Luc Speisser of Landor & Fitch: Five Strategies Our Company Is Using To Tackle Climate Change & Become More Sustainable
Don’t be overwhelmed by the challenge: start with small steps. You can’t change the world in one day. But you can for sure change it in 10 years. So don’t wait: start now.
As part of my series about how companies are becoming more sustainable, I had the pleasure of interviewing Luc Speisser.
Luc Speisser is the Global Chief Innovation Officer at Landor and Fitch. He joined Landor in 2005 as Executive Director of Brand Strategy before becoming Managing Director of Landor Paris & Geneva, and lastly President of Landor Europe for two years. Luc has 25 years of experience focusing on innovation and transformation, business leadership, behavioural change, strategy and global brand experience. He began his career leading public health behavioural change programmes for NGOs and the French government, before working at top-tier advertising firms in Havas Group and Interpublic Group.
As a member of the Global Executive Team, Luc is responsible for embedding innovation at all levels. Creating new everything, every day, by everyone. Creating and deploying offers to answer client needs and developing new capabilities across the global network — through strong partnerships and strategic talent growth. Luc is also supervising officer for key client accounts.
Luc melds innovative, strategic thinking paired with cutting-edge creativity to build strong teams, and drives excellence in both creativity and business efficiency. As President of Landor Paris and Geneva, Luc completely restructured the teams and the business. As a consequence, the office experienced uninterrupted business growth for seven years and received 94 creativity and efficiency awards since 2013. This includes 1 Effie, 8 D&AD Pencils and 7 Cannes Lions, making Landor the most awarded design agency at Cannes two years in a row. From 2017 to 2019, Luc continued to drive business growth and performance on a regional level, as President of Landor Europe.
He has led numerous ambitious and enduring global branding programs for clients such as Airbus, Citroën, Coty, Danone, the European Commission, Fédération Internationale de Volleyball, Geodis, Kellogg’s, LVMH, Procter & Gamble, Renault, Total, Visa and Volkswagen Group.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I would say it is a combination of education, passion, and experience.
Let’s start with education. There are two things my mother used to tell me, that have stayed with me: “what counts in life is what you do, not what you have” and “don’t be afraid to do what you believe in”. The first has ignited my gargantuan appetite for pragmatism: do stuff, not just think or talk stuff. The second has installed the chip of authenticity and fearlessness in my brain and downloaded the deep conviction that any problem can be solved if you truly face it, with your strengths and with your passions.
Speaking about passions: my appetite for writing came very, very early. Some children drew, I wrote. Stories, poems, articles. Touching people with my writing is something I realized early on I wasn’t too bad at. Over the years, I discovered that this ability was transferable beyond my native language — French. The idea to find a job where I could use this skill came quite naturally.
And now experience. When I studied at Paris Sorbonne, I wrote my thesis on public AIDS prevention campaigns. This ignited my desire to do something about it, so I went to San Francisco at the hardest time of the AIDS pandemic, when there was no cure and only prevention, and became a full-time volunteer at the San Francisco Aids Foundation. At the time, relapse of preventive behaviors within the gay community was one of their main challenges. So here I was, this French heterosexual guy, working on finding a radical new way to reignite the gay community’s desire to stay alive. This made me realize that I had the curiosity and the capacity to put myself in the shoes of people who were different from me and, most importantly, to find innovative solutions to efficiently address complex problems.
Now bring together pragmatism, fearlessness to face and solve complex problems, creative writing, endless curiosity for people plus the conviction that anything can be changed for the better, and you land on what I think is the true definition of design: creative problem-solving. And that’s what I did in all my jobs, even before joining Landor & Fitch. Innovating everything to make things better: innovating aids prevention and communications, innovating ways of working, transforming teams, offices, and the region I was leading, and now innovating at all levels, as Global Chief Innovation Officer of Landor & Fitch.
What is the mission of your company? What problems are you aiming to solve?
At Landor & Fitch I discovered real brand design (transformation of a whole business through brand). The one that puts the brand at the heart of the company, connects its business strategy to its brand strategy and reconciles what it says (communication) with what it does (products & services, places, culture). It’s this modernity and pioneering spirit that attracted me. And it’s the unique balance between pure consulting and concrete transformation driven by creativity that keeps me there.
