France-born, Singapore-based Senior Director of Industry Solutions and Market Development, Worldwide, Marc-Alexis Rémond manages a globally dispersed team of subject-matter experts for U.S.-based Polycom. In honor of National Boss’ Day, Marc-Alexis shares how his passion for travel and understanding different cultures has uniquely prepared him to lead his virtual team located in opposite time zones, and he offers insights and tips for success to those who may face a similar challenge.
What was your career path to Polycom? I grew up in France with my parents and two brothers. In 1995 I moved to Paris where I enrolled in Ecole Supérieure du Commerce Extérieur (ESCE), a Paris-based Business School specializing in international business practices. Throughout those higher education school years, I focused on learning English and Spanish, as well as Mandarin in anticipation of the rise of China economically and politically. I have always been attracted to Asia, starting at a very young age, which manifested through my participation in martial arts (Judo and Karate).
During business school I had the opportunity to participate in internships in the United States and France. I was a Quality Control inspector in New York and Connecticut as well as an import and export intern for a major retailer of sporting goods (archery and hunting). During my last year of business school I had the opportunity to participate in a student exchange program in Beijing to improve my Mandarin.
I spent six months in Beijing with University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) improving my Mandarin and learning to do business and marketing in China. While studying, I worked on my grad report which was a market research and strategy paper on the Chinese Telecom Market for Alcatel. After that, in 2000, year of the Dragon, Alcatel sent me to Shanghai to join one of the joint-ventures named Shanghai Bell Alcatel Business Systems Co Ltd (SBABS) as a product manager for small to medium business (SMB) communications solutions. That’s how I got my start in the Information and Communication Technology Industry with Alcatel in China. Over the next several years I moved around throughout the organization. I moved to Singapore as a regional product marketing manager for SMB solutions in Asia Pacific, including Telephony, data, and internet solutions. We successfully launched managed business communications services for the SMB market with Telstra and PCCW during that period. Then, I went back to China to become the Marketing and Business Development Director in Greater China where we focused on selling IP communication solutions to Government, Hospitality, Manufacturing, Banking and Insurance vertical markets
In 2005, Alcatel asked me to penetrate the Korean and Japanese markets with our enterprise telephony solutions. That was an interesting—and tough—experience. We were 10 years behind the competition at the time, so finding the right niche and an entry door into the market was critical. The way we did it was by offering end-to-end solutions through our partnership with Genesys, the leader in CTI-based contact center solutions and Polycom, the leader in video conferencing solutions.
I did that for two years before returning to Singapore to run the Sales Support Center for Southeast Asia. I ran all functions except sales, including pre-sales, operations, marketing, technical support, etc. and supported the bid for large government outsourcing projects in the region including Singapore’s Standard Office Environment (SOE).
In 2008, I crossed over to the service provider side of things, with a responsibility for corporate marketing for Alcatel-Lucent across APAC. I found that wasn’t for me and I wanted to go back to the enterprise business and help customers adopt communication solutions to optimize workflows and improve business operations. So, I joined Polycom in 2010. During my time at Alcatel and Alcatel Lucent, I had the opportunity to do business development across a multiple of countries and sell to customers of all sizes across pretty much every industry you can think of. This gave me a broad experience on finding innovative ways to enter any market, offer end-end solutions and grow revenue using various business models and go-to-market strategies.
I joined Polycom’s team of industry subject matter experts in April 2010. My first role was to help public sector organizations across Asia Pacific increase adoption and utilization of video collaboration solutions. We worked closely with sales and marketing in the field to educate account teams, channel partners and customers about the value of collaboration beyond travel savings, including improvements to citizen services, emergency management, or case load reduction in justice for instance, etc.
My role was expanded a year later to cover the government vertical globally while I was still based out of Singapore. In 2012, I was asked to move and lead our Enterprise Practice to focus on financial services, retail, manufacturing, business services, media and entertainment. My previous experience at Alcatel proved to be a good fit for this expanded role. Then, in August of last year I was asked to lead the entire Industry Solutions team, which includes Public Sector (Government, Education and Healthcare), Enterprise Verticals (Manufacturing, Financial Services, Retail, Business Services….) and Business Functions (CEO, Human Resources, Facilities, Finance, Sales, Marketing, Engineering and Customer Service).
The fact that I am a French guy working for an American company based in Asia shows a lot about the culture of Polycom. There are many opportunities regardless of age, nationality, or location due to our video collaboration technology. A manager can run a team from any location around the world and doesn’t necessarily have to be based at headquarters to climb up the ladder.
