Antoine Frérot at the Challenges magazine’s 5th Economic Summit: "businesses have a positive role to play in society"

On 6 and 7 December at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, business leaders and politicians came together to discuss the theme "Reconciling the two Frances". The debates focused on three divides - societal, entrepreneurial and digital - and on the necessary reconciliation between cities and territories.

Antoine Frérot

In a rapidly changing economic and social environment marked by the disruption in relations between civil society and business, companies are increasingly being challenged about their contribution to the public interest, their willingness to serve all their stakeholders, not just a few of them, and their ability to prepare for the long-term.


"We must devise a new business paradigm"

During his presentation on the theme "Who does business serve?", Veolia CEO Antoine Frérot pointed out that "150 years ago, a company’s vision was about assets, it then became about management and for the last 40 years has been about shareholders, with one goal: to optimize profits. This is why the increase in wealth is unequally distributed. We must now devise a new business paradigm. Business that serves and engages with different stakeholders - shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, territories and even future generations - who themselves engage in it, are involved and take risks. This business vision based on global performance should be devised and implemented."

New collective issues which the public authorities cannot tackle alone, are emerging: protecting the environment, the consequences of globalization, and getting young people into work. Businesses should also be the source of some of the solutions. In this case, they then serve the general interest and not just special interests.


The "raison d'être of business", for a new definition of economic success

In France, the PACTE law, passed on its first reading in the National Assembly, proposes that businesses be managed with "due consideration of the social and environmental issues" and that the corporate purpose should clarify its raison d’être.

"Defining the "raison d'être of a company" means answering the following questions: how is it useful, what does it want to do and how does it want to do it? What are the distribution principles - between its different objectives and its stakeholders – as regards the wealth it creates? By changing the company's objectives, a new definition of economic success that is broader and more in line with expectations will emerge thanks to a measure of its overall and plural performance", concluded Antoine Frérot.