An interview with António Mexia, CEO of EDP and host of TPT 2015

We caught up with António Mexia during The Performance Theatre Oslo, to talk about his reflections on his first Theatre experience – and look ahead to TPT Lisbon, in June next year, which he’ll be hosting.

So this was your first experience of The Performance Theatre – what did you make of it?

I was surprised. And today it is very difficult to be surprised in life. There are an enormous amount of events that people go to, but typically the takeaways are poor because we just repeat ourselves – there is no soul. At TPT, I felt there was an unusual freedom and openness; there was discussion among people with very different experiences, backgrounds, lives, sectors and countries. Everybody was happy because they were discussing difficult things in a very honest and ‘back to basics’ way. We had the space to talk about the things that are easy to forget in our daily lives.

Is this spirit of ‘back to basics’ particularly important today?

The spirit of going back to basics is absolutely essential today. We are more connected than ever and have access to more information than ever, so in the middle of this confusing world it is fundamentally important to go back to basics. To step back and look at the bigger picture – there are many parts of the puzzle when it comes to considering today’s big challenges, so you need to take the time to step out of your daily life and think about how do you do the puzzle?

Bearing in mind two key issues that TPT deals with are inequality and the balance between man and nature, these are difficult challenges and to deal with them you need to bring mind, heart and soul together.

Do you think TPT helps leaders make decisions?

An important thing that TPT helps you remember as a leader is that you are not alone. Typically, leadership is something that is considered solitary because at the end of the day the leader needs to take decisions. Leaders have to try and minimise the errors they may make when taking decisions – and we’re human, we all have grey areas, or blind spots, in our minds. I think the work of TPT minimises these blind spots.

TPT is all about leadership – how have you changed as a leader over time?

We all change. I was lucky in my life as I was given the possibility to be a leader at a young age. What increased along this journey was the ability to put myself in other people’s shoes. Listening more than just talking.

The most important thing today is the sense of urgency, to change things. As a younger leader the sense of urgency – the ‘rush’ – was different. At the beginning it’s a rush to show you can do better than others; later in life the rush is to do different from the others. Different in the sense of doing well but doing good at the same time. At the beginning I was in a rush to do well, now I’m in a rush to do well and good.

And this change comes primarily through listening. If you listen more, if you take the time to listen, the urgency and the rush changes. You gain a more holistic vision, you gain wisdom, you have more empathy. TPT can help leaders with this process.

You talk about ‘the rush’, how important is it to keep the rush?

The nature of the rush changes over time, but you always need to feel the rush. Today the rush is critical because of the sense of urgency in the world to change – issues like imbalance (between man and nature) and inequality cannot be postponed. In the last decade of the last century the prevailing idea was that we have time to do whatever we want to do. Today I feel that we don’t have time, we cannot lose time. That sense of urgency should be shared by everybody.

In Europe we have been postponing decisions – we have been doing better than the others but we are still lagging behind what we should be doing around climate change, inequality, giving opportunities to younger people. Because we protect the rights of the older against the younger people. Society is more rigid and less cooperative than it should be. We need more social equity.

What are your views on the future of energy?

I believe there is no silver bullet. We need to decarbonise the world – and we need to do this in a smart and balanced way. All technologies will be needed. We will need gas, coal, nuclear where it makes sense, wind, solar. And we need to avoid the blame game of technology versus technology. We need to make choices for each of the regions and avoid micro-solutions, avoid the attitude of ‘each country for itself’. We need to think on a regional basis: Europe, the US, and so on.

I believe that renewables will play a big role and will be a key element for the future. The fact is that decarbonising the world is not a burden, it’s an opportunity. It should not be postponed.

So it sounds like you’re positive about the role the energy sector can have in shaping the future?

Energy is one of the elements where, basically, the present generation can give a gift for the next. A key problem in the world is that there is a generation problem. When you pollute, it’s a burden for the future. We tend to ill-treat those we like the most; we need to think of our sons and daughters. When you invest in a better energy world you are putting in more money today for the next generation to have reduced costs. Energy is, I believe, the only area where this generation could be subsidising the next. So energy should be seen as a sector where you don’t leave a burden for the next generation.

What is needed for the energy sector to move forward?

The nature of this sector is to be capital intensive and long-term, so you need to give visibility. Choices are not simply made by short-term pricing; you need some kind of long-term stability in terms of regulations and incentives, so people today can decide something that will last for the next 30, 40, 60, 70 years in a smart way.

You need a stable legal and regulatory framework to make smart investments. You need to get things together in terms of policy. There is a lack of energy policy worldwide. National energy policies, sometimes, are okay, but not pan-European or US. It’s difficult to see coherent regional policies.

What about energy consumers, how are they changing?

In any company, in any sector, you have to satisfy shareholders and employees. But the key reason to exist is customers.

People are more connected than ever – they have more power today than ever before – so energy companies need to build trust. To do that they must bring their customers solutions and not just products. The energy sector has to take some blame because for a long time the only relationship customers had with energy companies was just getting the bill at the end of the month. So we need to de-commoditise the relationship between people and energy. Energy companies need to have a different relationship with customers – and our sector is clearly behind others in this regard, so there is a challenge.

EDP is trying to de-commoditise itself – it is an energy saving service provider rather than just a company that transmits and sells energy. And there is a need to help people understand where electricity comes from. People say it’s something that comes out of the wall when they flick a switch, but everyone needs to understand how critical it is to their lives – without energy there is no water, no telecoms, depleted health services. 1.5 billion people don’t have electricity and we need to plug this gap. EDP tries to explain ‘what’s behind the wall’, and how it can change people’s lives.

Next year, you’ll be hosting TPT in Lisbon. Why do you think your city works as a location for the theatre?

Lisbon is a fantastic city. If I had to pick one city in Europe – and I know most of them – I would say that Lisbon is the most exciting. In terms of scale, nature, people, environment – it’s a wonderful arena to discuss the big topics The Performance Theatre raises.

Also Portugal represents something: it is a country with history, it’s been facing challenges, trying to expand out of its own scale, trying to find its own social equity in terms of how to grow in a more efficient and fair way – and this is sometimes difficult when you have liquidity problems, as was the case because of the bail out. It is finding a path to balanced growth – growth that is more fair and nature-driven.

The challenge for Portugal is how to create more opportunities for people. How to open the system, bring people inside, create more opportunities – rather than just being on the defensive.  Lisbon and Portugal is a great arena because it has this critical spirit of urgency – to create opportunities for more people. And this depends on leadership.


Image caption: António Mexia, right, signs the new partnership  with TPT’s Osvald Bjelland

Read more about the new EDP partnership here.

And stay tuned for information on The Performance Theatre Lisbon 2015!