Caroline Hopkins described her role within energy firm Engie as one that creates the right environment for innovation. Hopkins, speaking at the La Fosse Associates Fuse event for the CIO and C-suite communities, has a broad remit at the UK arm of the French firm. Her role includes brand awareness and being the pilot for innovation.
Engie is the new name for GDF Suez, the rebranding taking place in April 2015, and the new nomenclature is meant to reflect the organisation’s activities across the energy sector, where its previous brand was closely associated with gas production whilst Suez comes from its place in history as one of the founders of the famous Suez shipping canal. Today Engie employs close to 20,000 people and has a turnover of £2.8 billion. In the UK it acquired International Power, formerly part of National Power, and also operates a facilities management business.
“We challenge all employees to come up with new ways of working,” Hopkins told peers at Fuse. Engie gives employees a week to develop an idea and there is a real sense of competition, she said. “Internal innovations are put through a boot camp,” she said of adopting similar practices to those used by accelerator organisations.
Engie is active in the startup market too with a capital venture fund. “We identify what our top customer and business problems are and then go out to the incubator community.”
Internal innovations that fail are recognised with as much celebration as those that succeed. Large established organisations have grown up on either not failing, burying failure or pretending it doesn’t happen. One of the challenges for large organisations looking to become more iterative is learning the ability to fail.
“We have learned a lot of lessons and we are still learning and communications is critical,” Hopkins said. “Having a best failure award takes away the risk,” she said of why innovation programmes themselves often fail as staff are too risk averse to commit to something that may fail.
Discussing her role in leading innovation, Hopkins made similar points to Kate Simmons, who led innovation at international law firm Allen & Overy and was a panel speaker at this title’s Innovation Leadership Summit: “In corporations there is creativity, it is in pockets. You need to give people the freedom to nurture an idea.
“Getting the culture of innovation has been the main challenge.”