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Susanna Zapreva has been CEO of enercity for five years, having filled the same position with Vienna Energy in her native Austria. “I decided to come to Germany because the market is much bigger,” she tells The CEO Magazine. “There are a lot of competitors, but when the market is bigger, there are also huge possibilities and opportunities.”
Although she’s clearly someone who likes a challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t one Susanna was expecting. But dealing with the unexpected is a theme that is important to her. “We are facing a lot of changes at the moment and one of the biggest challenges for me is to help the company become more resilient,” she says. “We have a lot of changes that are predictable, but we are also facing more and more changes that are unpredictable – like the pandemic.
“We align all our actions with the needs of our customers, and ensure our products don’t contribute to global warming.”
“I think the important goal at the moment is to analyse what opportunities these changes offer and what threats they provide. And if I had to choose the biggest challenge, I would say it’s climate change.”
Clearly energy providers like enercity have a large role to play in the future of climate change. And you might well imagine that for a CEO of an energy provider, the greatest challenge would be maintaining profit while moving to more sustainable forms of energy.
In terms of profit, Susanna set a huge target when she arrived in Hanover: to double enercity’s earnings in 10 years. She is already halfway there. “In five years, we’ve managed to double our turnover and to increase earnings by 50 per cent,” she shares. “So for the next five years, we have the other part, to increase the earnings by another 50 per cent.”
Despite such monetary achievements, how success is defined at the company has also changed radically under her tenure. “We define our success through the success and satisfaction of our customers now,” she reveals. “We align all our actions with the needs of our customers and ensure our products don’t contribute to global warming.”
“The reason why I am in this business is that we have the opportunity to make a contribution to solving one of the biggest challenges of our society.”
As with the leaders of any big business at the moment, agility and flexibility are vital for Susanna and her team. Fast decisions need to be made about the ecosystems that are emerging – issues such as electromobility and how digitalisation and artificial intelligence are leading to a new way to do business.
“We need two kinds of transformation,” Susanna insists. “One for the management team and the employees and another for the new products and services the company is delivering to customers. Because our first goal is to make enercity zero carbon or carbon neutral – but the next step is to offer products and services that will help our customers also fulfil this goal.”
And that’s the incredibly clever and almost paradoxical strategy that Susanna and her team are working towards. “In the past, we had the goal of selling more energy,” she points out. “Now our goal is to help the customer use less energy and to get that energy in a very sustainable way.”
It’s a huge problem to solve but one that the whole world faces – and one that gets Susanna out of bed every morning. “The reason why I am in this business is that we have the opportunity to make a contribution to solving one of the biggest challenges of our society,” she says. “About 80 per cent of the world’s energy comes from fossil sources. This is a very, very important challenge to solve. And enercity people get the chance to bring their ideas and be an active part of the future of energy supply and energy services.”
“Our vision is to be a driver of the digital energy world of tomorrow. We want to help our customers be successful, to go into a carbon-free world.”
Under her leadership the company has fostered a mindset that encourages employees to learn from all successful businesses rather than just energy competitors. Susanna cites Amazon as one business that her own company has learned from in terms of customer experience.
She also believes there is a lot to be learned from enercity’s business partners, such as Aurubis, a copper producer in Hamburg that the company worked with on heating supply. “The biggest benefit of these partnerships is the improvement of our employees,” she reflects. “They have the opportunity to see how other industries are working and learn from others, and together we provide our customers with heat from copper production.”
This impressive leader and her impressive organisation have a clear and impressive vision as well: “Our vision is to be a driver of the digital energy world of tomorrow,” Susanna explains. “We want to help our customers be successful, to go into a carbon-free world.”