Can you give us some interesting examples of your global industry and market development experiences? The most interesting thing for me has been traveling to many different countries and understanding how business is conducted in different parts of the world. For example, in the early 2000’s, it was a culture shock to me to go into a meeting in China and see people smoking in conference rooms and answering mobile phones all the time. It was difficult to get people’s attention, but that was the way it was in China. I remember seeing sales people falling asleep at the back of the room during training sessions or even during presentations to customers. I had to adapt and find ways to stay focused and keep some level of “control” over what was going on in the room because that was how business was done.
There was also the time I traveled to New Delhi, India to meet with one of the largest business process outsourcing company in the world. The meeting went well, and when I came out I was greeted by a cow and a pig while waiting for my taxi on the street side. Then, we went to a government building where monkeys were playing in front of the gate. Unless you do some research about Indian culture and Hinduism in particular, it may be difficult at first to understand the relationship between people and animals there.
During my first visit to Japan, I attended a conference where I had two interesting experiences. First, I learned that everything in Japan is smaller, from apartments to cars to food portions. I arrived very early for demo set up and went to McDonald’s to get breakfast and ordered three pancakes as shown on the menu, only to realize that they were about the size of a golf ball. Needless to say, that wasn’t enough for me! This is a good example of a global company which had to localize its offer to suit local market preferences.
Later on that same day while at the conference, someone collapsed and showed signs of epilepsy (repeated seizures) at the booth next to mine. Nobody moved. So, I went ahead and helped him however I could while waiting for the emergency responders. I talked to him in English – he did not speak a word of it - to keep him awake, removed his tie, shoes, belt and turned him to the side to help with his breathing and avoid him from chocking.
I only leant later that culturally, it wasn’t really acceptable for anyone but trained first responders to touch him. After he was taken to into the ambulance, I probably had twelve different people coming to me to express their gratitude in a very respectful way, the Japanese way, by bowing.
The ability to travel to so many countries has really opened my mind about the way business is done and the nuances of different cultures. It forces you to observe and listen much. It helps you understand how things are before you make recommendations relevant to their market. Traveling and exploring various continents has helped shape me as a business leader and manager.
What is a hot/trending topic in global industries/market development today? How do you see Polycom playing a role to help facilitate change?
I think a big trend right now is demonstrating the value of video collaboration beyond travel savings. People know about the travel savings piece, they get it. It’s about understanding our customers’ challenges, workflows and processes, as well as who are the “real buyers.” Those real buyers are often outside of IT. They may be in Human Resources, head of Facilities, head of Operations, head of Sales, head of Customer Service—or they may be line of business leaders. Those are the buyers of technology who want to transform the way of doing things within their business. IT is still a strong business partner, but it’s a function that is there to provide a service to others departments within an organization. Business function leaders or line of business managers in charge of operations are the ones that can facilitate real change.
Account managers, channel partners and even customers must start thinking outside of the “room”. How do you take voice and video collaboration outside of the four walls of a conference room to improve business processes? And it’s about looking at what is the value proposition for different parts of the business. For example, an HR leader is interested in shortening the interview and hiring process and speeding up time to productivity in an organization. And they also want to use technology for learning, mentoring, coaching and development of talent, as well as providing more flexibility to employees to work from home. It can even be used for exit interviews and succession planning. Video can provide value at every step of the HR process. There are similar examples for any business function, whether it’s improving patient services in Healthcare, knowledge retention in Education, product quality in Manufacturing or response time in times of crisis and natural disasters in Public Safety.
Solutions need to be mapped to the challenges and trends so customers can integrate collaboration capabilities within their business application.
The integration of Polycom voice, video, and content into Customer Relationship (CRM) applications, such as salesforce.com, would enable a sales director to initiate a meeting with his entire sales team directly from within the SFDC portal. Regardless of location or device, any sales person can join by audio, tablet, laptop, or room system. This is a much more efficient way for a sales director to be able to review pipeline numbers right away instead of calling people and asking them to join a meeting.
In Healthcare, doctors should be able to connect patients, or to family members via video within the Electronic Health Record application. And, the same goes for Learning Management Systems in Education. Why can’t a teacher start a virtual classroom, build a curriculum with peers, and deliver it to students using that same application. The same concept can be used for talent acquisition systems in Human Resources. When looking for talent, why not start a session with potential candidates directly from that particular application. Everything can start from the business application. Polycom is at the forefront of this trend.
