Jérôme Lecat of Scality: “Trust, listening and empathy”

Trust, listening and empathy. We all know what we need to do, the hardest part is taking the time to do it. Creating trust takes time and courage. Listening and empathy require shifting the focus from ourselves to another human, which is easier to do once we feel whole and cared for by others. As a […]

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Trust, listening and empathy. We all know what we need to do, the hardest part is taking the time to do it. Creating trust takes time and courage. Listening and empathy require shifting the focus from ourselves to another human, which is easier to do once we feel whole and cared for by others.

As a part of my series about the “5 Ways That Businesses Can Help Promote the Mental Wellness Of Their Employees” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jérôme Lecat.

Jérôme Lecat is a serial entrepreneur and business angel with 20 years of internet infrastructure start-up experience. From 2003 to 2010, Jerome led Bizanga, the leading email MTA for service providers, which he founded with Olivier Lemarié, Marc Sheldon and Giorgio Regni. Bizanga achieved major market penetration worldwide and was successfully sold to Cloudmark in February 2010.

In 2001, Jerome became Chairman of the Board of Data Center Technology (DCT), a Belgium based start-up which developed a unique Content Addressable Storage (CAS) technology, especially for the backup market. After signing over 70 customers, DCT was sold to Veritas in 2005 with significant profit for its investors. In 1994, together with Olivier Dauchot and Olivier Lemarié, Jérôme founded Internet-Way, an ISP focused on the enterprise market. As CEO, he built the company from a garage start-up to the second largest ISP in France. In 1997, after the company had reached profitability, he sold the company to UUNET, where he served as vice president of products for EMEA.

As the CEO of Scality, Jérôme spent the last decade building a multi-national company into a leading provider of data management and storage software. Scality’s technology is a source for human progress — helping to power a variety of critical services including; the discovery of life-giving drugs through human genomics research, greater choice for entertainment services with fast video streaming, and access to the most compelling research with large-scale archival at top national libraries across the world.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I studied Artificial Intelligence before it was trendy and began my career as a data scientist. I loved the power of training computers to do better than humans at complex tasks.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

In 2005, I was leading a startup with a team of eight people, and we were almost bankrupt. I would not be able to make payroll at the end of the month. I still lived in Paris and was going to the US every month to try to secure large US customers. One week, every month, to sweep through the entire US.

That week I had been to Philadelphia on Monday, San Francisco on Tuesday and Wednesday and Seattle on Thursday. At my lunch meeting in Seattle, in an expensive restaurant (that I had to pay for as I was the vendor), the potential customer told me he was not interested. The meeting was both a waste of time and a waste of money.

That night I felt tired and frustrated. I had a meeting the next morning in Atlanta, but I decided to try and change my ticket to go home to Paris. To my dismay, the ticket was non-refundable — so I went to Atlanta.

When I arrived for the meeting, there were twelve people waiting for me, and the VP announced that our company had won a 500K dollars contract. The company went on to be a success. Lesson : Never give up. You never know which meeting will be the game changer.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

My current advice is to stay calm and focused through crises. The world is upside down right now. As business leaders, it’s more important than ever that we stay focused. When you’re the head of a business and the world is falling apart around you, it’s extremely difficult to tune out the noise and make sense of the advice bombarding you. But the truth is, you must.

When the pressure is on, it’s essential that you purposefully detach and spend time in solitude. Take some time and ask yourself the hard questions: Is your business still meaningful to the world? Is what you created still viable? If so, do not waiver. Find a way forward. There is always a path, even if you must be the one to forge it.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Creating a company culture that is joyful, respectful of every individual, and impassioned about delivering exceptional results is an art, not a science. It takes constant learning and refinement. As good leaders and good humans, it’s our responsibility to keep asking questions about how we can best support the total well-being of our teammates in their personal and professional lives, especially in light of the global pandemic, which has left the boundaries a bit blurred.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Work hard, play hard, eat well and amaze the customer.” It’s the phrase that appears on our company’s branded coffee mugs and it’s a mantra I take seriously. The eat well should not be taken literally, it really means enjoy life.

Since starting the business, I’ve always placed a high value on living life in balance.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. As you know, the collective mental health of our country is facing extreme pressure. In recent years many companies have begun offering mental health programs for their employees. For the sake of inspiring others, we would love to hear about steps or initiatives that companies have taken to help improve or optimize their employees mental wellness.

