Vice President, Sustainability, Public & Government Affairs at Énergir
Mr. Frédéric Krikorian is Vice President, Sustainability, Public & Government Affairs at Énergir. He has over 20 years of experience in public affairs as well as an expertise in corporate social responsibility with an emphasis in the natural resources and energy sectors. He worked in government sectors and with associations before joining Énergir in 2005 where, amongst other roles, he has been responsible for the development of renewable energy projects.
Frédéric has a master’s degree in Corporate Social Responsibility from Nottingham University Business School in the United Kingdom. He has participated in conferences and written articles on implementing social responsibility practices and strategies for companies in the energy sector.
He co-chairs the board of SWITCH, the Alliance for a Green Economy, and sits on the board of directors of Ruelle de l’avenir, Quebec Business Council on the Environment (CPEQ) and Center for Interuniversity Research and Analysis of Organizations (CIRANO).
Work and impact
How is sustainability/social impact integrated in your work?
I’m the VP responsible for Sustainability at Énergir and we’re an integrated energy company. We are at the core of the energy field, I’d say. My responsibility is to develop strategies and influence our people in the organization mainly with regards to climate change. Not that other issues are not important, but in our field it’s the main issue we face and the main impact we have to manage. So on a day to day basis, that’s what we do. We work on strategy, we work on project development, or we work with operations to reduce our environmental and climate footprint, and we work on how we can provide more sustainable energy solutions to our customers.
What are your past and current areas of focus in a few words?
Well I’ve been in the sustainability field for 15-20 years now, but over the last few years, it’s moved a lot towards climate change. We have our community involvement and various social and environmental issues that we’ve dealt with, but for the last 7 years, it has really moved towards climate change, and we had to develop an expertise in house to address these issues and find solutions. So I’d say it was a broader sustainability focus in the past, which has narrowed over the last few weeks years to climate change.
How did you enter this space?
Well, I took a certificate in Public Relations at McGill at the time back in 2004 and had an issues management class. That was the first time really, I had to deal with corporate social responsibility. So how you deal with stakeholders, how you integrate their interests and preoccupations and issues and business thinking and how you take that into account when you develop your business strategy. So, it was the first time I was, working in that field and I really did love that. I was working at Énergir at the time and so in 2008, I took a leave of absence and I went to the UK to study that field in particular through a master’s degree in corporate responsibility which at the time, you couldn’t find that much in business school. There were MBAs with one or two CSR courses, but a whole program around that didn’t exist. There was a research center in the UK with people coming from all around the world to study that field in particular. So I took a year and a half and went there. That’s really where I learned so much about it and gained the expertise. That’s how I entered the field and have been doing that for all these years.
Did you always want to work in the impact space?
My first job was in politics at the end of the 90s. I had always studied political science, and I was involved in various youth organizations at the time, so I think I always felt the need to work in a space with some kind of an impact on society. At the time, it was politics, then it was more in the business field, but my aim was not necessarily about making money, but more about having a positive impact on society. And how can a business do that? By hiring people, working with communities and customers to improve their quality of life. So, I think it always been part of what I wanted to do and was able to do that whether in politics or business.
What are you most excited about that has been happening in your industry/field for the past few years?
Climate change is really the main challenge of our times, and I’m in the energy business, and energy is really at the core of that, whether as a problem or as a solution. I think that’s what’s challenging or exciting is that we can really make a difference by finding solutions by developing new types of energy and technology, to reduce our impact on the environment. It’s a field where when you have this background, and when you think about how you can make things more sustainable, there’s room for that, because that’s what we have to do to save the planet, is to think differently, to bring new solutions, to develop new technologies and ways to produce and deliver energy in a more sustainable way. So it’s great waking up each day and thinking about how you can help achieve that.
Are there any misconceptions about your profession or industry?
A lot, because for some people, energy is the problem. We deliver and produce renewable energy, like solar and wind and hydro, but we also deliver natural gas. So for some people we’re part of the problem because we’re partly in the fossil fuel business. So talking about sustainability in that field, for some people may be seen as greenwashing because it cannot be sustainable. But for myself, that’s where you can have an impact. If were selling electrical vehicles, that would be great. But I wouldn’t be really changing things I feel, or transforming a business or a field. Now we have to move from a certain way of thinking and producing energy to finding solutions. That’s what’s challenging. So sometimes people see it as ‘Wow, that’s great, you’re really changing things for the better’ and for some people ‘Well, you’re just greenwashing and trying to sell something by painting it green.’ So we have to deal with that, but as long as you believe in what you do, and how you can really have an impact, I think you can get over that.
Life and aspirations
What does a typical workday look like for you? What’s your work-life balance like?
Well, a typical workday before COVID would have been traveling across Quebec and meeting environmental groups, meeting citizens group in various regions, meeting elected officials and municipalities to discuss energy projects and solutions, and implement projects. Whether it’s about the social acceptance of a project you try to implement in one region, whether it’s with the government to get their support or regulations to support new energy projects. Working with people inside the business to make sure we manage the impacts of our projects and how we can develop better projects. So really at the frontier of the internal and external challenges and trying to bring people together; bring external preoccupations in and try to influence people in the business. And also be able to explain to our external stakeholders what we can do, and what are our limits. So it was really about building bridges, building relationships, and pushing the business forward to change practices, and to be more sustainable. Now I do that on a screen for 12 hours a day. It’s really a job with a lot of social networking. The other part that is less visible is how we work with our management teams to reflect on the business and the strategy for the next 10, 20, 30 years, and how we can make decisions today that influence the course of action for the future. These are more reflections and conversations about strategy, about the skills we need to develop to be able to meet these new challenges.
