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Emmanuel Faber COO Group Danone, on Leadership & Staying Free

Emmanuel Faber is COO of Groupe Danone, an organisation with 101,000 employees. In this video he shares his philosophy on freedom, the dangers of becoming ‘trapped by the system’, and how he ensures he keeps growing and looking at the next step forward.

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Video – over 4 mins

Emmanuel is Co-Chief Operating Officer, Human Resources, Social Responsibility and Innovation, the General Secretary and Finance for Groupe Danone. He joined Danone in 1997 to head the M & A and Corporate Strategy department. He was appointed Executive Vice President and CFO in 1999. In July 2002, Emmanuel was appointed Executive Vice President Finance, Strategy and Information Systems. In July 2005, Emmanuel Faber was appointed Senior Executive Vice President of the Asia Pacific. He holds seats on the board of various French and foreign companies.

In the video, filmed in front of Wavelength’s Connect Members, Emmanuel describes his philosophies on Leadership and Staying Free:

“I realised very soon in my life that freedom was probably one of the things that I would cherish most. Not freedom just to be absent or distance from anybody, but on the contrary freedom to be with the people I want to be with.”

“I never accepted the idea of becoming a leader, because I think this is putting yourself in a box, and letting people see your name in that box. I don’t even have an office for myself in Danone. I share an office, a space, with other people. That’s my way – I’m not saying leaders should be that way or not – I’m just describing.”

“For me it’s absolutely essential to live a life that’s as close as possible with everyone else’s life. I don’t want to be trapped by the system, and the system sends very strong incentives to trap me. They send stock options, they send big salaries, they send private jets, they send all sorts of status symbols, a big car with a driver. And all of this, at the end of the day, can be a prison. And I’m using them. I’m getting more money than I thought I ever would in my entire life. I’m using my car, from time to time I’m flying private jets, but I’m trying to make sure that I keep my distance with that. It’s an essential part of my life because I’ve seen so many ‘big guys’ just being little kids really because they’re prisoners of that. If you take away their Gold Card they’d die. You take their Hermes tie off and they’re like empty shells. So there’s a big danger. While you grow in your organisation or with your organisation, while you grow in terms of responsibilities, that growth also comes with so many things that are here to impact your ego and keep you in the system. That for me is a big danger.”

“Therefore for me freedom is the one thing I’ve been really trying to protect in my life. And the way that I ensure I do this is by hiring people who are better than me in the tasks I do currently, in order to make sure I can look at the next step. Finance is part of my responsibility, the CFO reports to me, the HR reports to me, the general counsel, the fiscal guys, the IT guys, the quality guys, I have lots of people and they’re all better than me in their own area, so that I can delegate and focus on where I think leaders should be looking at, which is I think creating new spaces; looking at unlooked at opportunities, or risks by the way. Threading in areas where the people in the day-to-day have no time or energy to do that.”

“So I think that ‘being free’, if I have that feeling of freedom, which is a freedom I have shared. I’m not saying I’m not loyal. I said that to Franck Riboud, my chairman before he even hired me, that there is nothing more important to me because I know I cannot bring to the organisation what I can unless I am as free as possible internally, inside myself. And after that to keep that freedom, everybody has got their own recipes, and their own way to connect deep inside with where they feel safe. If you are able to connect with that part of yourself you can face criticism, skepticism, people that attack you in a very different way because your ego is not projected in what they’re trying to say, you are already invested in someone else.”

Read more about Emmanuel on his Danone profile.

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