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Société Générale Deputy CEO, Severin Cabannes, On Driving Diversity

Société Générale Deputy CEO, Severin Cabannes, discusses what the French bank has learned from the financial crisis and how the company plans to increase diversity among the C-level employees.

Société Générale’s Severin Cabannes 

Société Générale’s Severin Cabannes

Like most financial institutions these days, Société Générale is adjusting its exposure to crises, says Severin Cabannes, one of three deputy CEOs who serve under chairman and CEO Frédéric Oudéa. “Our new strategy is growth at lower risk,” he asserts, echoing a sentiment widely held by today’s CEOs. “We have implemented new limits in terms of market risk appetite, stress test limits and value-at-risk limits. But we’re also changing what I call the culture in terms of risk management, which involves greater awareness of the real risk reward of each operation.”

The Paris, France-based global banking concern, which holds $2,259 billion in assets, is also pressing forward on a topic getting a bit less play in today’s economy- obsessed environment: diversity. Although Société Générale has a presence in 82 countries around the world and just 60,000 of its 160,000 employees—or 37 percent—are French, its management is predominantly French. “Of the top 50 players, only 20 percent are non-French,” reports Cabannes, who says that the company is working to address that disparity as well as a dearth of women managers.

“We have two [objectives] among our diversity requirements—to promote women and to promote non-French colleagues,” he notes, adding that Société Générale has a future leaders program geared toward furthering those goals. “Our internal mid-term objective is to get from 20 to 35 percent.”

The effort is as much about business as reputation, he adds. “When you have different perceptions, different viewpoints on a team, you create value,” says Cabannes. “Our ambition on this is not only for the sake of image.”

But perhaps most ambitious of Société Générale’s targets is its push for global growth. The bank has set its sites on three milestones: ranking among the top five non-U.S. banks in the U.S., among the top three retail banks in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, and among the top five corporate and investment banks in Europe. “We are a global bank, even if our first footprint is Europe,” says Cabannes, who notes that Société Générale has a leading international position in equity derivatives, a strong geographic presence abroad and sector expertise, particularly in natural resources and energy. “The U.S. represents 20 percent of our total revenue, and we anticipate maintaining that share as we pursue significant potential for growth in Russia, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, as well as in retail banking in France.”

About Jennifer Pellet

As editor-at-large at Chief Executive magazine, Jennifer Pellet writes feature stories and CEO roundtable coverage and also edits various sections of the publication.