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Talks with Katia Euzen, Managing Director at Group Digital: Illuminating Leadership and Innovation in Retail

In this exclusive interview, we talked with Katia Euzen, the dynamic Managing Director at Group Digital and a member of the Board at Expert International, to unravel the intricacies of her leadership style, her instrumental role in steering Group Digital’s success, and her perspectives on the evolving landscape of the retail industry.

As a driving force behind the cooperative’s commitment to transparency, fairness, and technological advancement, Katia provides valuable insights into the challenges and triumphs that have shaped her journey. Join us for a compelling conversation that explores the intersection of innovation, commerce, and leadership in the world of retail.

Take us through the journey that has led you to your current role.

After a course in business school, I joined Group Digital even though this company had been created 7 years previously. There was already an interesting network but there was a lot to build in many areas such as marketing and information systems to optimize the services provided to our network and also to our business partners. I, therefore, dedicated the first part of my experience at Group Digital to Marketing and communication projects and all development topics.

As the structure did not have an information system, I carried out a lot of work to install numerous tools to streamline the relationship, the exchanges upstream with our suppliers/manufacturers and downstream with our network. I understood very quickly that Data was at the heart of all subjects and that we had to approach this complex but strategic subject in a transversal way. This is what led me to explore all the services of our structure, to master their operation, and to identify the optimization levers for the future. Group Digital offered me the opportunity to take an interest in all dimensions of the company. I seized it and it was quite natural that I evolved into responsibility alongside a CEO, who always placed his trust in me and supported me in my desire for a career development.

From 2016 to 2018, I was particularly prepared to take on the role that I have today. During these 2 years I took up a part-time EMBA course alongside my current duties. The current Chairman, then CEO, accompanied me to prepare for his succession which officially took place in January 2020.

Katia Euzen, CEO at Group Digital, interview

What is your overall philosophy for leading an organization such as Group Digital?

Remember very frequently who we are, our history, and our values so as not to forget where we come from, to remain humble, and the Mission of our group which is “to defend and strengthen specialized independent commerce to perpetuate it”. I bring together heterogeneous companies (btoc – btob – wholesaler – pure player..) but complementary companies wishing to build a powerful collective together.
In 1987, the choice was made to carry out this adventure under the aegis of a cooperative status which imposes an operation framed around transparency, fairness, commitment, and proximity. Strong foundations which also happen to be mine in my personal life.
It is therefore essential in my role to prioritize the general interest while respecting the individualities (and their specificities) making up the group. It is a permanent balancing act, stimulating humanly and intellectually.
The purpose of Group Digital is to serve the interests of the companies that make it up to enable them to optimize their profitability and development.

Describe what are your three biggest accomplishments.

Having built a strong information system in the company from scratch, an environment that is constantly developing. This is all the more important because, due to our heterogeneity, it has been and still is very complex to build and maintain numerous flows from and to various ERPs and applications. But with perseverance and ingenuity, we get there! It’s such a stimulating and strategic topic.

At one point in my career, I also managed a major sporting partnership for 3 years to promote the Group Digital brand in France during the legendary annual event “Le Tour de France”. We had a large-scale system as an Official Partner and sponsor of the Team ranking. It was a great experience to implement my knowledge and develop it in various areas: the arduous negotiation of a contract with the organizer ASO, budgetary management and planning, culture & lobbying of mass media, activation of online operations, management of teams in the field with the hazards of homelessness and its unforeseen events during the 3 weeks of the event… it was very educational and a real success in our network, which remains the ‘essential.

To have participated very actively and in a very limited time in the creation of the alliance of experts and our entry as a member of Expert International. The 3 French founding partners of this alliance rubbed shoulders and knew each other for quite a long time so the rapprochement was quite natural, however, it had to take place in January 2019 within a tight schedule. We had to be operational to operate the 2019 joint agreements which in France must be finalized before February 28. In 3 months, we had to set up an entire organization, drawing on everyone’s strengths and our undeniable desire to succeed. The journey since then shows us that it was worth it!

I would also add that I have managed to lead a balanced professional and personal life in which I flourish.

Nowadays, commerce takes place online and offline, we must also be representative of the environment in which our consumers operate.

Your cooperative operates in an era where there’s a perceived rivalry between physical and online commerce. How do you navigate this landscape to bring companies with different profiles together successfully?

Nowadays, commerce takes place online and offline, we must also be representative of the environment in which our consumers operate. By welcoming both company profiles, we enrich our overall thinking, and our knowledge of new forms of commerce and we share different but often complementary good practices.

We learn from each other and we strengthen our model overall by occupying space on these 2 channels to reach as many consumers as possible. This complementarity in profiles also strengthens our resilience in a changing market context that is more or less buoyant for each of these channels. This is also true for the Alliance of Experts within which the associates are more or less present on each of the channels.