How do you see business operations working in the future? (E.g. in the year 2020)
In 2020, customer service will be visual. We won’t have to bother with email and automated phone calls. It’ll be about talking over video, having a face-to-face conversation regardless of distance - that’s the future.
Banks and insurance companies have done a lot of automation and pushed people to do self-service platforms. You can do all your transactions on the web or using mobile apps, whether it’s checking your bank account balance or transferring cash. You can authenticate yourself through a phone call and hear your balance. Because of this, people don’t talk to their bankers any more. Where’s the human touch? We used to go to the branch and talk to a client relationship manager. No one goes to the branch anymore. That puts a distance between the relationship between the bank and customers.
Video is the answer to defying that distance and enabling customers to put a face on their banker again. And it won’t just be banking and finance but also mobile operators, government agencies, and healthcare institutions. The possibilities are endless. Read more of my thoughts in my blog post titled, “Evolve or Die: Add video to improve customer service.”
Another thing that I think the future will bring is an overhaul to our traditional conference room. The conference room has been around so many years, and despite the fact that people don’t gather in the same room to solve issues anymore, the concept of a conference room hasn’t changed much. It needs to be redesigned to make it a more collaborative environment so that remote people truly feel part of the meeting. I wrote about it in a recent blog post titled, "The Conference Room is Dead...Long Live Collaborative Environments.”
What’s the most unique situation where you used Polycom technology?
In April, my brand new son Olivier defied distance to meet face-to-face with family members and my colleagues—all from his hospital room at just a day old. Read the full story in my blog. No matter how busy we get, how hard we work or how late we go to bed because of late conference calls, these are the little moments that last forever. Being able to share them face-to-face with family and friends, no matter where they are located, is even greater.
Another fun situation we uniquely used Polycom technology is during our annual Industry Solutions Team virtual Christmas party. Each year our geographically dispersed team connects over video to participate in a gift exchange and a fun activity together. Last year it was a Polycom-themed Christmas sing-a-long with representatives from the Cleveland Institute of Music. It’s not only about business. You have to celebrate sometimes!
What do you like to do in your free time?
Water is my element. From scuba diving to underwater photography to swimming and fishing, I love water and water sports. I’ve dived in many interesting places, including Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia. I also enjoy playing squash and spending as much time with my family as I can.
I also enjoy giving back whenever I have the opportunity. I’ve traveled to Cambodia twice with a group of colleagues and friends to help build houses for people in need thanks to a charity organization called Tabitha Foundation Cambodia.
Industry Solutions Team by the Numbers
Marc-Alexis gives a rundown on his unique—and very global—team, as well as tips on what it means to manage a virtual team.
No. of Marc’s direct reports: 12
No. of reports working from home fulltime: 9
Team member locations: UK, Singapore, United States
Tips for Managing a Virtual Team
Our team is spread across continents and time zones. The fact that this works is a testament to the value of visual communications and collaboration. Video lets you assemble the best team and obtain the best talent because you aren’t limited geographically. To manage a dispersed team, there are a few key considerations:
Performance Management: Adjust your work hours to be able to meet with your team. In five seconds, through IM and video, I can meet ad hoc with my team members when I need to.
Set Objectives: I complete performance assessments regularly over video. Video provides that human element since we can’t be in the same room.
Mentorship: It’s important to regularly connect with other leaders to be able to get tips and advice. Even though I’m not in HQ, I can stay connected with those who are over video.
Flexible Working: With a dispersed team, you may find yourself in a 7 a.m. meeting and a 2 a.m. meeting in the same day. To adapt to this, you need to make sure your hours are flexible and you find time to rest when you can. Adjust working hours based on your location and the locations of those you work with around the globe. Don’t feel guilty for resting (power naps) —it’ll make you a better manager.
Trust: As a virtual manager, it’s important to trust your team members. I don’t measure them by whether or not they start work at 9 a.m. and stop at 6 p.m. I give them objectives and what I care about are the deliverables.
Video for Teleworkers: Working from home using only a computer for email and a phone line is not good enough. It is important to deploy enterprise-grade video in order to allow team members to feel connected to their organization and build relationships.
Room System for Home Office: Prefer a room-based video conferencing system for your home office which is more suitable for long hours in meeting (audio and video quality) and remote presentations (standing up). Here is the way I set up mine.