Eric Saracchi: Bridging Dreams and Reality

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With a nod to the original Jared Leto quote, Eric Saracchi of Firmenich believes the bridge between reality and a dream is hard work.

Eric, a Swiss national, is the father of five children. He loves music and enjoys playing guitar, though far from being good at it. Eric is passionate in leading-edge concepts and technologies. He dreams to change the world but spends his time in corporate organizational transformation.

Eric is not a boring Chief Information Officer, but an innovative and strategic thinker, overseeing and adopting the evolving digital technologies and platforms in order to create engaging customer experiences, enable agility, and grow key initiatives. He is leading and driving the digital business transformation at Firmenich (leading family owned company leader in perfume and flavor).

Eric Saracchi joined Firmenich in 1992 as a trainee within the Manufacturing & Logistics division. In 1995, he transferred to the Information Services division where he led numerous global projects while acquiring solid international expertise.

From 2008 to 2011, Eric successfully led the most important business and organization transformation program ever undertaken by Firmenich supported by the SAP technology. In 2012, Eric was promoted Chief Information Officer. Eric is the co-author of a book on leadership and holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of Geneva, diplomas in supply chain from the INSEAD, strategy from IMD and has been recently graduated at the Singularity University.

VINAJ: Tell us a bit about Firmenich and the flavors and fragrances industry.

ERIC: Firmenich creates fragrances and flavors for the world’s most desirable brands, delighting billions of consumers every day. Swiss and family-owned for over 120 years, Firmenich is the largest private company in its industry and is headquartered in Geneva.

"Ethical and sustainable practices are deeply important for this company, not only because of the name of the family, but because our values reflect it."

Founded in 1895, the group turnover is 3.34 Billion Swiss Francs with an average annual growth rate of 7%. The company has 7,000 employees worldwide with a presence in 100+ markets.

Where our raw materials are derived from synthetic processes, the use of green chemistry principles is an essential part of our process-development activities.

We are committed to creating only biodegradable ingredients as part of our Green Gate strategy.

Ethical and sustainable practices are deeply important for this company, not only because of the name of the family, but because our values reflect it.

We buy raw natural materials at the closest point to the farmers. We are financing cooperatives, schools and hospitals to improve the life of the farmers. In addition, one of our digital activities is to implement traceability from the producer to the consumer, and we have many innovation activities around that.

VINAJ: You have been at Firmenich for many years as a CIO and have Digital as part of your mandate. What has been a large change that you have had to drive through in your organization in the past?

ERIC: I have managed many changes including transforming functions using SAP, which was the most expensive investment and most transformational initiative at the time for the company. When I took over the Information Services (IS) organization, I started by transforming along a four-pillar program (asset optimization, service mindset, upscaling people & innovation culture). This was the beginning of the innovation framework and digitalization program.

VINAJ: What is the biggest challenge or change that is ahead as the emphasis on digital continues to increase?

ERIC: To move to the next step of transforming IS to transforming the whole company. This means defining digital. It’s not about cutting jobs; it’s about enhancing human beings. Successful digital transformation is the convergence between technologies, business and human beings.

We can use artificial intelligence (AI) to facilitate tedious jobs. I prefer the IA (Intelligence Augmentation) approach for enhancing human capabilities. We need to have a heart and to be creative.

How will we transform the company from creating and compounding flavor and fragrance to a software company that produces flavors and fragrances is my biggest challenge.

VINAJ: Specifically, how does AI and machine learning affect the fragrance and flavors business?

ERIC: Personalization is desired by consumers and will drive the necessity to go faster and closer to the consumer. For that, you won’t have enough perfumers. We have to enhance and ease the life of creators to help in their ingenuity in certain parts of the business. Thanks to robotics and intelligence augmentation, the creators can focus on enhancing creation.

VINAJ: You established an innovation function a few years ago. What were the drivers for it and what are important considerations moving forward?

ERIC: When you cut cost, then you don’t have anything left. To motivate yourself and your organization you need to find new ways of succeeding and growing. The drivers for the innovation function was to find use cases for the digital buzz word… it was a great way to find use cases by leveraging methodologies. Technology without this mindset is useless.

"We have to use the power of the naysayers and the bystanders as fuel to go beyond our boundaries"

VINAJ: How will the EU’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and compliance affect innovation?

ERIC: GDPR is important. Businesses can’t “steal” the lives of people without them knowing. GDPR will ensure EU businesses anonymize information and empower the individual to choose what information they want to share. Part of the difficulty is technology is going faster than regulation. Technology allows for innovation without boundaries. When this abuse blurs the lines of ethics, it’s important to regulate it.

VINAJ: What advice do you have for anyone starting an innovation group?

ERIC: We have to use the power of the naysayers and the bystanders as a fuel to go beyond our boundaries.

Nothing is impossible today, thanks to tech. The world we are living in allows us to dream big. I have the chance to work for a company that really believes in leaving a positive legacy. This is aligned with my values and purpose. I feel responsible for leaving the planet better for the next generation.

As my favorite singer, Jared Leto, said “I always believe that the bridge between reality and a dream is (‘hard’) work.”

VINAJ: Any closing thoughts that you’d like to elaborate on or share?

ERIC: Adapting to the new world requires developing talents. We need to be very humble as leaders today towards the complexity of our world. There is no magic recipe to be successful in digital. The basic ingredients are people, culture, mindset, and behaviors.

And finally, you can’t do things alone. The culture of openness, going to others, expanding your network without taking advantage of others, but building together with others is what makes the difference.