How I made it: Pierre Samaties - CEO innogy International ME
For our latest inspiring stories series, 'How I made it', we're interviewing Pierre Samaties. This is where you'll learn about how the best in the industry got to where they are today and hopefully pick up some tips along the way to help your own career progress.
Pierre has 15+ years of experience in the Energy and IT industries as a Management Consultant, venture developer and start-up investor. Before taking over the position as Managing Partner & CEO of innogy International Middle East in July 2014, he worked as a Partner at RWE Consulting (today innogy Consulting)– a leading European strategy and management consultancy in the energy industry. Pierre is a board member of VERV and Advizzo, two innovative IoT and AI startup companies based in London. He is also an advisor for Spherity’s Interlinked Protocol – a startup focusing on digital identity and image audit trails via blockchain technology. He holds an MBA in General Management, a B.Sc. in Information Technology and several executive certificates in Strategy, Artificial Intelligence, Venture Investment and Leadership from renowned business schools, including MIT Sloan School of Management, INSEAD and London Business School.
How do you start your day?
Ideally with a good cup of coffee in my office. However the dynamics of my job rarely allow for a daily routine – but I really like that dynamic environment.
What personal attributes do you feel have most helped you to succeed in your career?
I think first and foremost, it is the ability to embrace uncertainty. I started my career at university in a very agile, start-up style environment and then went into the energy industry, which was a very conservative, well-established sector in with long investment cycles and predictable income for the next five to 10 years. I started in software development and IT project management, then joined the investor relations department of one of Germany’s biggest energy companies before moving into Management Consulting, and lately venture development and investments. The benefit is that I was consistently exposed to new engagements, new cultures and new learning curves.
These experiences proved useful when roughly five years ago the industry was completely disrupted overnight and we had a complete shift in the value chain. This led to a lot of changes and it was useful to be able to cope with that uncertainty.
What keeps you sane on those crazy days?
I think the fact that I have developed good mental strength over the years helps me generally. What keeps me sane is my family, sports and my experience with dealing with a lot of hectic projects and last minute changes. I think I am very relaxed and calm in a storm. I had a tendency to be like that anyway but the more storms you experience the less excited and nervous you get about them. I always try to take a step back and look at the bigger picture so that I can support my team during these times.
More practically, I also try to go to my martial arts class twice a week and see a personal coach on Saturday. That’s really important as a healthy body and a healthy mind go together.
What advice would you give someone who wants to get into your industry?
I think it comes back again to being able to deal with uncertainty. There’s a good set of core skills you can develop but the industry is not in the sort of state where you can identify the skills you need in order to be fine until you retire, like you could in the old days of the energy industry. That is just not the case anymore.
I have a degree in information technology supplemented by an MBA in General Management – that proved to be a very helpful combination, given the fact that digitalization is a key term in most industries. You definitely need to be multidisciplinary and also willing to un-learn.
What three words best describe you?
Pragmatic. Curious. Aspirational.
Who inspires you?
My family inspires me because I am fortunate enough to have family members who work in completely different areas. They work in art and education, which is completely different from my business-world. They always offer me new perspectives and bring me back to what is important, e.g. work for the benefit of society.
Dr. Klaus Grellmann, the CEO of innogy Consulting has inspired me a lot. I’ve known him for 10 years and never seen someone who spreads so much positive energy and has a drive for change. He is always optimistic and that motivates others. His leadership is based on empowerment of his team while aiming for high performance – components that I always try to incorporate in my leadership style since then.
On a global leadership level, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai is very inspirational to me. The achievement to change the narrative of a whole region and population and create something like Dubai out of “nothing” in that short space of time is just amazing. He pushes the boundaries, sets future-oriented priorities and transforms vision to reality. Looking at the landscape of global leaders we have, he really is an exceptional figure.
What major challenges have you faced over the course of your career?
I’ve dealt with a lot of challenges during my career, which by default is a bit in the nature of working in management consulting and venture investments. One of the biggest challenges was definitely being responsible for parts of integrating a 7bn € transaction when our German parent company acquired one of the major competitors in the Dutch energy industry. It was a multidimensional challenge: from an intellectual and strategical point of view, but more important from an intercultural and people management point of view. Conceptualising and running a successfull merger-integration is a bit like riding a bicycle – you can read a lot about it but you only know how it really works, if you do it.
Another major challenge was setting up our business in the Middle East and the corresponding business transformation. When I first started here in June 2014 the company was called RWE Power International and our business model was completely different and focused on conventional power generation consulting. My first job was to implement a complete turnaround of the business model, focussing on management consulting and get traction. One of the breakthrough projects we won shortly after was advising the government of Dubai on their energy strategy 2030. We had established a strong footprint in the market in a very short amount of time. Then all of a sudden, we needed to rebrand from RWE to innogy as our parent company in Europe made a strategic split to bundle all retail, grid, renewable and innovation activities in a new company, called innogy. Getting that new brand into the minds of customers and across the recruitment market was a major challenge. As the energy industry is undergoing a massive change, I saw this as an opportunity to recommend my shareholders to further adopt the vision and business model of the company - we have added a second business line called Ventures. In a unqiue combination with Consulting, we develop ventures and invest in start-ups that fit our vision: To become a leader of the smart living transformation.
What is the smart living transformation?
We see a convergence of the energy, communication and transportation industry driven by decentralisation and digitilisation. This change is further amplified thorugh rapid development in AI, IoT, Blockchain and Cyber Security. The new value chain that derives from that convergence is what we call “Smart Living”.
What is your perspective on how blockchain has developed in the last 12 months?
12 months ago we were in a whole different world when it comes to blockchain. The hype peak was in December, which was near the all-time high of bitcoin – the posterboy of blockchain -, which drove a lot of excitement and technology gold diggers trying to get rich quick. Since then, the market has seen a rapid decline; today we are at a bitcoin price of $3,600 instead of $20,000. It has washed a lot of speculators and fake advisors out of the market and things have really cooled down. As painful as it was for those that lost in the crypto market, it was a fortunate development because it helped mature the industry and separate the wheat from the chaff.
While the market value delicned, the fundamentals only got better. The technology has improved. Adoption has improved. It’s a different world, but when it comes to tech fundamentals, I’m still as confident as I was in December.
For example, we’ve made some great progress on use cases. One of our portfolio companies, VERV, had a first real-life pilot for energy peer-to-peer trading with around 100 participants in the UK, utilising sensors, AI and blockchain. Participants saved 20% of their energy bill. It demonstrated one of my core beliefs: Only the combination of blockchain with AI and IoT will create amazing use cases.
I’m also working as an advisor with Spherity – the creators of the Interlinked protocol. Interlinked is all about digital identity, audit trails and verifiable data chains. One of their many interesting use cases is for space agencies to verify the E2E processing of earth observation (EO) data chain starting from a remote sensing device in space to machine learning algorithms that process the EO data. This verifiable data chain enables any consumer of EO data to verify if data along the processing chain has been tampered with and to validate machine learning output data.
We’re also working on a proof-of-concept project to democratize participation in the green economy. As it stands today, if you want to participate in carbon trading you may not have access to it as an individual, but we want everyone to be enabled to participate. As part of the project for example, having [solar panels] on your roof can help you to earn a certain number of green credits that can be used in a variety of ways e.g. you can earn tokens to spend with retailers.