As part of a new series of conferences on the Humanities, Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, was invited to NEOMA BS on January 16 for a special conference for students on the theme of Corporate Social Responsibility.
NEOMA BS has launched an innovative and ambitious approach to the teaching of the Humanities. The first phase of this comprehensive programme includes a new fundamentals course for more than 1,000 Master in Management first-year students. This year's theme concerns the world of work, and the module was co-designed by the NEOMA Business School faculty together with teachers from some of the leading preparatory schools. The second part includes a series of conferences by renowned speakers, headed by the NEOMA BS President, Michel-Edouard Leclerc. The aim of the programme is to provoke reflection among the students on the social utility of companies and to analyse the concepts explored in the course with key actors from the economic and academic world . The series of conferences was inaugurated by Emmanuel FABER as guest of honour. In an amphitheatre packed with students from the school, the CEO of Danone shared his vision of the economy and the social and civic role companies play.
Questioning the social utility of companies
According to Emmanuel Faber, companies cannot exist without social utility. Pointing to the dehumanisation of the economy, he emphasises a fundamental oversight in today's world: relationships. Focusing his talk on the impossible split between the transactional economy (which is currently measured by GDP) and the relational economy, the CEO of Danone explains: “In my opinion, companies are all the more solid because they invest in trust and the long-term and establish a relationship with the consumer, unlike a profit-driven and short-term vision.” He invites the students to consider vernacular societies, one of the few economic organisations that, in his opinion, allows the system to be seen in a new light. In response to a question raised by the two students leading the round table discussion, Michel-Edouard Leclerc questioned Emmanuel Faber on the semantics of management discourse.
“When a company manager buys machinery, we talk of an investment. On the other hand, when the same person hires a new employee, it becomes a cost... How do you interpret such use of language?” Targeting the absurdity of certain financial rhetoric, Emmanuel Faber underlines the need for a return to putting people first.
A matter of Humanity
Having contact with a large number of economic partners, Emmanuel Faber explains the importance of interpersonal relationships and the importance of putting people first. “A company does not sink because it has no more funds, but because it has no more ideas. It is an absurdity of the system to consider people as a cost. Technology must serve, not replace the workforce.” To the question of going back to putting people first, Emmanuel Faber believes that this can only be achieved through values. “Mine is the following: only people are truly sustainable. It's not easy, but it's a gamble I'm taking. And I am confident that we will all benefit.”
In conclusion, Emmanuel Faber encouraged the students with some sound advice that would also be taken on board by all those present: “You are in an incredible school, and this will give you the opportunity to take on responsibilities. But what will you do once you are in that position? You will have to fight against power, money, glory. Otherwise you'll miss out on your life. What makes you unique in this world? Are you convinced of this? Are you aware of this? This is what will give meaning to your actions. This is a personal question and no one can answer it for you.”