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For Gareth O’Reilly, discussing trust is like a duck taking to water, because for him trust is the foundation of humans working, living, thriving and believing in one another. It can never be assumed or taken for granted

Gareth O’Reilly is Zone President and Managing Director, Pacific at Schneider Electric. Schneider Electric’s mission is to be the digital partner for sustainability and efficiency. It drives digital transformation by integrating world-leading process and energy technologies, end-point to cloud connecting products, controls, software and services, across the entire lifecycle, enabling integrated company management, for homes, buildings, data centers, infrastructure and industries.

It can take years to build and moments to destroy. Above all, trust is what defines human success.

Enthusiastic and optimistic, Gareth O’Reilly speaks about trust with passion and straight-talking common sense, like it’s been a focus for him and his organisation long before trust was universally embraced as a guiding characteristic of value creation.

And that’s because, for him, trust is not a recent revelation or nascent performance metric. Over his almost 30-year career, Gareth has been fascinated by the power of trust to steer an individual or organisation. He describes it as “a compass, or direction, of what we aspire to be”. Unsurprisingly Schneider Electric has been recognised as one of the world’s most ethical companies over the last two decades. The reason for this consistency doesn’t just lie with individual efforts. Schneider Electric has a more substantive way to galvanise the organisation towards a better version of itself.

"In recognition of how trust has become more fragile in today’s world, and our ambition to be the best version of ourselves, we actually defined a Trust Charter. Starting from what trust means to us, a set of values that we stand for, and encompassing many different aspects of us as leaders and people, and the values and behaviours we wish to demonstrate and celebrate."

Listen. Don’t just preach.

Gareth expands upon this in terms of how important it is to create a culture where people are heard. He believes fairness and equity across generation, gender, orientation, and origin is achieved when people feel the freedom to raise issues and concerns, and the organisation responds quickly and with transparency. This is one of the clearest ways to have your people trust in the organisation and to foster a true sense of belonging.

According to Gareth, what a company stands for is also vital for another critical stakeholder - your customers. 

To build trust with customers is ensuring they know we stand for fairness and equity. We stand for a better future. We stand for trust and integrity. And above all, we do what we say we will do. It’s that simple.

A 180-year company history is testament to getting these customer principles right. A customer centricity that means senior executives regularly get out of the office and spend time with clients to understand their needs and ambitions. NPS survey scores and owned channel feedback loops have also enabled an open dialogue and a framework of constant improvement.

“Listening to our customers has shifted the priorities of investment towards technology, innovation and more recently sustainability. Over the last 15 years, sustainability has become a core of what we do as a business, but also how we act as a business. How we help our customers become more sustainable. We are on this journey together so we must work together.”

One of Schneider Electric’s core businesses is data management, made possible by a network of data centers worldwide. As a hot button for trust, secure data integrity is a significant responsibility.

“We live in a world where large amounts of data both personal and corporate or government have been given up. Nefarious actors are increasing in number and their methods are become more sophisticated. As such, cybersecurity and data integrity has become an instrument of trust."

So too the management of AI and its potential risks.

Intelligence may be artificial. Bias is real.

“Of course AI offers game changing benefits to innovation, creativity and productivity. But an area of risk is inherent bias. Machine learning is leveraging historic data and this can propagate bias based on gender and ethnicity.”

The Trust Charter has wisely encompassed AI to include the right to challenge, the right to access and the right to reprogram. While he acknowledges the challenges, his enthusiasm is in no way dampened, referencing one of his favourite quotes: ‘The pessimists are more accurate, but the optimists are more successful.’

Making sure the good outweighs the bad is a phrase Gareth circles back on throughout the interview. You could suggest oversimplification, but you’d be missing the point. It reveals a disarming honesty and an understanding of the imperfect human journey. Or in other words, a north star for personal judgement.

You know, you can only write so many policies and procedures, you have to give people agency to use their judgment based on a fundamental set of agreed values.

Inevitably a human-centered organisation, a term Gareth uses to describe Schneider Electric, will need to manage human error.

When trust is breached, you have to trust in the process.

With a clarity both inspiring and refreshing, Gareth shares his leadership team’s clear articulation of how they manage a breach of trust. First is an acknowledgement that incidents will occur, no matter what procedures and policies you have in place, including their 100% training compliance across the organisation.

“The assessment regime is one of transparency, intent and unbiased judgement. We’re all humans. We make errors. How you act on these errors is what defines your organisation, the values you hold and the standards you apply across everyone in the organisation.”

In no uncertain terms, Gareth talks about the importance of owning a mistake. 

We have a value called ‘act like owners’, which means if something goes wrong, own it and speak up. And coming back to values, this concept of having a voice and speaking up and not being afraid to say something's not right, is key to us. We celebrate that.

"We have a value called ‘act like owners’, which means if something goes wrong, own it and speak up. And coming back to values, this concept of having a voice and speaking up and not being afraid to say something's not right, is key to us. We celebrate that."

This unapologetic optimism is best summed up when Gareth says that “even a breach of trust can become an opportunity to build trust.”

A final word.

While the conversation with Gareth O’Reilly has covered so many topics anchored to trust what is evident is his conviction and long-term view in its importance. You’re also left with the notion that despite the complexity of his organisation, the vast array of technologies across multiple sectors, there is a very human narrative that guides and steers its people and culture, and no doubt attracts and impresses customers all over the world.

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