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Debby Slofstra: “Building anything needs to be bottom-up, not top-down”
The country president of the Netherlands at Schneider Electric, a leader in the digital transformation of energy management and automation, speaks to us about what her role involves, Schneider’s positioning in the energy transition, and how challenges in the transition can be overcome.
Leaders League: Please tell us what your role involves and what an average day looks like for you.
Debby Slofstra: No day is dull. We have 250,000 products and solutions that we are offering in the country; over 50,000 enter the market. All are related to sustainability or digitalization in specific industries, such as data centers or the smart-building market, whether it’s scaler systems, monitoring, machine learning, hardware or software. Digitalization + electricity = sustainability.
I do three core things. 40% of my time is spent managing the day-to-day operations, running the business and meeting KPIs; 30% is spent transforming the business, making improvements on the human side and the sustainability side. We’re a people company that happens to do technique; we’re not a technical company that happens to employ and deal with people. The final 30% is spent ensuring that we get the organisation to a high level of performance on all cylinders.
We have direct partners and indirect partners that we work with on all levels. One of the partnerships worth mentioning is a collaboration between Techniek NL and a number of other partners in the installation industry. Last month we signed a branch memorandum of understanding together with them to improve the level of sustainable packaging in the entire industry. As a company this is something that we have been working on for a few years now, but we want to see improvements in the entire sector. People that are working for or with us must have a green look and a green feel.
When people feel empowered, they can do great things. You just have to help them realise their potential.
What are the most important skills you picked up during your time at Imtech and Honeywell that you are putting to good use at Schneider Electric?
At Imtech, I learned to be myself. People see who you are very quickly, and want to work for people who are real and authentic. If you’re not, people will see right through you.
At Honeywell, I learned processes and procedures, and the importance of a high do:say ratio – do what you say!
Could you tell us about Schneider’s vision for the energy transition, and the specific things it has been doing to this end?
In 2021, Corporate Knights named us the most sustainable company in the world. The reason we won that award is that we do what we say, and our ethos is visible in all our work with all our partners. We are an example worldwide for measuring our sustainability efforts on all levels and helping other companies towards measurably sustainable operations. Next to sustainability, we have a real focus on racial and gender diversity in the company.
Our solutions have long tried to tackle the amount of CO2 that gets emitted; we calculated that we have recently saved the carbon dioxide equivalent of 30 million traditional cars driving for four years! This was measured across numerous metrics: we build products in a sustainable way, our hardware products are energy-efficient themselves, and our software solutions help conserve and monitor energy. So we’re really practicing what we’re preaching at every level. Power purchase agreements bring it all full-circle: the energy itself is greener, while the solutions to get the electricity are data-driven and energy-efficient.
But it’s not just about technique. On a local level we have been busy renovating our own office, which is officially reopening on 12 May, with a view to slashing our carbon dioxide emissions. The renovation of our office in the Netherlands required three “streams”: the easiest is the technical stream, but harder is the people stream. If you want hybrid working, you have to adjust your policies. The final stream is communication. Building needs to be bottom-up, not top-down. We had champions at every level, communicating frequently what was going on during COVID.
What are the biggest challenges the energy transition poses for a company like Schneider, and how does the company plan to overcome them?
Right now, it’s the supply-chain shortages, which are affecting players around the world. But more technically, it’s about connecting data solutions. The construction industry is the same as it was 40 years ago, and is still responsible for so much of the world’s CO2 emissions.
We need to join forces. We’ve invested in companies such as 3D model-makers because we want to join hands with the IT world to tackle these challenges. Companies that started working with IT in the 1960s were successful 30 years later; we need to be similarly ahead of the curve, prioritising data and smart solutions.
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