We are a brand-led transformation company striving to make a positive difference: for our clients, our people, our communities, and the world around us. We mix left & right brain people, working together, to go beyond what’s expected. As we are makers of brands and brand experiences that touch everyone in their lives, we have a responsibility to make better.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Sustainability is such a complex innovation challenge that requires collective intelligence. We don’t attempt to do it on our own: we believe it is imperative to partner with others, so we have created an ecosystem of team members, experts, partners, and volunteers — both within and outside of our company. For example, over a year ago, we created The Good Squad, a global community of volunteers that anybody in our company can join to dedicate some of their working time to innovate sustainable solutions. Our Landor & Fitch Good Squad is currently working on solving pressing challenges to make design more inclusive and accessible.
The greatest impact we have is through the work we do for our clients. Sustainability is about bringing together people, planet, and profit — three indissociable notions as per the United Nations’s official definition. And we believe sustainability is any company’s biggest opportunity, that must be approached through the lens of innovation and brand.
The problem is that when it comes to businesses, the last “P”, profit has been forgotten along the way. Brands are facing a herculean challenge on cost. All stakeholders — from consumers, to employees, to regulators, to investors — expect more. Businesses must invest heavily in sustainability, and yet most consumers won’t accept an increased price to compensate. The result: brands are at the whim of marginal, if any, returns from their sustainability investments. And let’s be honest: any business exists to make money. Otherwise, it dies. Sustainability investments must deliver returns — both financial and reputational — to be ‘sustainable’ for business. Something needs to change.
Of course, compliance with the ever-shifting expectations and standards is essential: brands must reach parity in their sustainability strategy. But what we’re seeing is the emergence of a green sea of sameness, where everyone is diving into sustainability without first considering what their unique and wholly-ownable approach can and should be.
As a brand-led transformation company, we have a central role in connecting sustainability to brand and ensuring that sustainability efforts support a business’s commercial success.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
We believe finding and focusing on a point of differentiation is where brands can unlock the greatest returns. While compliance certainly makes brands more relevant to consumers, to regulators and to investors, it fails to create difference. And without difference, sustainability is just a cost and doesn’t generate profit.
To change this, brand is the missing piece of the puzzle, because strong brands bring together relevance and difference. We need to think of sustainability in a brand-led way — with the brand truly at the heart — to shift it from a cost to an investment that drives return.
Whether you are a brand that has already launched many initiatives or one that is just starting out, you first need to assess where you are and where you want to go. After defining this ambition, you uncover what makes you different in your sustainability actions, what your brand can uniquely champion across the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Are all sustainable initiatives born equal? No. Some are necessary to achieve parity with your industry, while others will drive a sharper point of difference and greater financial returns than others. Potential can be assessed using future market modeling, revealing the most impactful initiatives today and in the future. This allows businesses to focus on the most profitable activities, and to build a business case for change. Finally, standing out requires more than just analysis alone: it needs extraordinary creativity to bring the brand-led sustainability strategy to life across product, packaging, spaces, experiences and so on.
A quick example of this is the fashion brand, Tommy Hilfiger. Only a few years ago, here was a brand stuck in the American Dream of the ’80s that was becoming less and less relevant and more and more exclusive. They repositioned their brand and redefined the Tommy Hilfiger American Dream with a new purpose: Anything is possible for everyone. Now as a fashion brand, they had a responsibility to reduce harm on issues inherent to their industry such as waste and recycling (point of parity). But they did not stop there: driven by their purpose, they decided to champion radical inclusivity (or SDG n°10: Reduced Inequalities). They elevated a hidden jewel that existed within their R&D, and invested to turn it into a sizeable business: Adaptive, a clothing range developed for people with mobility or sensory disabilities with seven patented innovations and a dedicated e-commerce platform. With Adaptive, Tommy Hilfiger is successfully standing out from a reputational standpoint and also delivering incremental gross profit. And now, they have influenced many other brands like LVMH that are investing in adaptive ranges; and these other brands will certainly be doing it in their very own singular way.
In conclusion, you should connect sustainability to what you do best (your business) and to what makes you unique (your brand).