Of course, we can say that bringing different, even competing but complementary profiles to life within this large family is not always easy. But the common thread that has always existed among us has been to be stronger together without harming the interests and roadmap of all the companies that make up us and while respecting each person’s DNA. Each company, with the contribution of its business force and its form of activity, contributes to strengthening our collective and this is what takes precedence for the success of all.

Group Digital has created a logistics subsidiary, Group Digital Développement. What led to the decision to establish this subsidiary, and how does it contribute to the overall success of the cooperative?

Through this subsidiary, we operate, streamline, and optimize the supply of our network on certain products in compliance with manufacturer and CDS agreements. The largely predominant scheme for us is direct supply (90%) of our network by the manufacturer. But the supply chain among many manufacturers has evolved and will probably evolve further, so with this subsidiary, we have the tool allowing us to guarantee our network continuity of access to the products that seem most strategic to us and at more attractive conditions than those offered by a specialized wholesaler. We therefore offer our network rapid access and, above all, maintain profitability, which is essential to maintaining a place in the competitive landscape.
It is important to emphasize that we approach each of the centralizations carried out in this structure by favoring the support of our cooperators who have an adapted and voluntary logistical tool to participate in this model as a service provider. Our diversity of member profiles discussed above gives us this capacity for internal action.

Our cooperative model is virtuous in the sense that it can very regularly give rise to new opportunities for synergy between components of our network. Everyone comes to us with their own specificities and very often the result is a new lever that benefits everyone.

Katia Euzen, CEO at Group Digital, interview

How does the current challenging economic environment impact Group Digital?

Since 2020, we cannot say that the years that follow one another do not have their share of unexpected things and uncertainties in store for us. I believe that we must adapt and demonstrate agility because in every crisis opportunities emerge. I am optimistic by nature without pretending to face difficulties or threats, so I capitalize on our strengths and we correct what is necessary to stay as close as possible to the market and its expectations.

The COVID effect has still given us new momentum, greater interest in home equipment products, and also the interest in a local physical business offering Human. Online certainly offers advantages but not yet that of contact with others. At the same time, the energy crisis has caused growing fervor for the repairability and durability of products. This works in our favor because our network perfectly masters advice, service, and after-sales with good technical skills and our manufacturing partners have taken up the subject by adapting their offer with products that consume less and less energy.

The inflation that we have been experiencing since the pandemic has led to a drop in consumers’ purchasing power and has therefore changed their behavior. Having become even more demanding, businesses must reinvent themselves and adapt their offering by offering second-hand, reconditioned, rental, or entry-level products. So many subjects that we are working on with our network so as not to miss out on new consumer expectations.

As the General Manager of Group Digital, what are your ultimate goals and plans for the future of the company?

Group Digital is today the largest French group of associated independent traders. To maintain this position and continue the development of our network of members, it is carrying out 4 major subjects: Diversification – Adaptation – Digitalization – Assert Oneself.

  • DIVERSIFY => We will strengthen our provision of services to the network by enriching our catalog of product offers in new divisions but also with new activity management tools. Without forgetting our core business: BG MDA SDA
  • ADAPT => We will work on increasing the skills of our teams in technical terms but also on digital and social networks, adapting our store concept to new expectations and trends in phygital. We will also continue to adapt our organization of the GDD subsidiary to be even more efficient and in line with the evolution of our environment.
  • DIGITALIZE => Continue our digitalization through offline in-store solutions, and back-off at headquarters but also online via marketing automation and artificial intelligence. Data being at the heart of all our projects.
  • ASSERT => Commit ourselves more to a CSR approach, reaffirming our DNA and our strong values in a new “greener and more omnichannel” store concept but also by speaking out on the different communication levers.

Many important projects were launched in 2023, so in the shorter term the year 2024 will therefore be the first 6 months devoted to their finalization, optimization, or continuation.

I don’t believe that you manage a business differently because of your gender but more according to your style, and who you really are.

As a female leader in the tech and retail industry, how do you perceive the role of women in shaping the future of our industry, and what advice would you offer to aspiring women leaders in this field?

For nearly 20 years, a new distribution of roles has been taking shape within companies across all sectors, including ours. The bias of limiting beliefs ingrained in the minds of many has been reworked and more inspiring female professional careers have inspired other women to follow the same path to achieve leadership. I don’t believe that you manage a business differently because of your gender but more according to your style, and who you really are.

The relationship with power is perhaps the notion that has evolved the most, with the accession of women but also thanks to the evolution of the training of today’s leaders. Power no longer translates into the leader’s ability to keep control of his teams and his responsibilities, but above all means the power to do things. This results in a different approach to relationships with others and an often less agonistic attitude.

As for a man, the desire to access the position of manager for a woman lies above all in a deep desire to undertake, to guide others, and to take on challenges. As long as the skills are proven, both are legitimate.

If I had to give some advice, I would say: trust yourself, assert yourself, dare and be willing to take risks. Manage with assertiveness and fairness, show yourself ambidextrous by jointly managing the exploitation of the company’s existing resources while exploring new opportunities to renew itself. Rigor, organization, and support will help you find the right balance between private and professional life.

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