than 40 nationalities within its teams. The diversification is a key factor if we want to be a global player. The presence of Group activities in geographical areas other than France is an important element for the future. If we want to activate in new countries banking system, with the mission to support the emergent economies and societies, we really need to approach our business in a fresh and different manner. We ought to onboard more people from diverse cultures, because the diversity of teams brings value into the way we tackle, approach and solve operational challenges, so it is just for the best of all parties involved.
Carmen Oprea – Do diverse teams have different perspective to approach a business challenge?
Thierry Blain – Yes, people from around the world think differently and have various cultural approaches of the day-to-day challenges. I have experienced it in 2012, when I did an executive MBA at ESCP Europe for 2 years. We were 80 people of more than 30 nationalities in each class. During the group works, the mix of profiles and origins of teammates has brought additional value in the resolution of the problems. Certainly, this is also applicable for the teams within the companies.
Carmen Oprea – The organizations, especially big ones, gather their people around specific core values. What are the most important values for you and the teams you coordinate?
Thierry Blain – SG EBS values are represented by trust, team spirit, commitment, innovation and our goals are to bring the organization to its best potential and to embrace future technological changes, while proving performance ethics. For support functions, performance ethic is a strong pillar. We have people passionate about process transformation while being highly responsible and trustworthy, so that any change we deploy is keeping high standard of compliance. An important value is the capacity to dedicate to respecting the internal norms while having a strong commitment to innovation and transformation. One can be an innovative person, can embrace change in everything they do, while being involved into regulation activities and risk management. Those attributes can go well together, they are not contradictory even though it may seem, and therefore the core value of support functions is performance ethic. They are the ones creating normative framework for the company and it is important to be able to help a growing organization which is performing and focused on delivering excellent services.
Carmen Oprea – Within the current business environment, very dynamic and volatile, market leader companies combine solid strategies with the agility and flexibility. On the other hand, humans’ behavior has a certain immunity to change. How do you keep the balance between those needs in the organization?
Thierry Blain – Our core mission is to support the banking Group Societe Generale who had set clear strategical objectives to reinforce its position in traditional markets, as European ones, but also to embrace the globalization of the economy focusing on new zones. In African continent for example, Societe Generale has established powerful means to deploy its footprint. Our role is to support this transformation; as shared service center, we do have the visibility and contribute to the future strategy of the bank. This development is not disruptive or aggressive, it is a well-planned transformation, strategically organized and it brings along the focus to our people. SG EBS is clearly part of this journey of business growth.
Carmen Oprea – Automation in the outsourcing industries has increased significantly in recent years, serving to enhance the quality of services and the efficient use of the resources. During your professional path, you have leaded several projects of workflows automatization, digitalization and process transformation. How they are impacting the organizations and how does it influence human relations?
Thierry Blain – Implementing solutions such as AI or RPA within the divisions having in their scope the technological changes, especially for the repetitive or large volumes activities, minimize the operational risks due to less manual operations and it ensures the capacity of the organization to onboard new activities. In respect of the impact over the employees, the main advantage of implementing AI and RPA is the additional time to focus on higher value-added tasks – prepare better their upskilling, trainings, development and continuous evolution. We should look at AI and RPAes as means for mankind to produce superior services and products. Robotics has been first deployed in the early 90’es in the industrial sector – humans have produced computers with higher capacities of calculation and even though at the beginning some people would say that they would replace the jobs, 40 years after, we could see that it is not at all the case. Mankind can manage more important tasks, higher added value activities, to produce items of better quality, and safer than ever before. I think it is exactly today situation – we are bringing new technologies that will give the chance to the people to perform more interesting jobs. Therefore, we should embrace this technologies evolution because it will create a new niche of services, especially in our sector of activity.
Carmen Oprea – The outsourcing industry in Romania has been growing and it is still expected to grow at fast pace in near future, while the experts estimate that the workforce will double in this sector by 2025. In this context, how do you see the future of the Romanian outsourcing market and the development of SG EBS?
Thierry Blain – In my opinion, Romania will continue to keep its strong position in Europe as a source of services for various economies and activities. Romanian people are keeping a very high level of education, an unusual capacity of practicing foreign languages – I have been working in different countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Check Republic, Poland, Italy and I have never seen a talent pool with such ability to speak one or several foreign languages. This capability is specific to Romanian and it represents a strong capital to keep attracting the development of services for European and Mediterranean regions. Romania has a key success factor that can support its footprint open to global and regional services. In a similar way, SG EBS will be in the capacity to onboard new services and enlarge its footprint within the Group.
Carmen Oprea – Do you think that the image of our country has improved over the years for potential external clients? Are they more open to bring or do business here?
Thierry Blain – It depends on the economic cycles that of course impact the capacity of the companies to invest and to deploy new activities. It is a fact that Romania keeps attracting foreign investors and a lot of new players have joined the market in the past years, not only in the BPO industry, but also in other sectors. Yes, I do believe that Romania has a positive image in the global business environment. Generally, once a multinational group invests in Romania, it remains in Romania.
Carmen Oprea – The final question for all the interviews in this series is the one linked to the development of the human potential, a key element for business that all leaders are taking into consideration nowadays. From your point of view, which is the engine that drives human potential?
Thierry Blain – In my opinion, the human potential is driven by the motivation. Motivation is the key element for humans’ actions, willingness or goals and it comes from the feeling of belonging and trust that there is a brighter future for each and every one. Mastering motivation through sustained and productive practice is vital for high levels of achievement in the business. It is a basic element, the fundamental engine that drives the humans. People are motivated if they can feel and witness the commitment of the company to give them all the means to develop and evolve. Companies are made of people, therefore top management needs to approach coherently the business strategy, but also to focus on people because they represent the vital resource for long term positive evolution.
Interview by Carmen Oprea | ICF ACC (Associate Certified Coach)
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