In 2020, we learned the importance of resilience and being able to pivot where needed. Employee wellness has been a key part of our strategy, with particular focus on maintaining emotional and physical health, staying connected and keeping momentum high.

The first thing we did is guarantee job security. When the world is uncertain, the last thing people need is to feel insecure about their job on top of everything else. In mid-March we told all our employees that there would be no layoffs, and we actually paid a 2% salary increase. We knew there were tough times ahead and we wanted to provide security where we could.

For our employees, like so many others, remote work brought a new set of challenges we needed to adjust to. For those also grappling with remote schooling and/or managing small children, that added an additional set of challenges. To address these, we made a number of changes. That includes offering flexible work hours, regular virtual team meetups, socially distanced mini outings (when we could), and the encouragement (and funding) to do things employees enjoy outside of work and off Zoom. This also meant providing employees with safe and productive places to work. Now, as the pandemic timeframe stretches to a full year, we provide the flexibility to work in an office (with masks and socially distanced) if required. We also adjusted to make sure employees build time in their day for breaks, virtual workouts and hobbies. We offered French and English classes to our employees around the world to provide mental stimulation, and gave our employees a stipend for home health equipment . We provided fully funded benefits, and supported families with extended time off if they got sick.

These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?

As the divide between personal and professional suddenly coalesced, I became fixated on figuring out what needed to happen within our organization to keep performance, productivity, and spirits high. Here’s what I realized: Our success depends on our ability to support the whole-person well-being of our staff, both inside and outside of the work environment — no matter where that is.

To me, the best strategy to promote the importance of this idea is to lead by example. If I’m not modeling sustainable healthy behaviors, I’m making it hard for others to do so. This includes taking vacations and making it visible as well as acceptable.

From your experience or research, what are different steps that each of us as individuals, as a community and as a society, can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling stressed, depressed, anxious and having other mental health issues? Can you explain?

Trust, listening and empathy. We all know what we need to do, the hardest part is taking the time to do it. Creating trust takes time and courage. Listening and empathy require shifting the focus from ourselves to another human, which is easier to do once we feel whole and cared for by others.

Habits can play a huge role in mental wellness. What are the best strategies you would suggest to develop good healthy habits for optimal mental wellness that can replace any poor habits?

We’ve learned that the culprit for employee concerns is not generally what we think of as an “unhealthy lifestyle” — it’s the all-too-familiar realities of life and family that often get in the way, such as lack of sleep, financial concerns, and providing unpaid care to family members or relatives.

While we can’t solve for all of these concerns, we believe that the most important step we can take is to encourage healthy work/life balance. Without physical separation between work and the rest of life, the real danger for our employees is that they won’t stop working, increasing the odds of costly and health-compromising burnout. Against this always-on backdrop, teams must know that they can — and should — disengage for their physical and mental health.

Do you use any meditation, breathing or mind-calming practices that promote your mental wellbeing? We’d love to hear about all of them. How have they impacted your own life?

For me, meditation is an invaluable tool that allows me to get grounded and really listen to my intuition. I also believe that the time spent on activities I feel passionate about (such as kitesurfing or sailing) is as important as when I log on for work. I make a point to incorporate these habits into my schedule regularly.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

I read a lot. I love learning. This year I read Learning to Scale from Regis Medina which heavily influenced me. Also some of our response to the pandemic is inspired from The Lean Turnaround from Art Byrne inspired me on how to respond to the pandemic crisis.

Other significant books include: 
Good to Great, Jim Collins
Grit, the power of passion and perseverance, Angela Duckworth

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Without a doubt, it would be celebrating diversity to drive innovation and human progress. Diversity is deeply important to me. I believe every individual, every group, every culture plays a key role in shaping the future of humanity.

Diversity is multidimensional and starts with not just recognizing but celebrating our differences. Within Scality, 25 nationalities are represented across our 200-person global workforce. Scality is truly (and proudly) a company without borders.

The future of business requires a shift in thinking. In school, I learned that every employee is replaceable and that the organization should never change to fit the individual. That approach could not be further away from my own personal philosophy.

I believe that each individual is completely and wonderfully unique. At Scality, we welcome and honor each person’s uniqueness. We want our employees to feel comfortable revealing and operating as their true selves. When someone joins the team, that individual comes with skills — some you hired them for and some you have no idea even exist. By cultivating an environment where people feel free to share the many dimensions of themselves, you can unearth those hidden gems. The business can and should adapt to leverage the precious gems in each and every individual.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

Readers can follow Scality on social media via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, or visit our website at www.scality.com.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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