Estelle Brachlianoff’s challenges to make Veolia an « ecology champion »
Since 1er July, Estelle Brachlianoff, former number two at Veolia, took over as CEO of the group, replacing Antoine Frérot, who remains chairman of the board of directors.
After Catherine MacGregor at Engie and Christel Heydemann at Orange, she is the third woman to lead a CAC 40 group. But at Veolia, the transition is smooth and continuous. Last January, once the takeover bid for Suez was completed, Antoine announced this handover. The new general manager knows the group by heart. She entered it in 2005 after an early career in administration. “I grew up there”she says.
An ascent within the group
Suffice to say that this X-Ponts, which turns 50 at the end of July and dreamed of becoming an astronaut when she was a child, is ready for these new functions. A bit annoyed, however, to have been able to read here or there, that she could sometimes be rough in the conduct of business. « I’m just determined »she explains.
In a company, where there are still a lot of « men’s jobs » she learned to be respected and appreciated. In 2008, she took charge of the industrial cleaning branch, then the management of Veolia’s waste activity in Île-de-France, in 2010. The management of teams and household waste collection, misty early mornings, build character. In 2012, Estelle Brachlianoff left for London to manage the cleaning branch before being appointed head of the group’s subsidiary in the United Kingdom in 2013. She returned to Paris in 2018, to take up the position of deputy general manager.
The transplant has taken well between Veolia and Suez
The new boss takes the reins of a company in great shape, which has just changed in size, after having taken control, not without difficulty, of a large part of Suez, its lifelong rival. New “world champion of ecological transition” saw its turnover increase by a quarter, to 38 billion euros, and now has 220,000 employees, or 40,000 more.
Most of the reconciliation work has been carried out, without drama, contrary to what some predicted. The fact that the HRD of Suez, Isabelle Calvez has become the HRD of Veolia has undoubtedly made things easier. “In the subsidiaries abroad, we are beginning to no longer know who comes from Veolia and who comes from Suez, it is a sign that the teams do have a common culture, as we have always said”emphasizes Estelle Brachlianoff.
Developments in sight in energy
There is no immediate revolution to be expected on the strategic level. The new project will only be presented at the beginning of 2024. Impulsed for a few months, certain inflections are nevertheless emerging. “The general public often equates Veolia with the water and waste businesses. We are going to make ourselves better known in the energy businesses, in which we already generate 7 billion euros in activity”says the CEO.
The group wants to accelerate in offers around the energy efficiency of buildings, the development of heating and cooling networks and biomethane. “In France, the connection to the network of all the purification and waste treatment stations would make it possible to save the equivalent of a third of the Russian gas that we import”, assures Estelle Brachlianoff. The group already produces 10% of France’s biomethane. “A local, renewable gas, sold at an affordable price that we can guarantee over time”she points out.
An “ecology of solutions”
With its waste recovery and water management activities, Veolia is at the heart of current issues to move towards a more sober world, with more circular economy, by recycling more plastics, raw materials and, tomorrow, electric car batteries. “The crisis can serve as an accelerator if we do it right. There is a collective awareness, the political will, the money and the technologies that are being put in place. But we also need regulatory frameworks to follow.”says Estelle Brachlianoff.
She pleads for a « ecology of solutions » by pointing to the objects placed next to her desk, notably from what she calls “urban mines”. In a small vial, there are, for example, balls of palladium, a precious metal which is used to make exhaust pipes and which is found mixed with road bitumen.
From « solutions » to be implemented quickly, Estelle Brachlianoff highlights the improvement of air quality and the reuse of wastewater, an area where France is lagging behind other countries: less than 0.1% against 15% in Spain or 90% in Israel. “Until then we felt less concerned than the others”underlines the boss of Veolia.
But with more than forty departments having already put in place restrictive measures, the subject is topical and could push the legislator to decide.