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Suite Talk: Saulo Spaolanse, CEO of Schneider Electric in Singapore



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Not only does Saulo Spaolanse, president and CEO of Schneider Electric in Singapore, love discovering new cultures, but he has committed to ensuring 30% of women in leadership positions, a firm believer in diversity – as Jerene Ang finds out in this interview.

Q. From Brazil to Romania to Singapore – what attracted you to this Asia-based role?

My life was comfortable back in Brazil where I’m from. Brazil is a big and visible market with continental size and almost 200 million citizens. Thus I could have chosen to stay in Brazil.

But my personality is very active. I love discovering new cultures and meeting different people. My career drivers are learning and making an impact in business and in people’s lives by whatever I do. More importantly, I wanted to prove to myself that I could be a global executive. That’s why I made my first move to Romania.

In Romania, I realised there was a lot of need for equipment for infrastructure. This was a place that I tried to take risks and be innovative. After that, I made my second move to Singapore so I can learn new things every day.

Singapore is a perfect place for me. I learn every day from its culture of integrity and hard work, and everyone’s respect for people and institutions.

I am married and I have two kids. They love to live here too and family support makes my journey very exciting.

Q. What has been your most memorable moment with Schneider Electric?

Having worked here for 13 years, I have good memories from Brazil, Romania and now Singapore.

To mention the most recent one, I was very happy to receive UN Women recognition for our efforts in Singapore to promote gender equality at workplace.

My mother has a special contribution in my life. She raised five children practically alone and it has always been clear to me that all women deserve better equal opportunities.

Q. How would you define your leadership style?

I believe in trust, empowerment and engagement. I challenge my team and I accept to be challenged. I am open and direct. I always try to hire people who are better than me and are willing to share what they know. I do not like details, which is not always a strength.

Q. What was the toughest work decision you’ve had to make?

In business we have good years and difficult years as the market is always very volatile. The toughest decision for me is when I need to cut jobs due to restructuring, reallocation of a department or strategic moves. It is even tougher when an employee is committed to the task and demonstrates the right working attitude.

My mother has a special contribution in my life. She raised five children practically alone and it has been always clear to me that all women deserve better equal opportunities.

I faced this situation two or three times in my career. The high side is that I personally tracked the career of such professionals and they are all doing good nowadays.

Q. What’s your view of the HR function, and how can it contribute better to the business?

CEOs, including myself, expect HR to deliver the core HR processes really well. Employees are our most important asset so we must do right by them. This means engaging them throughout the employee lifecycle – recruitment, induction, retention, development. This may seem to be basic, but is important and key to a company’s success.

Beyond the basics, I see HR moving from an HR partner to a business partner, a function that helps CEOs build their vision. In particular, CEOs will need HR support in building the people and organisational capability to deliver the business strategy.

I see HR as the culture gardener, responsible for the DNA and values of the company. I believe the better the company culture and working atmosphere, the better the morale of employees, the better the business results. HR therefore is a key enabler for the business, translating the strategy into the culture and the way we get things done.

Finally, I expect HR leaders to have a good level of understanding about our business, customers and technology.

Q. In Singapore, Schneider Electric has committed to increase the representation of women in leadership positions to 30%. Is this agenda driven by HR or by the business?

From a business perspective, I believe that greater gender balance in global corporations can drive business growth. Many global corporations are scrambling to adjust to new trends such as economic volatility and changing lifestyles. Very often it’s found that a lack of new ideas and a resistance to alternative approaches is a leading cause of stagnation in today’s business environment. Some research also shows that significant gender imbalance at the top and middle management tiers of global organisations has led to a lack of creativity in solving business problems.

One way executives and support staff can address this dilemma is to diversify the talent pool within the company. Altering the profile of incoming candidates will both supplement the skills of the existing workforce and also promote innovation and offer fresh perspectives. To initiate diversity and promote inclusion, the obvious step we can see is to enhance gender balance.

Research reveals an undeniable link between improved corporate performance and diversity in leadership:

  • Latest McKinsey analysis showed that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to financially outperform those in the bottom quartile.
  • Same analysis showed that ethnically diverse companies (in the top quartile) are 35% more likely to financially outperform their peers in the bottom quartile.
  • Companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set (that is, bottom-quartile companies are lagging rather than merely not leading).

Q. What are some policies in place to promote gender equality in Schneider Electric?

We understand that the participation of business leaders is important to make gender equality happen in our company. At a global level, we rolled out the diversity and inclusion policy to promote diversity and inclusion culture, gender equality, women networks, etc.

CEOs will need HR support in building the people and organisational capability to deliver the business strategy.

Country presidents from 24 offices across the globe have committed to “Women Empowerment Principles”, a partnership initiative of UN Women and UN Global Compact to ensure the inclusion of women’s talents, skills, experience and energies through intentional actions and deliberate policies.

Our CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire launched a series of half-day gender workshops for leaders at the management committee level over the last two years. These act as a business case for change and include the assessment of current state of gender balance in our company, analysis of gender balance blocking factors, and solid commitment to a concrete action plan. Almost 20 leadership teams with 300 leaders have attended these workshops.

In Singapore, we are happy to be awarded the inaugural HeForShe@Work Impact Award by the Singapore Committee for UN Women, a non-profit organisation working towards women’s empowerment and gender equality in the region.

I’m very happy to be a part of the HeForShe@Work programme by signing up for WEP Principles with commitment to:

  • 30% of women in leadership positions,
  • 45% of women hires in Singapore operations, and
  • Forming and sponsoring the Singapore D&I committee

The Singapore management team also joined me to play a part in the programme, and is trained on Gender Balance Workshop.

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