Former President and CEO of Vivendi Universal Publishing, Agnes Touraine has, since 2003, been president of the French Institute of Administrators (IFA) where she is engaged in the promotion of modernized corporate governance. Among her favourite causes is the equality in the boardroom but also increasing the role of independent administrators and the board of directors as a whole. In the run-up to the end of her term, she expressed her satisfaction at the positive outcome of the report she co-authored with French MP Stanislas Guerini on "sharing company values and societal commitment," some of which has been included in the Pacte law.
Leaders League. The definition of success is personal and subjective. What is your definition?
Agnes Touraine. I define success as achieving the goal we set… including all actors involved.
You are committed to modernizing corporate governance. Why is this a passion for you?
It was born of the deep conviction that good governance is a competitive advantage for companies, as it is for the country as a whole. Ethics and courage are, more than ever, indispensable virtues for leaders. Some see governance as a source of constraint, or confining it to a compliance role when it is much more than that. Sometimes, bosses struggle with boards of directors; they perceive them as a personal challenge. This reaction is mostly found in France, where evaluation is often perceived as criticism or sanction, whereas it is about accepting the insight of others in order to gain a competitive advantage. But governance has made considerable progress in France. We must congratulate ourselves and persevere. We head of all countries in terms of equality, not to mention the low rate of executives holding multiple mandates, the strict notions of independence, and the rejuvenation and diversity of skills present here.
Is passion a driving force for success? Would you say that it led you to take risks and accept failure?
Yes, passion is indispensable. I have run large companies and I have a lot of respect for decision-makers, for all those who have the courage to get involved. Especially since the task of business leaders is very complex right now: it requires taking into account the speed with which the world changes as regards globalization all the while knowing that forecasts are very difficult to establish. To move forward, you have to prepare yourself to be attacked, to develop scenarios and choose the best ones. At a strategic level, there are often several possible answers. Risk control is obviously necessary, but acceptance of mistakes and failures is part of the business of leadership.
What message would you like to share with tomorrow's decision-makers?
Today we are at a crossroads with several major changes taking place. To cope, commitment and courage are essential values and virtues.