The global consultancy Capgemini has appeared on the list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies® for nine years running. Although many found the adjustment to pandemic footing to be difficult, for this digital-first firm, a culture of commitment to its clients and communities drove increased engagement, a new Social Response Unit to deploy the best CSR ideas, and progress on long-term goals. Capgemini CEO Aiman Ezzat discussed all this and more with Ethisphere Magazine.

Aiman Ezzat, CEO of Capgemini, looks to camera. He wears a deep navy suit.

Aiman Ezzat, CEO, Capgemini Group

Tyler Lawrence: Congratulations on Capgemini being recognized for the ninth year in a row among the World’s Most Ethical Companies. What does the recognition mean for the organization at this point?

Aiman Ezzat: It’s very important. In the world today, an independent recognition that we behave ethically makes Capgemini both an employer of choice and a responsible player in the eyes of clients.

We have extra responsibility that comes with stature. We must lead and be a role model in every aspect. It means making tough decisions, being demanding, and very selective about who we work with, which partners and clients. In a number of areas where we work, I ask for an ethical review of clients, because misguided action can lead to big reputational damage. We are very careful and have worked over the decades to build a strong ethical culture at Capgemini.

To sustain an ethical culture, we have also had to adapt and innovate. In 2020, we fully revamped our annual ethics e-learning, taking employee feedback into account. We have an internal system to survey employees and check the pulse around many subjects and we include other inputs from our ‘speak-up’ program.

Tyler Lawrence: You mentioned that you do an ethical review of clients, which is a particular concern for a consultancy. Do you think that your commitment to ethics becomes a competitive advantage for you, because your clients know that you’re not going to be involved in something that’s going to make headlines?

Aiman Ezzat: I think we have a very good reputation with clients. Is it a competitive advantage? I have to believe it is. It is definitely a positive for our employees and for our partners. I think having that constant dialogue with our employees and with all our stakeholders around ethics is very important and yes, it reflects on the image of the company. It’s structurally a competitive advantage.

Tyler Lawrence: Capgemini is a global organization and like everyone else you had to adapt to the lockdowns starting last spring. What principles guided your leadership as you tried to keep the company moving while keeping everyone safe?

Aiman Ezzat: The safety of our people was our top priority. With that focus, we moved 97% of our people to work from home. We worked with managers to ensure that people were safe, doing well, and were able to provide them assistance wherever we could. In some countries with weaker health systems, we extended health coverage to the families of all of our people, with a fund to cover it.

We also set up a global crisis team connecting 50 countries. We kept sharing best practices about the right way to approach the wellbeing of our people and customers. After people, the second thing we had to decide was, how do we ensure business continuity for our customers?  We were well-prepared and digitally enabled, but some customers struggled. And we had to help them to move their employees to work from home and secure the environment. The first few weeks you wonder if this can work, are you going to continue to deliver, can you continue to support your clients? Are people safe? Can they operate this way? Is a network in India going to hold, or is it going to crash? You have all these concerns—then, it starts working.

Tyler Lawrence: As a company, your CSR efforts center on a number of themes, including the empowerment of women and the prevention of domestic violence. How did that particular focus come about for your CSR work, and how did it get put into action in the pandemic?

Aiman Ezzat: The firm is very entrepreneurial. That also applies to CSR. There are definitely themes that we support, but people come up with ideas about how to approach them. They make it happen. The initiative at Les Fontaines, an event space we own, actually came from the staff there. They said, “We have this facility, we have this connection with an NGO, and we think we can leverage our campus to be able to house these victims of domestic violence, because the confinement has caused an increase in domestic violence, but we can provide a safe haven for them and their children.”

A volunteer for the Fondation des Femmes carries a child at the Les Fontaines campus.

The idea was presented to me and I said, yes, do it. That is how it happened. It wasn’t part of a big brainstorming session or anything, just people who naturally thought of something, brought up the idea, got the approval, and implemented it. It’s really part of the root of Capgemini. A lot of our CSR started as individuals’ or teams’ or countries’ initiatives.

With the pandemic, we asked, “What can we do differently?” We asked our vice president population, 2000 people, for their best ideas of how we could support our communities during the pandemic. This generated 250 ideas, and we selected some, and looked to accelerate the deployment of these globally. And that’s how we created our Social Response Unit centered around the deployment of these ideas everywhere.

We supported the public assistance hospitals of Paris in deploying an application to remotely monitor patients. We set up a call center to mobilize healthcare professionals. We used 3D printers to produce face shields. We set up webpages for local businesses to promote their offerings to communities in Norway. We managed the recovery and distribution of food to people and families in difficulty in Italy and India, which served several hundred thousand families.

We worked on an app to prevent the breach of quarantines, and address individual needs for testing or hospitalization. Whenever we had some initiatives which were really outstanding, we used the Social Response Unit to try to replicate them in other parts of the world.

Tyler Lawrence: Do you think there’s going to be any life for that social response unit beyond the pandemic?

Aiman Ezzat: Yes, we’re actually going to use it to see how we can deploy some more of these very good ideas across the world.

Tyler Lawrence: I’m looking forward to seeing how that unfolds. What are you most proud of in terms of how Capgemini responded to the shifts over the course of the last year? What are you most looking forward to as vaccines are rolled out?

Aiman Ezzat: I’m most proud of how people responded, how the leadership team supported all the initiatives that were put in front of them. Everybody embodied the values of Capgemini in terms of how they reacted to the pandemic, how we supported our stakeholders and our society at large. I think we did that well.

It’s interesting because we measure engagement. And you could imagine with remote work engagement could fall, but our engagement has been rising. That has created some long-lasting positive impact, yet it has been difficult for some of our employees, the younger people in smaller apartments. So even when we look at returning to work, we didn’t prioritize by seniority, we prioritized by who had the most difficult conditions. That’s what I’m proud of, the ability of people to react to local situations and showcase what I consider to be the Capgemini values.

I’m also very proud of what we did around climate last year. The embodiment of the climate change work is, of course, the group commitment on carbon neutrality by 2025 and net zero by 2030. But beyond that, it’s all the action that people have taken to improve sustainability.

Whatever happens, I think 2020 will have marked a fundamental change in the way we work, the way we interact, in the importance of issues such as diversity and inclusion and climate change. They’ve gained strength from the pandemic, and this will have very long-lasting effects. We are also reviewing progress on our new flexible work policies, which are being rolled out around the world to find a better work-life balance for employees.

Society is changed and it will not go back. The pandemic just accelerated the trend.

About the Expert:

Aiman Ezzat was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Capgemini Group in May 2020. Since assuming the role, Aiman has overseen the integration of Altran, following its acquisition which was initiated in June 2019, augmenting the stature of the Group and enabling its pioneering of Intelligent Industry. Aiman has also reinforced Capgemini’s position as a leading responsible organization: in line with the Group’s purpose, unveiled in October 2020 (“Unleashing human energy through technology for an inclusive and sustainable future”), Aiman announced the Group’s commitment to achieve carbon neutrality for its operations no later than 2025 and to be net zero by 2030.

During his tenure as Chief Operating Officer (from January 1, 2018 to May 2020) and prior to this as Chief Financial Officer, from December 2012 to 2018, Aiman reinforced both the Group’s position as a global leader as well as its financial resilience. He also played an instrumental role in the implementation of the Group’s current operating model. With more than 20 years’ experience at Capgemini, he has developed a deep knowledge of the Group’s main businesses and has worked in many countries, notably the UK and the US, where he lived for more than 15 years.