Catherine Fiamma Macgregor
CEO / Engie
North Caroline Governor Roy Coopper recently remarked that “a strong renewable energy industry is good for the environment and the economy.” As head of the French Engie energy group, CEO Catherine Fiamma McGregor has proven that adage to be fact.
When Catherine Fiamma MacGregor first took the helm of the French transnational energy group Engie in January 2021, she knew she was biting off a lot to chew given the tumultuous nature of the global energy market at the time.
With the world in the midst of a global Covid-19 pandemic and mounting tensions brewing between Ukraine and Russia, the international energy market was anything
In fact, when the then-48-year-old McGregor became Engie’s CEO, global energy demand was down 7.6 percent compared to the previous year, thanks mainly to coronavirus lockdown measures and corporate slowdowns, and by the time Russia finally invaded Ukraine a year later, energy supplies and prices became even more volatile.
But with nearly 25 years of experience in the energy market, including having worked for both Schlumberger (the world’s largest offshore drilling company) and Tepnich Energies (which specializes in subsea and surface energy projects), MacGregor, an engineer by trade, was undaunted by the challenge. MacGregor’s first move as Engie’s CEO was to announce her intention to reinvent the former state-owned gas monopoly by making it a green energy champion, focusing more on services than supplies.
“We all have to think and work greener,” MacGregor said at the time.
“Engie is trying to simplify its structure by selling off some activities to concentrate on others, such as renewable energy, and streamlining its sprawling structure.”
Her dramatic push to sell off many of the company’s fossil fuel assets made MacGregor an instant global environmental paladin, but while Engie’s corporate image was boosted by her sustainability dream, the company’s stock price initially lagged behind its rivals, and stockholders were uneasy with her gung-ho approach to the greening of the company.
MacGregor also launched a new strategy to pull back from services and asset sales in non-core sectors and to court private investors into a company that was still 24-percent owned by the French government, which had outsized voting rights and three board seats.
But despite her naysayers, MacGregor was unrelenting in her mission to not only reinvent Engie, but also to transform the entire global energy market.
And within 12 months, her strategy paid off in spades for Engie, which ended 2021 with a 31.6 percent growth in gross revenues and a 21.9 percent growth in EBITDA.
Having proven that the company could grow financially while still maintaining its carbon neutrality target by 1945, MacGregor took her greener power platform on the road and became an international spokesperson for a sustainable energy evolution, promoting cleaner sources over oil and gas options.
“The sheer magnitude and urgency of the energy transition makes it an unprecedented challenge for the world,” she said.
“At Engie, it is at the heart of our corporate purpose, our strategy and everything that we do. At a time when the debate on energy planning was gaining traction, we wanted to share our convictions on what we believe to be the most realistic pathway.”
That pathway, she said, was developed on a successful transition to net-zero carbon while ensuring that the cost to citizens and businesses be kept under control by developing a robust and reliable energy system.
“To achieve this, we are convinced of the need to exploit all levers for decarbonization. The combination of the molecule and the electron is the answer to these challenges.”
By 2022, MacGregor’s greener energy policies were paying off in an even bigger way for Engie, with a 62-percent boost in revenues compared to the previous year and a 78-percent rise in recurring income.
Today, Engie owns 64.2 gigawatts of installed capacity, composed of 38 percent natural gas, 25 percent hydro, 14 percent onshore wind and 8 percent nuclear, with most of its power plants located in Brazil, France and Belgium.
And with global investment in clean energy set to reach $1.7 trillion this year, Engie is well positioned to show even more dramatic growth in its 2023 financial report.
Notwithstanding, MacGregor is still on guard when it comes to the unpredictability of energy prices and supplies.
“The energy crisis is far from over so we must remain vigilant,” she warned in mid-September of this year.
“And neither Europe nor the rest of the world are immune to gas supply disruptions or a rebound in demand, even though this winter outlook is better than last year’s.”
And though she acknowledged that geopolitics and other external pressures on global energy supplies could continue to stir turbulence in the international market long into 2026 and even 2027, MacGregor said that the energy sector is a “super-attractive and unbelieve sector” of the world economy.
“We all need to release more positive energy and continue the transition to a more carbon-neutral world,” she said.
“And by doing that, we are going to transform the world for the better.”