Interview with Laurent Abadie, Panasonic Europe
In this interview with CSR Europe, Panasonic Europe's Chairman and CEO Laurent Abadie talks about the role of young generations in Panasonic's vision for the future, and the environmental challenge facing companies today.
Laurent Abadie was the first non-Japanese director to take on the role of Panasonic Europe Chairman and CEO. After joining Panasonic France in 2004, Laurent Abadie was appointed Executive Officer on the Board of Directors of the Panasonic Corporation in Japan in 2008. He continues to hold this position whilst undertaking his duties at the head of the Group's European division.
Abadie's discussion with CSR Europe's Kerstin Born is the second in a series of interviews on the future of responsible enterprise with business leaders from CSR Europe's member companies.
You can watch 4 short videos of the interview or read the summary below.
Part 1: On Panasonic's role in business in 2020
Part 2: On next generations
Part 3: On trends, CO2 emission targets and customer relations
Part 4: On demographic change
Kerstin Born: What is Panasonic's vision of its role in business in 2020? Where do you stand today, and how do you see it evolve in the ten years ahead?
Panasonic has long term vision. We are currently facing what is called a crisis - in Japanese it is 'kiki', and there are two signs: one is danger and one is opportunity. We feel that, currently, there is a danger for companies which are not well-managed or not prepared for the future, but at the same time there are a lot of opportunities to accelerate change and move towards a new environment.
I think we are facing a big change from oil-driven economies, which are not safe or good for the environment, to a new generation which will be oil-free - a new type of economy. This will be very obvious for some industries like automotive - we see that the automotive industry is going for electric, hybrid type of business - but this will be the case for most industries, including electronics.
So, our vision for 2020 is really a different environment where we will have houses and apartments which will be totally autonomous in terms of energy production, energy management, energy storage and energy saving. Your house in 2020 will produce its own energy through solar panels, through heat pumps or through fuel cells. It will store energy in big batteries, and you will manage your energy management from home to supply everything and make your home totally safe with absolutely no CO2 emissions - and we are now prepared for that.
Currently we are introducing products which are very safe for the environment. We just introduced in Europe the first fridge that is A++ non-frost, which is the most efficient product in terms of energy management and energy-saving. This is the first example, but we will introduce many, many new products in the coming months.
In Europe, one challenge is the shortage of engineers today. There are many programmes running so see how we can encourage children to move in that direction. Is there anything that Panasonic does in terms of young people? What is the role of young people with regard to this area of technology?
In Europe we have our own R&D, with engineers located in different countries and a design center in London to develop specific technology that fits European markets. We also communicate with children. For example, we participate in the "Kids Witness News" programme targeting schools and asking children to develop their view on society. This year, we had a contest for children, and it was very interesting to see that most of their work focused mainly on environment but also communications. This is very encouraging, because I think that the young generation is really ready for big challenges in both environment and communication.
Imagine you are in 2020. You are speaking to the generation in manager positions - now they are perhaps in universities - and you look back on the past ten years. What were the biggest challenges for Panasonic getting there and what are the challenges ahead?
I would explain to the young generation how we moved away from the oil-driven economy, which was really terrible for the environment - how in a few years, from 2009 to 2012, we moved to an oil-free, safe type of environment, which I think in 2020 will be obvious for the young generations. It would be interesting to make a recap and explain how we moved from this economic cycle to a new one.
And what do you believe is their biggest challenge beyond 2020?
That is a very interesting question. I think, of course, respect for the future of the planet is the key. In 2020, a lot of things will be done, but still, for future generations, we have to go ahead and I think in terms of technology and communication. There are many steps to develop. I think the world is going to change very much, in a good way - I'm very optimistic.
If you look at the trends currently impacting on business - what would you say are the most important trends?
Our entire R&D today. We invest a very big amount in R&D, almost 5 billion euro every year. We are one of the biggest companies in that respect. It is really focused on energy saving products and making future products safer for the environment.
It is what we call our contribution to the society. When our company was founded more than 90 years ago, from the beginning our founders were thinking how to contribute to the society in biggest respect to both the human being and also for the environment.
Ninety years ago it was really advanced in terms of thinking. And this is where we put most of our focus, in terms of R&D and product and service development.
When I went to Japan in 2008 in April, I was really impressed to see that you had put the reduction of CO2 emissions on a strategic level next to profit and sales growth. Now in 2009, and 2010 approaching, how far have you progressed? Did you achieve your targets and what is the next step?
As you could notice, this is one of the biggest KPIs. Each manager in our group has some KPIs - of course, cash flow, market share, sales profit, but each of us also has an objective in terms of CO2 emission reduction.
We have a big target in three years: a reduction of 300,000 tones of CO2 emissions. In Europe, we have a target of 6000 tonnes of CO2 emissions reduction. As of today, we are following this target every month, every year. And we are ahead of our initial schedule.
Environment is one of the big topics that Panasonic is addressing. How do you manage to get, for example, consumers' support? How do you manage consumers to really perceive Panasonic as a company that cares about the environment and does a lot about it?
We are very keen on informing the customer when we sell our products, making it visible how efficient our products are. We also communicate on the fact that we have green factories: in Europe, our biggest factory, which is producing flat TVs, is a so called green factory - totally safe for the environment.
We also advertise on our very strong advantage in terms of products: energy consumption and the fact that we are not using any substances that are dangerous for the environment. I think that in terms of energy production, energy storage and energy saving, we have a lot of things to demonstrate, which is amazing in terms of benefits - both for the consumer, but also for the planet.
Demographic change is not only a big topic in Europe, but also in Japan. I remember Panasonic's House of the Future in Japan - this was something you addressed proactively there. Could you talk a bit about that?
We have to be prepared for the ageing society, which is the case in Japan, but also in many countries in Europe. By providing new products, which will really support ageing people, like robotics or help in daily life in terms of security, health care and mobility. In short, we have a lot of new activities ongoing in that respect, to support the ageing society. This is also our contribution to society.
Interview by Kerstin Born
Edited by Lisa Hyder