Is diversity a lofty concept or does it impact the bottom line?

Steven Sels, CEO PrimagazFor Steven Sels, the CEO of Primagaz France, diversity ranks among the top competitive advantages of his company.

Primagaz is a fully owned subsidiary of SHV Holdings, a global, privately held corporation of 20 € Billion in revenues and operational in seven industries.  In his nine years with SHV, Sels has worked in two of their industry sectors and in five different countries.

Diversity is not a chance thing here at Primagaz. In our La Defense offices outside of Paris, we have 750 employees representing 19 nationalities and a balance between men and women employees. – Steven Sels

Throughout our discussion, Sels peppered his comments with the phrase “riches of diversity.” That’s the topic of this post which is the first in a three-part series.  In the second article, you’ll learn of Sels’ prerequisites to reaping these benefits of diversity.  To close this series, we will provide you with tools to assess your diversity friendliness.

The Costs and Riches of Diversity

Interview with Steven Sels
CEO of Primagaz France

Steven Sels embarked us on the topic of riches from diversity when addressing my question regarding the costs.

There is an initial financial output for a diversity strategy, just as there is with any investment.  We must accept it and the fruit come quickly…Diversity is not a real cost; it brings riches.

Three “Centers of Wealth’ emerge from Sels’ comments:

  • Talent management – SHV is a family owned holding seeking to pass on a vibrant business to the next generation. They believe the key is through the teams that help the organization grow and in whom they invest.
  • Competitiveness – Primagaz, as with every SHV company, has the vocation of market share leadership and growth through performance
  • Corporate culture – SHV Holdings and Primagaz have transformed the challenges of diversity into an advantage through clear values and processes to guide decision-making.

See for yourself.  How would your organization benefit from these riches?

Talent Management

1. Attracts Ambitious Talent

Steven Sels (SSe): “When I recruit, I recruit for the holding. We seek young employees with CEO potential.  For our fast track employees, we help them acquire an ideal background and better baggage for their future.  For example, I have been able to work in 7 countries (5 of which with SHV Holdings).  We also seek to move people both vertically and horizontally so that they can acquire more experience.”

Denise Dampierre (DD): When I walked into his office, Steven Sels held the Olympic flame in his hands which was lighted with Primagaz fuel. Throughout our discussion, as Sels spoke with respect and care about his employees, he conveyed that Primagaz has a winning team.

2. Retain Quality Talent

We actively work to eliminate reasons to leave.

SSe: “The family of the holding company seeks to develop people who wish to stay with us and who have the profile of becoming CEO of one of their subsidiaries.  We actively work to eliminate reasons to leave.”

3. Build Adaptable Talent

 SSe: “We are changing from an organization in silos to a network organization within Primagaz and SHV.  For example, Primagaz is leading the development of a Customer Engagement Hub with an integrated team including members from the holding staff and international specialists from various industries and different countries.  Once the hub is up and tested at Primagaz, this team can help adapt it to other companies in the holding in other businesses and cultures.”

Competitivity in Operations

4. Speed in Implementation

We might take more time to reach a common conclusion, but implementation goes super-fast.

SSe: “We might take more time to reach a common conclusion, but implementation goes super-fast.  Our Executive Committee is multi-national, multi-cultural, and multi-gender.  When we are aligned, we progress with speed and quality.  Since we meet regularly, we know each other very well.  Now, both decision-making and roll-out happens quickly.  What a great advantage.”

5. Accelerated Growth & Innovation

SSe: “There are prerequisites to enjoying the benefits of diversity.  (Stay tuned.  We address this in the next post).  When those are in place – an open corporate culture, collegiate decision-making, team networks, and a readiness to hire people who do not have a standard job profile – diversity speeds up creativity, innovation, and results.”

6. More Opportunities & Fewer Opportunity Costs

A lack of diversity prevents you from doing certain things. It’s like horses with blinkers that do not even realize their vision is restrained.

SSe: “A lack of diversity prevents you from doing certain things. It’s like horses with blinkers that do not even realize their vision is restrained.  Diversity opens the range of possibilities.  If we only have French people around the table, or men or women, everyone addresses an issue with the same biases.

For example, our CHRO from Turkey does things completely differently from most French.  It’s an enormous advantage, like removing the blinders.  Now everything is possible. That’s really it. Everything is possible!  It’s such richness and wealth.”

7. Discussions without Conflict

DD: How do you resolve conflicts?

SSe: “It happens very rarely. Very, very, very rarely.“

Sels expands on this in our next post.  Stay tuned.

