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Electric Possibilities

In Focus
NAME:Philippe Delpech
LOCATION:Paris, France
When Philippe Delpech was brought on as the CEO of Sonepar, he inherited a market leader ready to take the next leap. Five years and one pandemic later, he has transformed the digital DNA of the business and the industry.

Before he could usher in new changes, CEO Philippe Delpech knew he needed to understand Sonepar on its global scale. To do so, he spent six months traveling between 25 countries to meet and listen to shareholders, stakeholders and customers.

“I was attracted by the strategic challenge of transforming a €19 billion [US$20.2 billion] group with 45,000 associates operating in 2,500 branches over 40 countries and five continents into a digital powerhouse”, he tells The CEO Magazine.

“I immediately made the decision to leverage Sonepar’s history, while instilling a strong performance culture among our top 200 executives. To do that we started a five-year strategic process called ‘Impact Plan’, which allowed each country to align their individual five-year strategic plan with the Group’s vision.”

“Our goal is to become the first global B2B electrical distributor to provide a fully digitalized and synchronized omnichannel experience to all customers”

Delpech’s efforts paid off as Sonepar registered close to US$34 billion in sales in 2022 – an increase of almost 70 percent from when he first took over. However, a closer look at his career shows that it was hardly a surprising outcome.

Before joining Sonepar, Delpech handled global operations in companies like ABB, Haier, Toshiba Carrier Corporation, and Otis Elevator and Carrier Corporation. For a truly international and multicultural company such as Sonepar, he brought the experience and the knowledge required to scale new heights.

Digitizing Processes

“Our goal is to become the first global B2B electrical distributor to provide a fully digitalized and synchronized omnichannel experience to all customers,” Delpech explains.

To achieve this, Sonepar needs to focus on three things – strengthening and securing the IT infrastructure, focusing on the ecommerce wing of the business and investing in the global supply chain.

The company has already started digitizing internal processes, inventory management and warehouses, and it is investing US$3.2 billion to the cause.

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“Sonepar is investing more than €2 billion [US$2.1 billion] in modernizing its supply chains, and a further €1 billion [US$1.1 billion]  in our global digital omnichannel platform to deliver perfect orders to our customers, all while helping Sonepar to reach our goal of limiting CO2 emissions.”

Thanks to Sonepar’s Digital Factory, Delpech is revamping its omnichannel platform in order to anticipate customers’ needs and facilitate a cohesive, multi-device shopping experience. 

On the B2B front, Delpech is implementing the lessons derived from the COVID-19 pandemic by automating facilities and optimizing logistics. And he is confident about the pivot.

“Sonepar is moving from a branch-centric model to one that deploys state-of-the-art logistics. We are expanding our base of automated warehouses – we will have 70 fully automated warehouses by 2026.”

Infrastructural investments play as big a role in reinforcing market presence as do acquisitions. The B2B electronics market is seeing rapid innovation, which acts as a litmus test for most companies – those that fail to transform their businesses will struggle to stay relevant.

Delpech sees this as a win–win situation since acquisitions help businesses integrate with the Sonepar infrastructure. “From Sonepar’s standpoint, combining forces with companies that are a good fit with our structure further leverages the potential of our omnichannel platform and increases our volume and market reach.”

According to Delpech, the company makes about 20 strategic acquisitions every year.

Electrifying Sustainability Efforts

Amid the transformations, acquisitions and rapid growth, it’s easy to miss the bigger picture. As a global distributor of electronic equipment, Sonepar shoulders the responsibility of ushering green and sustainable business choices into the sector. It’s firmly committed to limiting the rise of global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius by offering more information on CO2 emissions.

“We have recently launched a Green Offer, the first in our industry. It is a huge step forward in providing emissions information for the B2B electrical distribution customers, helping them to make the right choices for complex installed systems that require products from multiple brands.”

As the Green Offer develops further, Sonepar will be able to help consumers make safer and more sustainable choices.

“I have immense pride in transforming Sonepar.”

Sonepar’s active efforts to be more sustainable play within Delpech’s larger goal of attracting gen Z employees who value green, ethical and flexible working conditions. With the COVID-19 crisis receding globally, B2B suppliers such as Sonepar are looking to develop more resilient yet agile businesses.

What Delpech has achieved so far is commendable and he’s mighty proud of making an impact within the industry. “I have immense pride in transforming Sonepar considering the complexity of the group,” he says.

“But my real pride is having 45,000 associates embarking on that change with us, working together to build a group, which will last forever.”

Serving a market that’s worth over US$370 billion, Sonepar is positioned to continue on this growth path for years to come.

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