HomeThe GenZ Lab"Are the most talented individuals the ones who take action?"

"Are the most talented individuals the ones who take action?"

  • Thursday, June 13, 2024
  • Edmée Citroën

Louis Fidel, a leading figure in the student opposition against fossil fuels, is a co-founder of HEC Transition. According to him, "engaged students are winning the cultural battle within schools." Interview.

How did your activist spirit develop within you?

It gradually developed throughout my time at HEC. Early on, I realized the conventional path followed by students: internships in consulting or finance, campus parties, networking, and then a first job in La Défense. For me, that wasn't possible. Engaging in activism gave meaning to my journey. I managed to build the idea that at HEC, we can take alternative paths without necessarily being a long-haired protester. Around thirty of us are mobilizing to bring about changes in our education. We don't want to merely embody an eco-consciousness through small actions and organic baskets; we want to address real issues such as school financing and curriculum development.

Your first battle was to bring about a change in the curriculum at HEC, which was previously disconnected from environmental concerns?

Some courses were outdated. It wasn't difficult to request a session on sustainable finance, but questioning the broader role of finance and the financial pressures on companies seemed impossible. As they currently exist, the courses produce individuals who, when faced with change, say, "It's a great idea in theory, but it doesn't work that way."

Initially, the administration and professors were hesitant, telling us, "We are not a school for activists, HEC is not Sciences Po."

In macroeconomics, for example, we advocated for addressing the issue of business in a world without growth. The ecological wave is going to hit the business world, whether we are engaged or not. There will be cascading supply chain problems, and we need to be prepared.

Concerning your professional career, what can you tell us?

I naturally gravitated towards the public sector with the intention of working in the fields of management and finance that I had been taught, while also addressing environmental issues. I initially did internships at the Caisse des Dépôts and the Autorité des Marchés Financiers, where I focused on environmental standards within the finance sector. I noticed some resistance to change there as well. Laughs. Before looking at job offerings, I first assess the organization's structure.

Alongside the youth network HEC Transition, you advocate for the ecological transition of companies, and one of the focal points is the repositioning of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) within organizations.

CSR should not exist. Similar to the Ministry of Transition, the goal is for it to disappear. The aim is to ensure that CSR is not merely a form of corporate communication but becomes an integral part of business strategy.

You also propose reinventing management functions. What does that entail?

It's not just about CSR. All management functions need to be reinvented through the prism of climate change. Marketing, finance, accounting, and supply chain – each of these professions must undergo renewal. Accounting is a critical issue. If Total is highly valued and successful, it's because they have excellent financial statements. There needs to be another way of accounting for things; it's a significant technical challenge.

"Ecological accounting should merge the financial and non-financial values of the company."

the objective is thus to develop new performance indicators that incorporate ecological and social aspects?

Yes, but we need to go even further. If accounting remains the same as it is today alongside these indicators, the indicator will be merely an add-on. Ecological accounting should merge the financial and non-financial values of the company to form a final value that represents the true value of the organization. Today, organizations have a debt to nature; they extract too much and give back too little.

You are currently leading a boycott campaign against Total to oppose the mega-project EACOP by the oil giant in Tanzania and Uganda. What is the objective of the #StopEACOP campaign?

Boycott has always been a means to exert pressure on companies, and that is the objective of our campaign. Ultimately, a company like Total should consider phasing out its oil business, which is our goal.

It is necessary to plan the decline of certain sectors, not all of them, of course. Sectors such as healthcare, education, and the arts, for example, should continue to grow.

If you had a magic wand, what measure would you implement in companies to support ecological transition?

Reducing shareholder pressure regarding profitability. This would allow companies to prioritize and think more deeply about ecological transition. Organizations are often demanded to achieve extremely high profitability rates and deliver short-term profits, which becomes problematic when trying to rethink their entire business model. Any disruption in the model raises concerns among shareholders, causing them to withdraw their support. Therefore, I believe it is necessary to reduce this financial pressure, allowing companies the space and time to reflect and strategize.

As stated by the former CEO of Amundi, it is incompatible to expect companies to achieve a 15% IRR (Internal Rate of Return) while simultaneously undertaking ecological transition.

"Engaged students are winning the cultural battle in prestigious schools."

What is your view on student environmental activism?

In the top-tier schools, a highly engaged generation is emerging and winning the cultural battle. The most engaged students have become the symbolic heart of the school and are no longer seen as eccentric or isolated. And I believe this is just the beginning; the Greta Thunberg generations are yet to come.

As for our mobilizations at HEC, about half of the students are "benignly indifferent." They support the cause without directly participating, and this silent majority of sympathizers is growing significantly. Approximately a quarter of the cohort is highly engaged and motivated.

I believe that being engaged makes individuals more interesting and valuable. It is more beneficial for a company to have someone who is actively involved. In 5 or 10 years, the current students will access positions of responsibility, and the networks they are building will begin to have influence.

Regarding the rise of activism, more and more people are willing to expose themselves, take risks, and it becomes less intimidating and more "normal." This fight also brings a lot of power and energy.

So it's no longer subversive, the fight is becoming the norm?

Not exactly. Not everyone is ready to engage. But it is becoming more and more the norm.

Doesn't activism ultimately also enable professional integration?

Personally, that's not what I'm seeking. But I believe that being involved in building projects is indeed much more interesting. It's a skill set. I think it's about profiles that are both more dynamic and more in tune with the times. Activism opens doors that we wouldn't have considered before.

"HEC allowed me to become politically aware, through opposition."

Has activism become a new soft skill?

Why not? I believe that, given the choice, recruiters find it more interesting to select someone who is willing to challenge the status quo and who wants to make a difference. These are not typical profiles. I think that the best talents are those who take action and make things happen.