8. Quick Recuperation from Errors

SSe: “One of the company maxims is to allow good news to travel slowly but bad news must travel fast.  With our global network, I know who to call and tell them something is not working in our company. I can admit, with sincere apologies. that even though I have been here for three years, it is only now that I discovered this important error and they need to know about it.

And he’s going to say, ‘Thanks Steven for letting us know. We’ll look into it and get back to you.’

There is no blame culture. They are not going to say, ‘But how is this possible?! It happened under your responsibility!’  We really do not have this culture.”

Corporate Culture

It’s normal to hear someone ask, ‘Are there any more elephants in the room?’  We are not looking for blame but for solutions.

9. Meaningful Values that Define Behavior

SSe: “Our values are engraved into our DNA.  As a decentralized organization, it is vital to trust people in the field.  When I hire, I seek people with an entrepreneurial mindset who can thrive in our decentralized structure.”

DD: Sels’ actions spoke loudly too.  He reached over onto his uncluttered desk to show me the Corporate Values Statement.  It’s a fun-to-handle foldout that dedicates one page per core value: growth through performance – go for niche and market share – invest in people – keep things simple – listen, learn and react – look for the unusual – manage change.

Sels spouted off the values like one enumerates the ingredients in a peanut-butter & jelly sandwich.  Simple and straight-forward.

10. Clear Cultural Processes

SSe: “The process by which we appropriate these values is super important.  We have unmistakable guidelines and our performance assessments address how we live out these values in the field.

The Leadership Profile is one such guideline.  We use it to build effective teams and to help people evolve.  We select team members with complimentary profiles so that teams encompass the full leadership characteristics.  We also use the Leadership Profile as a guide to identify skill development and training opportunities for our employees. We are an organization in transformation and are developing teams with the necessary skills and mindset for the future.”

11. Openness to Pleasant Surprises

SSe: “I can and have recruited people without a job for them. Sometimes even the Executive Committee wonders what that person will do.  In most cases, that person creates their job and Splash!  they have developed something amazing.  I have that freedom.  An unusual hire may add costs; the give back a lot too.  It’s important to be able to break the mold from time to time and see what happens.

Sometimes we make mistakes.  Most of the time when the company trusts me and I put my trust in someone else, we harvest unexpectedly positive fruit.”

12. Frank Talking

SSe: “We speak directly.  It’s normal to hear someone ask, ‘Are there any more elephants in the room?’  We are not looking for blame but for solutions.  We benefit by finding solutions fast.”

Real-Life Test

As I was leaving Primagaz, I spoke to an employee in the elevator.  She had worked for Primagaz for 22 years and stayed because they made it interesting for her to remain, providing opportunities for career growth every three to four years.  She counts among her accounting team some Parisians, a French woman from Martinique, and a colleague from Thailand.

I had expected diversity in marketing, sales, innovation, and operations.  In accounting!

The Prerequisites to Reaping the Riches of Diversity

SSe: “For me there is no real cost to diversity.  There are prerequisites that, if they are not in place, I am convinced that a diversity strategy will not work well.”

DD: “Thank you.”

Thank You

Steven Sels shared his experience of diversity at work which challenges us to review our own beliefs and behaviors.

  • What are some of the riches you gained from diversity within your teams?
  • How do you compare cultural, gender, ethnic, and age diversity issues and benefits?
  • What questions do you have for Steven Sels?  Please write themm in the comments.

Stay tuned for next week as Steven Sels, CEO of Primagaz France, talks about the processes determine the success of their diversity strategy.

Cover photo – a diversity of Olympian champions


  1. Mooi Steven! Moest iedereen deze diversiteit als een kans oppakken en niet als een gevaar zien, zou onze maatschappij er heel wat mooier uitzien. Diversiteit zorgt nu dikwijls voor angst en conflict, wordt door onze politici als pasmunt gebruikt voor eigen belang. Jij gebruikt het als een sterkte, een katalysator voor succes.

    Prima gas(t) !

    Beautiful Steven! Should everyone take this diversity as an opportunity and not see it as a danger, our society would look a lot nicer. Diversity now often causes fear and conflict, is used by our politicians as a small change for their own sake. You use it as a strength, a catalyst for success.

    1. Dear Koen,
      Thanks for your touch of cultural diversity with your comment. I added an English translation to include more folk in the conversation.
      Wishing you opportunities to turn diversity into a catalyst for success in your work too.
      Sincerely, Denise Dampierre

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