If you like what you do, it’s not much of a job. But still, you need to be careful and not just do that but do other stuff. For this kind of job, it’s important to be able to get out of that, and be more aware about what’s happening around you, because as I said, it’s about sustainability, it’s about improving the quality of life of people, it’s about taking into account the issues and preoccupations that communities and people have, and how you can work around that. So it goes beyond your job, it’s about how you connect to what’s happening around you. So you need to get out there and talk to people. I have 2 boys, they’re now almost 18 and 20 years old, so they’re more men than kids now, so that also raises awareness about what’s important to them. And what I do, I can help them, and their generation have a better world to live in, so it all comes together at one point.
What parts of your job do you find most challenging?
It’s really to align internal and external expectations. We deal with the external environment, we’re maybe more aware than some of our colleagues about what’s happening out there, what the trends are, and what our business environment will be in 2, 5, or 10 years. But we have people that are working on projects, and they’re not as aware about that, so there’s a lot of education to help them see what’s happening around us. On the other end, we have to manage external expectations for some people who think it’s easy, you just have to do this and that, and you’re gonna produce wind and solar power since the technology is there, and it’s gonna be cheap. And they may think ‘why aren’t you moving faster?’ You have to manage these expectations and try to align that. So I’d say that’s one of the most challenging things. The other thing is that things are moving faster and faster and faster, and you continuously have to adapt and the right solution today may be outdated if you don’t move fast enough.
What’s next for you, what are your long-term goals (if you have any)?
I never had long term goals, honestly. I had an idea of what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to contribute, and I always found ways to do that. So now I like what I do, I have fun, I think I can contribute and I’m at the right place. Honestly, I don’t think about the next 3, or 4, or 10 years.
Advice for the next generations
What are 3 key skills required in your position?
It’s about being aware of what’s happening around you, and how you can translate that to bring people together. It’s about listening, about mobilizing or convincing people. So these abilities to convince and communicate, and also be able to challenge and in a constructive fashion. Don’t take things for granted. This is how we do the project, but are you sure it’s the right way or that you cannot do that in different way? There is a way to do that, but you need to be able to constructively challenge people and the status quo. Communications abilities as well, to mobilize, convince, and challenge innovation.
Whether it’s from your own path or the ones from your colleagues and friends who have a similar profession, how important is it to have a specific degree to be able to work in your industry/profession?
I’m not a good model for that, I have a bachelor’s degree in political science, and then I studied CSR. But lately in my career path I think it’s more about how you’re able to develop a way of thinking and how you see things and getting the relevant experience. Today how you do work is not the same way you will in 15 years. You need to have a broader view of things, you need to have holistic approach of business and society. I developed that through real life experience more than in school. I think people go to university, then get real life experience, then go back, because you’re gonna have a better idea of what tools you need to move forward. But young people do their bachelor’s degree, their master’s degree, they get an MBA, and then they get real life or work experience. So I think you need to be able to do a bit of both and really get that real life experience, develop the social skills, a broader view of things, and then get the academic tools to support that. When I studied CSR, it was influenced by an approach, which is called Strategy as Practice, which is really about what Henry Mintzberg developed at McGill. It’s not implementing something top down, and it is what it is because strategy theories tell us this and that. It’s really about the practice and how people build these practices while they’re working, and then it becomes an organizational way of doing things. So I really believe that people are gonna build strategy or influence practices and operations more than that there is a way to do stuff, and that’s how we learn it, and then you implement it, and then something’s gonna come out of it.
What are some personal characteristics that you value in someone you’re interviewing/working with?
It’s about social skills. There are a lot of people who talk too much, but you need to show your ability to listen, and have an ability to understand the other person with empathy. If you want to influence someone, it’s not just about your own ideas, but more about understanding where the other people come from and what their reality is and how you can connect to that. I want to be someone that will ask questions, sometimes tough questions, and be able to challenge. Someone who’s able to listen, to show empathy, but also on the other hand, in a good fashion be able to ask the right question, and don’t take things for granted.
Knowing what you know now, would you have done something differently with respect to your career? If not, why and what is your best life or career advice for youth?
Well, I don’t know if I have enough perspective to look back now and really be objective about that, but I think that what I would say is to have a purpose, not a plan. What’s your purpose, what do you really want to achieve more than ‘I need to do this and that and that and that’ to achieve that thing. As we said, things change, things move, the world’s really spinning around. So what you’re planning on doing today and in 20 years, well it just might fall apart next year, but if you have a purpose, you’ll be able to adapt to a changing environments and it’s gonna remain relevant. That’s what I would recommend, even more these days than in the past. If you have a purpose, you know what you want, you know how you can have an impact, then you’ll be able to seize the opportunities when they come.