'Success is always relative': Laurent Ledoux shares pearls of wisdom

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Last night at our New Year Reception, UITP—members, staff, associates and partners—came together to bid farewell to former Secretary General, Alain Flausch, who retired in December 2017 after six years of dedicated leadership at UITP.

As only a man of international prestige could, the occasion gathered an immensely diverse audience from all over the world and across many sectors.

As expected, Laurent Ledoux (Owner and General Manager of Equis), industry colleague and friend of Mr Flausch for years, delivered a fantastic keynote speech, reminding his audience of the importance of partnerships and a multi-sectoral business mindset.

Mr Ledoux graciously agreed to sit down with us and answer some of our questions.

Q: You’ve had a great deal of professional success. Has your career unfolded in the way you thought it would?

Success is always relative. It all depends on the criteria you use. In my own case, if your criterion is “fun & exciting challenges”, I must admit that so far I’ve got a fair share.

Regarding your second question, my answer is no: my career did not unfold as I expected. But this should not be a surprise either: I never made real career plans. I preferred to follow my instincts and desires. Basically, I followed Gabriel de Halleux’s philosophy. Like Anne Levy-Morelle who made a movie about his life (Gabriel’s dream), I learned from Gabriel two things: 
1. Boredom is a sign that I’m not following my way; it is a warning I should do something else. 
2. The fact that the road I follow is hard and long or that all others do not understand why I keep on following it does not imply that I am wrong.

I suspect that Alain (Flausch, UITP Secretary General 2012-2017) might have followed a similar philosophy in his professional life. 

I never made real career plans. I preferred to follow my instincts and desires.

Q: What is the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given? And who was it from?

Since I had a lot of different jobs in my life so far, I had also a lot of different bosses and I learned at least something from each of them, including sometimes what not to do. One of them taught me: “if you don’t make a mistake a day, you’re not working hard enough. But if you keep repeating the same mistake every day, then you’re not working at all.”

Having said this, the best piece of professional advice I received comes from a man I never met but whom I read a lot: Ronald Heifetz, leadership professor at Harvard Business School and author of classics such as Leadership without easy answers. Basically he taught me that “business ethics is a fighting sport” and that, in order to win it, you should learn when to play the lion or the fox.

Like Alain I believe, I have a natural fire in me that leads me to play the lion, the white knight too often. It has a certain “panache” as French say, and it has its merits, if only to boost your employees’ morale, but it is not always effective. Luckily with time, I have also learned to play the fox, to hide my cards, to get on the balcony, to build up unexpected and unusual alliances,…when necessary. 

Q: What are the main trends in senior management today?

There are many, so allow me not to be exhaustive. What naturally comes to mind are challenges related to AI, to the digitalisation of society, or to the inclusion of millennials who are supposed to have a different mindset. But these are challenges, rather than trends in management.

Personally, the trend I see - and I dedicate now my life to reinforce it, so I am obviously biased - is the growing consciousness of senior managers that they have to radically change the way they manage: Milton Friedman’s ideology – which states that “managers’ ultimate responsibility is to maximise shareholders’ value, under the constraint of respecting the laws and common decency” has led us, I believe, to an ecological and societal dead end. We need to overhaul it, turning the objective into the constraint and vice versa. This means, the responsibility of managers should be to optimise the ecological and societal contribution of their organisation, under the constraint of an adequate – not maximum – return for the shareholders.

The responsibility of managers should be to optimise the ecological and societal contribution of their organisation

Practically this means to balance much better the often contradictory interests of the various stakeholders and, while insuring financial value is respected, to be driven ultimately by ethical values, such as the respect of the intrinsic equality of all in an organisation, the natural need for each of us to grow as persons, including at work, and to become more self-directed, to have the room to take swift initiatives in order to solve daily problems, without being hindered by a stiff hierarchy.

So, the major trend I see in senior management is, in the words of Getz or Laloux, the need to liberate or reinvent your organisation.

Q: What advice would you offer to senior figures within the public transport sector? Is management within the sector modernising enough?

In 2008, a few consultants from Booz Allen & Hamilton published a book: Megacommunities: How Leaders of Government, Business and Non-Profits Can Tackle Today's Global Challenges Together.

It is increasingly clear today that the hugely complex transport issues we face cannot be solved by public transport only, or by private solutions only. So the key is partnership, in order to facilitate, in all possible ways, the ease with which users can combine various modes of transports. This requires often for the public transport sector to change its worldview, to abandon the impossible and too costly dream to provide 24h services everywhere for everybody, to change the way it is funded, to develop new internal skills.

The “Megacommunities” manifesto claimed that the best managers in the future – i.e. today – are people who have had experiences both in the private and public sectors, and even in the not-for-profit one: they naturally understand - and empathise with - the different mindsets of people working in the different sectors. And that helps them in building effective partnerships with other sectors to tackle transports challenges together.

For more information on our keynote speaker, read our previous announcement!

Stay tuned for a full recap of the successful UITP New Year Reception

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