The mission of the French, family-owned company is to advance the industrial internet of things. Vincent Sabot explains why the first “I” in IIoT should also stands for infrastructure.
Kurrant Talent: Can you tell us about LACROIX – City, your positioning within the LACROIX Group, the solutions you offer and your international presence?
Vincent Sabot: LACROIX Group is a French, family-owned business with around 500 million Euro annual turnover and 4,000 employees. Most of the turnover (65 per cent) is made outside of France. The group is structured in three areas of activity: electronics-based products such as IoT devices; smart environment devices; and smart mobility, which has just rebranded from LACROIX City to just City.
City employs around 600 people and is responsible for 100 million Euro annual sales with six engineering industrial sites and offices in Belgium and Spain. This is our geographical spread in terms of teams but we are involved in projects around the world, including in Greece, Russia, Africa, US, Latin America and Australia.
At City, Our mission is enabling public and private customers to transform street and road infrastructure into fluid, secured and sustainable living environments thanks to useful and robust connected technologies.
The mission is to advance the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and I like to say that, for us, the first “I” also stands for infrastructure
We are focused on making streets and infrastructure more intelligent, what we call ‘IoT ising’ it. We approach this from four angles: street lighting; road signs; traffic management and vehicle-to-everything (V2X). The latter represents a landmark development because it is necessary for the future of autonomous vehicles that we are preparing for.
The mission of the LACROIX Group is to advance the industrial internet of things (IIoT) and I like to say that, for us, the first “I” also stands for infrastructure. Basically, we are an industrial company. We undertake R&D and turn raw materials into devices which incorporate electronics and, increasingly, a means of communication. We are also developing a platform to gather data from these equipments.
KT: What is the LACROIX – City’s first smart city vertical in terms of revenue generated and expected growth in the next five years?
VS: Today, we see street lighting as the leading vertical. This is quite interesting because when I started in the job a few years ago, I would have thought that it was traffic management but street lighting is a double-digit growth market and traffic management is a single digit one. And the reason for this is that the business case is more obvious for street lighting. For instance, an operator can renovate their luminaries by moving to LED and installing an intelligent system to manage it and know there will be cost- and energy-savings. Then they can add devices or sensors on to the network for traffic management where the business case is not so obvious.
You will get maybe less congestion maybe less pollution but not necessarily immediate cost-savings. However, I think these will come as we see the rise of semi or fully autonomous vehicles. The different regulations in different countries are also a hurdle in traffic management. It makes it difficult to bring good ideas from other cities, which is not the case for street lighting.
KT: Human capital and unleashing individual energies were the third pillar of your AMBITION2020 strategic plan. Can you tell us a bit more about that plan? And looking back now, what are the main lessons learned?
VS: The plan was to help move LACROIX from a French-owned, family company to a more modern and international one. We have a good reputation, good products and good people but we wanted to modernise the business. The main thing was to identify the skills and resources we needed to implement a set of modern management methods and management culture that you would see in a larger or midsize international corporate or even in a start-up. This was a transformative programme and the results have been good. We have just done a review with all of our employees and the feedback is good. It shows that our management culture has matured and we are now using the kind of HR management tools that you would see in international companies.
This is important because the next phase is really to go broader on the International front. It is also less about transformation and more about building agility and resilience, which nowadays is very much what all companies need, especially in the pandemic. The plan was all about building the base to be in position for further growth.
In terms of main lessons learned, we have to go further in building the management culture to ensure the organisation is resilient and agile for the future and this is my personal conviction as well as the vision shared by the executive board. With transformation, it is easy to say we want to go from A to B and C. But with strategic planning these days it is becoming difficult to decide if you should go to C, D, E or F. You can have different scenarios when you plan but the key thing is to ensure you have the management capability to manage opportunity and risk.
This phase is less about transformation and more about building agility and resilience, which nowadays is very much what all companies need, especially in the pandemic
Of course, you need a vision of where you are going but the teams need to understand that it’s not about a mechanical transformation anymore but rather about having the capabilities to handle situations flexibly without losing the purpose and vision.
This can be difficult to bring into an organisation. Implementing basic management schemes, processes and standards – all things that have been done elsewhere – is not necessarily easy but it’s more doable. So, it is going to be interesting for us as an organisation because we don’t know exactly where the journey will end.
Of course, we have a set of targets of where we want to be in terms of positioning and so forth but there are multiple ways we could get there. And this is what we need to get our management and teams comfortable with. This is not always easy in an industrial company as people are used to rules and rituals. Yes, we need to still be structured but we also need to build agility and resilience into our DNA.
KT: LACROIX – City has now entered a new strategic plan that will take you to 2025. What are the key requirements in terms of talent management to reach the objectives set in your plan?
VS: We will be hiring in a number of different areas. As well as needing more people for our factories and sales teams, we need specifically to look at project management skills, whether for internal development projects or external customers. This is because we see a growing portion of project work, especially internationally. R&D will also be a big area for us.
Clearly, we will need people with mechanical skills and electronics and software specialists, including those with expertise at the edge as that will be an important part of the value we can bring to a customer. We will need software architects, coders and testers – the full scope of software skills as this will be the biggest portion of our work internationally. And when we open in a country, we won’t just hire a sales team but technical and after-sales talent as well as we don’t think it is enough just to have a sales person or a team of sales people even if a product isn’t produced in that country.
Those with expertise at the edge as that will be an important part of the value we can bring to a customer
You really need to get a bridgehead into a country and that can take significant effort. If you set up an office with, say five or 10 people, it is much harder to recruit than if you have a few hundred people, because nobody knows you and similarly you don’t know if you are getting best-of-breed talents.
