Ethics and Economic Recovery: A Unique Opportunity for Quebec
15 February 2021
Éthique et relance économique : une occasion unique pour le Québec

Webinar synopsis “Éthique et conformité : au cœur de la relance” (Ethics and compliance: keys to recovery)

Sophie Brochu was appointed President and CEO of Hydro-Québec in April 2020, as an unprecedented crisis was taking hold around the world. Even though she was on sabbatical when she received the offer from the government-owned corporation, as a woman of action, she didn’t hesitate. She had to lend a hand amid the uncertainty that was developing within the company.

With her characteristic integrity and at the dawn of a necessary economic recovery in Quebec and beyond, she humbly expresses her thoughts on the importance of ethics and compliance in this process, which, in her opinion, has a lot of grey areas.

The ubiquitous grey areas

“When you’re operating in a fog, you have to move cautiously forward and be comfortable in the grey areas,” she says. “That’s not a problem for me, as long as I’m well supported. Hydro-Québec is here to serve society. We immediately brought together powerful forces and rolled out measures for Quebecers who were struggling financially.”

Figuring out how to bounce back from this crisis and how to help Quebecers do the same was a top priority for the Crown corporation, which, along with the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, is one of the partners of the certification in ethics and compliance offered by HEC Montréal’s Executive Education.

“There are definitely a lot of expectations of Hydro-Québec, including showing exemplary behaviour,” says the CEO. “I say this not because we consider ourselves exemplary when it comes to ethics and compliance, but because we feel responsible for moving forward with resolve and determination, and being extremely open to best practices in the field, which we sometimes find in very small companies.”

In Sophie’s opinion, the ability to be exemplary doesn’t depend on an organization’s size: “But an organization’s size brings with it responsibility in terms of the desire and need to move forward in that regard.”

Action at the top

Contrary to what we often hear about the tone at the top when it comes to the driving force behind an organization’s choice of values, Sophie believes more in action at the top: “A company’s ethics and compliance is the sum of the ethics and compliance of each of the people who works there. It takes only one person to stray for the entire organization to be called into question. You can’t behave differently at home and at work, and nothing’s ever black or white all the time.”

These grey areas also relate to values: individual values, corporate value, societal values, which are not necessarily consistent. “People are happy in their jobs when their personal values match the company’s values, and when the company’s values are connected to those of the society in which they live,” she says. “However, a company’s values sometimes get frozen in time, while society continues to move forward. It’s that type of grey area that can be very troubling for people. That’s why it’s important to understand changes and mechanisms, identify the grey areas, and find ways as managers to be comfortable with them.”

It’s also important to have spaces for dialogue and sharing platforms to establish that correlation between personal values and an organization’s values. And, given that the margin for error is becoming increasingly small, a company as a whole and not just one department has to be responsible for issues of ethics and compliance. “You have to be careful because you can define what you consider to be a core value of Quebec society, whereas someone else will see it completely differently,” says Sophie.

Strength in numbers

Given all these challenges and issues, how does Sophie see Quebec’s economic recovery after the pandemic? “Today, Quebecers realize that we’re much stronger together than individually,” she says. “We need each other to overcome collective challenges. We also realize that we need to be consistent as individuals, and organizations have to work to lead the way. We have to change the way we think, develop, invest and consume if we want to be more consistent, with more aligned values.”

To that end, she has a great deal of confidence in the next generation: “It’s up to you to urge 58 year-old leaders like me so that we can enjoy an environment that is as humane, honest and ethical as possible.”


➲ Interested in learning more about best practices in corporate ethics and how to implement them in your organization? Then be sure to apply to the next cohort in the Certification in Ethics and Compliance program and take your skills to the next level.

➲ Questions? Feel free to reach out to Joëlle Zoghbi, Program Manager, to book an appointment.