Bertrand Porquet: “Leadership isn’t a skill – it’s a state of mind”
Having spent many years as a consultant in the energy sector, Bertrand Porquet speaks to us about his experience, the impact of the current geopolitical situation on the energy transition, and why he recently joined C&S Partners.
Leaders League: Tell us a bit about your professional background in the energy transition.
Bertrand Porquet: My career can be separated into three parts: for nearly 10 years I was a financial consultant for KPMG and an organizational consultant for Capgemini and EY, during which time I met Gérald Bouhourd [co-founder of C&S Partners]. Then for 15 years I worked for ENGIE Group on construction and transition projects. I also held some executive positions for its corporate subsidiaries.
Then came two experiences in energy transition: the first was as strategic director and ESG leader for the Compagnie National du Rhône, and for a subsidiary that managed dams and hydroelectric powers along the Rhone, between the Swiss border and the Mediterranean). I led a major transformation for this entity: it was a very old company, without any real transformation in its history. Currently in France there is serious competition between electric providers. So next year, the CNR will have to sell off some dams and electric power, forcing the subsidiary to become more dynamic, and organized into a private company and not a public one.
Another part of this energy transition experience was in working with the territories along the Rhône. We assisted these territories with developing their agriculture and economy. I organized these aspects with a steering committee, managing revenue distribution and following local solar and wind projects on the banks of the Rhône.
Since 2019, I have been self-employed – the third phase of my career. This has involved two major projects: one was an agricultural and territorial project in southwest France, transforming agriculture for a large number of farmers. For a century, they were trying to develop very extensive and intensive cultures, for which the territory is not adapted. We helped transform this, but also developed complementary revenues, namely through biomass and waste transformation, creating gas to inject into the network.
The second project was at a start-up called Mycophyto, which provides natural agricultural solutions, specifically by exploiting the symbiosis between cultures and microscopic mushrooms 20-50cm underground: when the fungus meets the culture, food growth is accelerated. The start-up helps foster these mushrooms.
Why did you decide to join C&S Partners, and what skills and experience will you be bringing to the table?
I am 53, and figured it would be a great opportunity to work with Gérald, Fernand [Lanca, co-founder of C&S Partners] and other peers. Working alone gives one freedom, but it can be difficult to get firms to accept your ideas. When you share your ideas with peers, you benefit from an experienced team. Most people at C&S Partners have worked for years in the energy sector: we can share our energy transformation experience to make us collectively stronger and more convincing to clients.
Likewise, C&S Partners can use this collective pooling of experience to service clients. For my part, I hope my experience in managing very complex projects, working with teams, negotiating stakeholder networks and business development aspects, and building a strategic vision will come in handy.
How has the current geopolitical situation made things difficult for the energy transition?
It could be very problematic situation. During my time at ENGIE, France, Germany and many European countries developed a special relationship with Russia, Ukraine, Romania and other Eastern European countries, which became not only oil and gas providers but infrastructure partners. Specific aspects of legal documents relating to the resulting infrastructure developments must guide the situation: if we stop working with these countries, we must retrofit a lot of assets and financial aspects, not all of which are easy to be disentangled. There is a balance between ending work with these countries and the scale of engagements we have there. We’re caught between two non-respect agreements: not giving them a rouble, or not respecting the infrastructure partnerships.
Now we must develop new concepts to ensure the energy transition. This is very difficult for politicians at this time. The war in Ukraine could be an accelerator: we already knew oil and gas cannot be a large part of our energy mix, so we must race, especially now, to develop other solutions. But it’s easier said than done: many assets, from wind to nuclear, are needed. Upon news of the invasion, countries such as Poland, Germany and the UK immediately looked back to fossil fuels and coal for the solution.
Geopolitics aside, what are the biggest challenges to the energy transition right now?
Electricity storage. If we beat this problem, we can really accelerate sustainable solutions. We could move away from oil and gas solutions through solar, wind and hydrogen solutions, but alternative energy must be stored. ENGIE, Total, Chevron and others are trying to develop large storage solutions.
One good solution could be power-to-gas: converting electricity to gas, and storing the gas. But this has two engineering problems: the dilution of the power, and the difficulties in retransforming the gas into electricity. Converting electricity to gas isn’t especially complicated or costly. Re-converting it is where it gets tricky. At the moment, we have no solution for electricity storage, and we need to find one.
We also can’t use biomass at scale, especially now, since certain crops are in such high demand because of the war in Ukraine. Many countries are trying to develop biological sources, but more for alimentary energy (i.e. food) than for commercial or household energy.
Which aspects of leadership are talked about more than they are put into practice?
Leadership is not simply competencies like the ability to bring in business or manage a team. Leadership is a quality of your comprehension of the business; it is a state of mind rather than a skill, forged through personal and professional experience. If you understand how you must get to a defined point by working with your team, leadership should come naturally. You don’t learn leadership at school: it comes from experience, managing people, and sharing solutions and pathways with people. The longer you spend in an industry, the better a leader you can be – and being challenged by peers, through support like that offered by C&S Partners, can help bring out or strengthen your leadership.
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