The youth-led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are five things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
Below are five principles that I would encourage parents to equip their children with, in order to make them positive contributors to both environmental and social progress. And I sure hope I have done my part in successfully transmitting these to my own children.
Be curious, make the effort to understand environmental or social challenges in their complexity — don’t put people or companies into “good” or “bad” boxes right away. Moralization leads to nowhere and is the alibi of the lazy ones. Any problem should be deeply understood because a problem well defined is a problem half solved.
Be an actor for positive change, not just a talker. Positive action creates a virtuous circle, in which it will influence others to also do good. Start with your daily life, for example if you make the effort to put your trash into the recycling bins, chances are that your family members will mirror your behavior.
Never forget that anything can be changed for the better: the capacity that humans have to innovate and improve is endless — it’s just a question of will. The choice is on you.
If you want to make a real impact, choose your fight depending on what resonates most with your personality. You can’t champion everything, so focus on championing something that you are passionate about: I was and still am passionate about changing behaviors and mentalities — that is why I spent years working on AIDS prevention, which enabled me to fight both for health and against homophobia. There are 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals: find the one(s) that inspire(s) you the most and act upon it.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the challenge: start with small steps. You can’t change the world in one day. But you can for sure change it in 10 years. So don’t wait: start now.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
There are 6 (rather than 5, sorry) major things I have learned as a leader, that I believe are helpful for people who start in their leadership roles or might be apprehensive of taking on a leadership role.
- Don’t be afraid of doing the wrong thing. Of being fired. Do what you believe in, not what you think others would like you to do.
- Think long-term but deliver short-term — create a path for your journey with quick wins, to show that you are heading in the right direction.
- Think impact and achievement, not input or activity. People will judge you on results, not on hours.
- Lead with passion and vision; it’s more contagious than authority and will enable you to gather a greater gang around you.
- Team is everything and you are nothing without a team. Nobody can do great things alone. Behind every great achievement, there is always a great team. Make sure you put the right people in the right positions.
- Asking for help (to the people who report to you, as well as to the people you are reporting to) is not a weakness. It is a strength: a sign of both humbleness and confidence.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Well, if you look at my answers to question five, you will understand why the people I am particularly grateful to, is indeed a very long list.
In a spirit of synthesis, I will focus on my 15 years at Landor & Fitch and start by saying how grateful I am to the leadership team I brought together when I became Managing Director of Landor Paris: Tristan, Oriane, Stéphane, Christophe, Géraldine and Maureen. Without them, we could never have transformed the culture of the studio to one of excellence, at all levels — business consulting, strategy, creative, and production — shifting Landor Paris from a local studio of an Anglo-Saxon network to one of the world’s most successful players in its category. This resulted in both outstanding financial and creative performance: it took us four years only to become the world’s most awarded agency in the design category at Cannes Lions 2015.
All of this could not have been possible without the amazing leaders that trusted and supported me all along this transformation: Charlie Wrench, Mary Zalla, Lois Jacobs, Peter Knapp, and of course, Jane Geraghty, CEO of Landor & Fitch, who has been my boss for nearly a decade now!
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Over the past 25 years of my career, I was privileged to work and meet with many company C-suite leaders, investors, and business experts of various backgrounds. One key conviction that came from this privileged position is that if you want to change the world, you must change the way you do business.
If sustainability is about bringing together people, planet and profit, then a company’s stock value should also be measured against those three pillars. This model already exists: it is called triple bottom line. I would love to see the best economic, business and political brains in the world come together and make this model the only one to measure every company’s performance in the near future.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“People overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10.”
This was said by Bill Gates, and I have applied this to myself both in my professional and personal life. 10 years ago exactly, I decided to start learning guitar, not an easy instrument to pick up as an adult. I sounded awful at first and could have given up many times. But look at me now, about to play at Madison Square Gardens. I’m joking of course, but my family and friends sure appreciate my music now (at least more than they did in my first year).
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media.
Find me on Linkedin or for a shorter read on Twitter: @lucspeisser
And if you want to find out more about our Brand-led Sustainability Approach, you can have a look at our whitepaper “The Power of Brand: Making Sustainability Profitable”
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!