French entrepreneurs in Azerbaijan – Interviews and Accounts

INTERVIEW  Alain Carbonel, Country Manager, Suez Environnement / Azerbaijan

With only a few days to go till the 2nd Business Forum France-Azerbaijan, which will be held in Paris 13th May, 2015, The European Azerbaijan Society Foundation (TEAS) in partnership with the association Bakou Francophones, has been undertaking a series of interviews with French entrepreneurs who have successfully entered the Azerbaijani marketplace and agreed to share their experience about “doing business” in this country. Below is the 3rd interview in the series, with Alain Carbonel, Country Manager, Suez Environnement / Azerbaijan.

Can you provide us with some biographical information about your education and explain why you selected your career?

I was trained as an engineer and graduated from the École Centrale de Paris in 1986. I had a successful cooperation within the Economic Department of the French Embassy in Venezuela which gave me the taste for work as an expatriate. 

As I wished to dedicate myself to environment, I joined Lyonnaise des Eaux (Suez Environment Group) in France and had the opportunity to manage the Water and Sewerage services in Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil. Back in France, I was appointed the regional director of Lyonnaise des Eaux in Picardy, Champagne-Ardenne and Burgundy. In 2010, I was appointed director of three subsidiaries of Lyonnaise des Eaux in New Caledonia. In 2014, I became responsible for the contract on the transfer of skills and training that AZERSU, the state-owned water and sewerage company of Azerbaijani has entrusted to Suez Environment.

What inspires you in your profession?

I have a marked preference for serving other people. Providing vital services such as water supply and sewage-treatment, respecting and improving our environment are sources of motivation and what I like best in my profession.

What challenges do you face in your industry?

Although progress has been noted over the past decades, a majority of the world’s population has yet to benefit from drinking water supply or sanitation. This has a direct impact on both the development of all countries concerned and the life expectancy of their population. It is therefore a job with a great future. However, producing  and supplying drinking water, collecting and processing wastewater requires a long-term vision and the creation of major infrastructure and great efficiency that competent authorities do not always have the ability to implement. Our development in emerging countries depends primarily on the political will and the institutional stability that we need to conduct our business. In mature countries, volumes of water sold are shrinking and we are seeking to sell value-added services instead of volumes of water.

What are the essential elements of success in the marketplace?

We are a utility company. Our services must achieve excellence, in terms of conformity to drinking water standards and disposal of treated effluent, and also in terms of customer relationship or operational effectiveness. This last point is about optimizing all resources – energy, chemicals, materials, human resources – to continue our operations. Achieving this level of effectiveness is crucial to remain competitive with our private competitors, but also with public undertakings which manage water supply and sanitation services.

How do you characterize your presence in Azerbaijan?

Our mission is to transfer our know-how to the public company in charge of water supply and sanitation. To do so, we will hand over reference documents on good practices in our field of operation, we will set up a training plan tailored to the needs of our customer and we will check and assess skills development of AZERSU staff on a regular basis.

The modalities of intervention we are offering via this type of contract are different from those we are offering in France, where we usually act as public service delegations tasked with the provision of the services.

In Azerbaijan we will act as advisors. AZERSU will manage water supply and sanitation throughout the country and we will not interfere.

The service that we provide is linked to the know-how we gained in 150 years and over many international contracts. We are not facing any local competition regarding this type of contract.

Why did you decide to penetrate the Azerbaijani market? What inspires you in this experience?

I have a taste for challenge and for discovering new horizons – France, South America, Oceania and now South Caucasus. I like to find new ways to conduct our business.

As everywhere else, showing empathy and understanding the client’s culture is a key to success. It takes humility, patience, perseverance and the ability to share definite and measurable objectives with the client.

If you closed your eyes and foresee yourself in 15 years, where will you be?

I hope this contract will allow Suez Environment to consolidate its presence in Azerbaijan. Our business is to be considered on the long-term. We usually stay over 15 years in any given country. Personally, pursuing my career abroad has always been a real motivation. However in 15 years from now, I might have reached retirement age…

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who wish to enter the Azerbaijani market?  

I suggest they establish good contacts with local partners, take their time to observe and understand the country, constantly adjust their services to the needs of their clients, formalize such needs and set achievable goals. Also, they should try not to be discouraged by local bureaucracy, which requires a good dose of optimism and perseverance.

About Bakou Francophones

Bakou Francophones is a French registered association which has been active since November 2011 in Azerbaijan. Bakou Francophones is above all an informed and useful website (http://bakoufr.wordpress.com/) bringing together the French-speaking people living in Azerbaijan and the French-speaking friends of Azerbaijani from any country. The association holds monthly events where French-speaking people can meet and exchange ideas. The association is open to all and wishes to embody the cultural values of French heritage.