In terms of geographies, we are looking to develop Germany further as we have a group presence there and would like to progress on the City level, especially for street lighting. We already have some openings there and we will probably look at other larger markets in Europe, such as Italy and maybe the UK. We also have potential leads in Eastern Europe. From a City and group perspective, North America and Canada are important markets that we want to develop.
My colleagues are also looking at Asia and we opened an office in Singapore two years ago but I’m a little bit more cautious about Asia from a City perspective. In France we are number one across our portfolio and among the leaders in Europe so our priority is to continue to build on this.
KT: You bring more than 17 years’ experience as C-level in large companies like Siemens and Alcatel/Nokia but you have also been at Sigfox for almost three years before joining LACROIX – City. How much did your experience at Sigfox impact your management style and the way you interact with your teams?
VS: I learned my management techniques in managing international and remote teams in larger companies like Alcatel and Siemens. What was interesting about working at Sigfox was that when you work in start-ups you have a ‘believers’ atmosphere. People are there because they believe in what’s happening, which is not always the case in large companies. When the strength of vision and mission is extremely high, this creates a strong bond and alignment between people. So, at Sigfox, it was a case of, ‘we believe in the technology so we’re going to fight like hell for it’.
For a manager this means you are dealing with highly motivated and active individuals who haven’t just joined the company to have a job but to fulfil the vision and mission, which is a dream for every company. And this is something, of course, we are starting to build in LACROIX but it’s much more difficult in a traditional company. High growth demand is also inherent in a start-up but there is also more opportunity to do things differently.
At Sigfox, we had a melting pot of different experiences. Also, the way you interact with teams can be more direct and frank at a start-up and it is less structured. This is good because if you start to structure too much you lose some of your energy as a company. So, when moving to a larger company, it makes you think, ‘OK, what do we do that we really need to keep or is it going to be a creativity killer’.
When you work in start-ups you have a ‘believers’ atmosphere. People are there because they believe in what’s happening
I am definitely using a mixture of what I learned at Siemens and New Frontier Group because that is where I started to work on digitalisation and teams I led were midway between a large corporation and a start-up. At LACROIX, I’m trying to bring some of this energy and also strike a balance: you can’t structure everything but you can’t run it like a start-up. Getting some of the DNA of both is important. I have been trying to bring some people with this mindset into City and the melting pot is interesting. I believe we are striking a good balance: the strength of a structured, quality-oriented organisation with the momentum and speed, not exactly of a start-up, but getting closer to it.
This is important because we are facing start-ups as competitors. These guys are able to get a product out in six months, even though it might not be perfect. But if we have to wait one year, two years, three years to get the same result, even though it’s best-of-breed and of the highest quality, we’re too late.
KT: LACROIX Group is a mid-size family-owned group, different from both the large companies and the start-up you worked for previously. What made you decide to join LACROIX – City?
VS: In 2014, I worked on digitisation of companies, first as CEO at New frontier Group and then for Sigfox, which was at this time the most exciting IoT venture in Europe, if not the world – it was a great adventure. From there, I decided I wanted to work for an industrial company to basically IoT-ise it from the inside. I also wanted to get back to more transformational management challenges as well. So that was the first check in the box.
The next was actually meeting the brothers – Vincent and Nicolas Bedouin – and seeing the strong vision about where their family-owned group should go and how it should evolve. They also had a set of values – ambition, engagement, team spirit, openness and respect – which they were really living. This doesn’t happen in all companies so it was a double match for me.
Values are becoming increasingly important. It is no longer the case ‘I’m the boss so do what I told you’. You have to manage people by values and role model these values yourself. And we are seeing people join the LACROIX Group because they see our values and ask if we live up to them. We are also assessing management performance based on these values.
KT: The LACROIX Group has acquired a number of technology start-ups including Sogexi (2015) and SmartNodes (2019) in smart streetlighting and NEAVIA Technologies (2016) in V2X, which are now part of the LACROIX – City business unit. What are the main challenges related to the integration of the management teams within LACROIX – City and what is the strategy you have been following in this regard?
VS: It is important for us to fast-track a series of technologies and this is why we have made the acquisitions. We have had different experiences with integration – in some cases it works perfectly, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all and we are learning how to handle this. Ideally, it is good to achieve alignment before the acquisition but it isn’t always possible.
The integration depends on the profile of the management of the acquisition. Some managers want to remain independent but they have to understand they are part of a group which has multiple stakeholders. So, we have to find solutions to make it work but sometimes a person may decide to explore new opportunities. The large majority have remained though and are bringing that start-up DNA. We are using these companies as a fast-track development task force, more like technology centres, which is working well.
KT: We hear a lot about connected cars and infrastructures. Is it already a reality and can you tell us about LACROIX – City’s projects in this area? How does it relate to other smart city use cases?
VS: What we have now is a series of experiments, for example, with EasyMile and Navya, two well-known French autonomous shuttle makers in France and abroad and we are starting to see some experiments on public transport.
We are providing support for communication technologies. It’s rather a complex ecosystem because you not only need the infrastructure guys, which are our normal customer, but also the vehicle manufacturers.
It is no longer the case ‘I’m the boss so do what I told you’. You have to manage people by values and role model these values yourself
We are at an early stage of the market where it’s more about piloting and experimenting. Over the next three to four years, public transport is going to come with large scale roll-outs with autonomous buses but for private cars it will be much longer because you have to reach mass acceptance of it.
To prepare for the autonomous future, you need to get the infrastructure upgraded and this is going to take a decade because this is public spending. It also requires multiple actors to invest massively into communication infrastructure and IoT-ising the infrastructure to ensure the highest safety levels.
As I said, it is at an early stage but these are landmark developments and it is exciting to be involved in them.
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