FTSE 100 CEO of Intertek and ESCP alumnus André Lacroix on why the corporate world must reinvent leadership to put people on a par with profits.
In the past few years, the concept of stakeholder-first leadership has become wildly popular, partly thanks to the rise of climate activism and events such as Covid-19 or the Black Lives Matter campaign. André Lacroix, the CEO of quality assurance provider Intertek – and an ESCP alumnus – is a vocal proponent of putting people on an even keel with profits.
Lacroix is the author of Leadership with Soul, which charts the systemic leadership model he devised that focuses on putting people at the heart of corporate strategy and becoming ever-better leaders in the process.
The model has made Lacroix successful in his 25-year leadership career. Before taking the helm at FTSE 100 group Intertek, between 2005 and 2015 he was CEO at Inchcape Group, a British multinational automotive distribution, retail and services company.
Lacroix was also chairman and CEO of Disneyland Paris from 2003 until 2005. Prior to that, he held leadership positions at Burger King International and has worked for Ernst & Young, Colgate-Palmolive, and PepsiCo.
To spread the word about why the corporate world needs to reinvent its leadership approach, Lacroix answered a few of our questions.
Ultimately, leadership with soul is redefining capitalism and proving that stakeholder-driven business strategies can generate value for all of society.
Where did the inspiration for your book come from?
It started at the end of the 90s when I was running Burger King International. We had turned around the business in Germany and won several awards. There was a journalist writing a story who asked me a question: “What did you want to do when you were a kid?” I said I really wanted to be a surgeon because I thought that saving people’s lives was the grandest thing you could do. And she said, “That’s it!”. I asked her what she meant.
She said, “People sense and feel that you genuinely care for them, and that’s why you’re able to get the results you’re getting, by inspiring and engaging people.
A few weeks after she published her story, I got a call from a company organising conferences in Munich that wanted to hear about how I lead companies. I had never really thought about my own leadership style, so I said “why not?” I started writing and came up with the ten principles that underpin my approach to leadership, which is about putting people at the heart of your growth strategy to deliver sustainable results for all stakeholders.
And that’s how Leadership with Soul was born.
Why do you think we need to reinvent leadership?
There is no question that companies today are better run than they have ever been. But if you look at the stats, 80% of the workforce globally is disengaged – which means there are billions of employees going to the workplace without passion. That’s a huge call to arms, and it shows there is a leadership vacuum. We need a humanistic approach that puts people first.
Unless you can say “we’re doing the right thing and our people feel great”, then as a leader, you’re probably not unleashing the potential of your business.
What advice would you give to people looking to become a leader with soul?
If you want to be an effective leader, first, you need to recognise it’s a journey. It takes time. Second, you need to think hard about the type of leader you want to be, and the type of impact that you want to create.
Third, you need to work hard at it. It is important to have an open mind. Be confident, know you can contribute, but be open to how you can become better. This book is an invitation for people to stop, reflect, and organise their thinking.
How do you apply the ten principles in your workplace at Intertek?
There is no day in my life when I don’t ask myself: Are we doing the right things to deliver our goals, and how do our people feel? What can I do to become better? Because unless you believe in ever-better leadership, you don’t know how to be honest with yourself.
You might be successful but nobody’s perfect. There is always room for improvement.
What makes this book unique is that it is based on my lived experience. For example, when I arrived at Disneyland Paris, we had a big challenge on our hands. The company had to be restructured because the debt was too high.
The purpose of the restructuring was to find money and to invest in future growth. All the newspapers were talking about the crisis, so we needed to be open with the workforce.
We offered the 12,000 cast members the opportunity to come to roundtables and contribute to strategic planning. This created alignment. And, believe it or not, Disneyland Paris’ entire multi-innovation programme that enabled us to increase business dramatically, came out of the workforce.
It’s a great example of how leading with emotional intelligence and engaging the workforce, at the heart of the strategic thinking process, makes a huge difference.
What has been your greatest leadership challenge personally?
When I was running Burger King International, we were part of a large company called Diageo. It was going through a portfolio restructuring to focus solely on alcoholic beverages. And they were divesting a lot of businesses, including Burger King.
It’s very difficult to run a business knowing that you’re going to sell it. I had to do two things: energise and engage my colleagues and franchisees to continue to perform and do the right thing for the brand and stakeholders, and, at the same time, sell the business to make a return for my shareholders. It was a learning experience.
I’m used to building companies to last, not building them to sell.
What is your advice for the next generation of business leaders?
Believe in the opportunities ahead. Yes, there may be some bad news around the global economy and geopolitics. But I really believe that the opportunities inside corporations for good leadership are immense.
Just go back to the stats – 2.8 billion employees feel disengaged at work. I think the younger generation has a huge opportunity to be true to what leadership is – which is achieving great things with people for all stakeholders, not only your shareholders. And I think for corporations the best is yet to come.