Women in energy: Catherine Leboul-Proust on GRDF’s third gas revolution

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In an exclusive interview with Smart Energy International, GRDF’s Chief Strategy Officer Catherine Leboul-Proust delves into how the distribution company is embracing the changing gas landscape, as well as her experiences as a woman in energy.

GRDF has 200 000km of gas network serving 11 million people, with strong ambitions on the renewable gas side, including biomethane, natural gas and power to gas …

GRDF’s strategy and vision are particularly stimulating and anchored in its society. Our company understood that it must radically transform itself to be present in tomorrow’s energy landscape. It has a very clear vision of its future.

To meet this challenge, GRDF has built a strong strategy, that we call the ‘third gas revolution’, which consists of gradually switching from the distribution of fossil gas to the distribution of renewable gases. This switchover will take place in two main stages, from now to 2050.

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The first stage, which is already taking place, is the development of the ‘first generation’ of renewable gas, that is to say, biomethane. The second part of our strategy is due in 2030-2035 and includes the integration of the so-called ‘second generation’ gases into our networks. These gases are still at the R&D stage today but full of promises, such as hydrogen and synthetic methane.

This huge transformation is at the forefront of GRDF’s governance. The company has recently adopted a raison d’être, “Acting to give as many people as possible the choice of an energy of the future that is efficient, renewable, safe and affordable at the heart of local life”, which is truly the company’s DNA.

We are committed to meeting all the expectations of our customers: the 9,500 local authorities we cover, and our 11 million final customers with whom we work very closely and to whom we provide a solution for the future and the ability to choose, are indeed at the heart of our concerns.

You have led a team of 25 people during the pandemic, what was the most difficult moment for you as a leader/manager?

By far, the biggest concern for me as a manager during the pandemic period was first the general team’s balance, well-being and also, efficiency.

How could I ensure the personal and professional balance of each member of the team, while being far from each other? This point has been a great concern to me, especially when you realise that some people find it harder to cope with the situation and are psychologically affected.

Catherine Leboul-Proust

Nevertheless, I would draw a positive balance from this ‘experience’. This particular period also obliged us to increase tenfold everything that constitutes, in my opinion, successful management: strengthening the relationship of trust, benevolence, motivating, giving meaning.

We supported each other collectively, showed solidarity and succeeded in setting up stronger local management. I am proud of this and hope that, in a way, my team learnt and benefited from this period.

As an influencer for the next generation, particularly for women, at what point did you know that you were on the right career path?

In my professional career, the real trigger as a woman was the moment when I dared to make choices, choices that fully corresponded to my desires and to who I am and not to follow the ideal trajectories expected for a woman in business.

It was when I learnt how to listen to myself and said no to many choices defined for me by others. And it is what I call finding your ‘right ambition’, which is not an easy task!

When did you know that your passion for speaking out about what you believe is critical to a sustainable world would continue to drive you no matter the obstacles?

I must admit that gender has never been an issue or an obstacle. On the contrary, I would even say that being a woman has sometimes been beneficial and will certainly be even more so. That being said, what has sometimes been more difficult, as I mentioned earlier, was not to fit into imposed models, into ‘moulds’, to succeed in my career. I refused jobs that people wanted to put me in and it was not so easy.

I have three convictions: I believe in sustainable development, I believe that a company has a role and responsibility towards the society besides making benefits, I believe that there’s no one single and clear answer to today’s main challenges.

If I must remember one moment, one key moment, that has encouraged me in my job today, it would be an official meeting I attended over three years ago in France aimed at launching the design of a national climate strategy towards carbon neutrality. I heard speeches that advocated one single vision for 2050. Only one option was on the table.

And that was and still is an extremely strong driving force for me, which gives a lot of meaning to the work I do at GRDF. I am convinced that we cannot define a strategic and energy policy with a narrow vision of the future. I strongly believe that we have a role to play in enabling everyone to have a choice between many options.

To do this, we advocate at GRDF a vision where there are multiple solutions and where energies are complementary, not exclusive. Everything shows that a monolithic path is a dead-end, and, for me, this is a very strong motivating factor.

We shall keep thinking about different and evolving scenarios, and that is very stimulating.

Another essential motivating factor in my day-to-day work at GRDF is the strength of the team. The responsibility that I have towards the group pulls me up and makes me want to surpass myself.

Finally, I would add that the openness and synergies that we have created with other European and international energy players, who share the same vision, is also truly stimulating and encourages me to persevere despite the difficulties.

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