Mastering the art of sustainable competitiveness

‘Sustaining competitive advantage’ is all about how companies manage to survive and thrive in their environments. It’s about staying attractive to customers and ‘seducing’ them to keep purchasing their products and services for a price that allows for a profit. How do companies do that? How do they stay relevant? How do they constantly align with their customers’ perspectives? Energy and technical supplier ENGIE is a textbook example of a company that has mastered the art of sustainable competitiveness.

Constantly reinvented itself

How? “In its’ almost 200-year history, energy and technical services provider ENGIE (and its predecessors) has constantly reinvented itself”, states Frans van den Boorn, Marketing & Communication Director of ENGIE. “As a matter of fact, right now, we are in the middle of the transition from energy supplier to all-round service provider, taking the lead in the energy transition in the Netherlands.”

Sustaining competitive advantage is the topic of the educational week of MaastrichtMBAs Executive MBA track. Frans van den Boorn and his colleague Burney Kreugel of ENGIE are delivering the (online) corporate lecture. Frans van den Boorn worked with ENGIE for 16 years and before had marketing positions at Philips, Microsoft and MAN Trucks. He studied Business Administration at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. Burney Kreugel is Director of ENGIE Services South. He studied Mechanical Engineering and Business Administration at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences and has been with the company for more than two decades.

Competitive edge

Some facts first: worldwide the multinational employs 170.000 people, making revenues of 60 billion (in 2019). In the Netherlands (6.200 employees) the company consists of ENGIE Energy (generator and supplier of sustainable energy) and ENGIE Services (technical services, 35 locations). In the Netherlands ENGIE is primarily focused on four markets: healthcare, food & beverage, renewable energy & grids and financial & business services (office buildings). ENGIE Services offers a wide range of technical services. Burney Kreugel: “We develop ambitions and plans with top management, take energy measures, replace and/or upgrade inefficient installations, offer green energy solutions, realise smart applications and use data to optimise the operation of installations and installation maintenance. The most advanced way to support our customers in reaching their energy goals is asset financing; by ways of a consumption agreement we offer them the opportunity to outsource the energy generation and distribution completely to us.”

Unique combination

“The combination of energy supply and technical services, gives us a unique position in the market and a competitive edge”, Frans van den Boorn says. “It enables us to make a real impact in the energy transition. We feel it as our social responsibility to accelerate the energy transition, help our customers save energy and realise smart applications. Digitisation and new business models create new opportunities.”

The energy transition has an enormous impact on society, and also on the company itself. Burney Kreugel: “A decade ago, the topic was definitively not on the top of our agenda. Back then we were even worried that it would cannibalise our business because other production and distribution of fossil energy was at the heart of our business. Meanwhile, our strategic vision has drastically changed. We sold our coal plants, focusing primarily on green energy such as solar, wind and hydro, although we still have gas and liquid natural gas to meet the energy requirements in cold periods. We are not there yet, but have come a long way already. We were actively involved in the Paris climate agreement and we endorse the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Shifting focus

Frans van den Boorn: “In society the energy transition has gained momentum. Everyone is talking about it and taking action. More and more citizens care about the origin of the energy they buy and/or generate energy themselves. As a result, the energy market is decentralising. Our focus is therefore shifting from delivering the energy to offering technical solutions for our customers. It’s a big change and challenge for our company, given that we have to guarantee continuity and stay profitable while redirecting the business.” Another big challenge is the shortage of technical people. “Our employees are our most important asset; they install and maintain the operations. We can only sell what the operation can manage. Luckily, more and more young people are interested in working for us, as they identify with our sustainable goals and values.”