Client Interview: Loïck Roche, Director of Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM)

Facing an extraordinary crisis… which could become ordinary.

Since the beginning of March, facing the Covid-19 epidemic was intensifying, the crisis cell of Grenoble Ecole de Management has been reactivated. As a result, GEM was able to anticipate what many did not see, or did not want to see coming. Loïck Roche gives us his analysis of a story of which nobody knows the outcome but from which he learns his first lessons in the short and medium term.

On Wednesday, March 11th, you announced, 24 hours ahead of the government, the end of face-to-face classes at GEM. What made you decide to take such a decision?

Our crisis unit had already been mobilised for 15 days, as many of our students, teachers and employees were, or were about to leave, in areas fully affected by the epidemic. In Grenoble, students and staff combined, an average 4,000 of us are on campus every day. Our first duty is to ensure the safety of our students and employees. The decision to suspend classes was not the subject of long debates. With a close analyse of the events in our neighbor countries and in France, we were convinced we were making the right decision. The President of the Republic, in announcing the closure of the schools the next evening, confirmed that we had taken the real measure of the event.

The decisions to telecommute and to close your establishments then followed one after the other. What are the challenges you are now facing?

On a daily basis, we must both maintain the quality of our distance learning for our students and ensure continuity of service for our employees under the best possible conditions. We have only one purpose in mind: personal safety, to ensure that everyone comes out of this crisis as unscathed as possible. This means supporting students, teachers and employees in distance learning, listening to them and providing the necessary technical support. It means, of course, ensuring job continuity. Among the measures deployed, we have set up two listening units, one for our students, in France and abroad, and the other for our employees. In this third week of containment, we are doing everything we can to manage this crisis with agility, solidity and in line with our values of responsibility, high standards and kindness.

What are the first lessons you have learned from this crisis?

At this time, and without knowing when or how we will collectively emerge from this crisis, I can already see three main lessons. First, I am convinced that our perception of the world can never be the same again. The extraordinary situation we are experiencing today could become an almost ordinary situation tomorrow. Therefore, we must, tomorrow, within our organisations, be the promoters of what I call a human ecology. And this, in order to value our nature cooperative instead of our aggressive impulses. If we don’t understand that we can no longer live with our own immediate interests as our sole aim, if we don’t understand that to be passive with regard to the general interest is to be active in the destruction of society, then we haven’t understood anything! We must make the world capable of speaking. Even better, we must be able to hear it.

Then, as Gaspard Koenig, philosopher and Chairman of the think tank Generation Libre, proposes, we need to redefine our business models – and I’m adding all our strategic models – to include resilience. Finally, rather than trying to reinvent organisations and businesses tomorrow, which would mean starting from scratch, it seems to me that we will have to invent completely new things, guided by one imperative: to do everything we can to ensure that nothing serious happens again.

You have expressed yourself against the temptation to withdraw into yourself. What does this imply?

I don’t know if globalisation has killed globalisation. Without a doubt, like the Hydra of Lerna, it has many heads that will know how to regenerate themselves, and even twice as many, even though they have been cut off. What I know is that it is up to us not to add the virus of discord and withdrawal to the real Covid-19 virus, which is already self-sufficient, to the virus of discord and withdrawal.

On the side of organisations, we see structures that, although they can afford it, they defer payment to their suppliers and therfor put them in serious danger. As Bruno Le Maire’s reminder to large companies was to “make sure they respect supplier payment deadlines and show the utmost moderation when it comes to dividend payments. “Euphemism to denounce here, which would be, if this is true, unbearable selfishness. If we have no choice but to accept this crisis and its consequences, on individuals, on organisations, we have the choice of what attitude we can have. I hope that, in the future, we will be able to make an example from the caring staff, decried yesterday and applaused today, and adopt some of its virtues.