11 Questions with Marc Lamy – Newly Appointed COO at Explorance

Written by Chanel Sutherland, Explorance.

When it comes to change agents, Marc Lamy nears the top of our list. Our recently appointed Chief Operations Officer (COO) is one of the individuals who helped navigate Explorance through a tumultuous 2020 alongside CEO and Founder Samer Saab. Although quiet by nature, Marc’s thoughts, ideas, and perspectives are always insightful.

Talking to him, you get a sense that when he says he’s going to do something, he means it; like when he jokingly speaks about learning JavaScript to resolve sudoku, or running 7 marathons and beating himself each time. In this interview, Marc gives us a perspective on transitioning from the CFO to COO role and his vision for the future beyond the pandemic.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your career history and how you came to work at Explorance?

Marc: An engineer by training, I’ve always been interested in software, and although it did not exist as a program when I did my engineering degree, I took all my electives in computer science. After that, I knew I wanted to be on the business side of things and did my Masters in finance.  I first landed a job at the Royal Bank of Canada and then Bell, but realized I wanted something more agile and took on the position as CFO at Cognicase in 1997.  This was my big break.  The company went public a year after I got there – the thrill of a lifetime for a young CFO. 

After 18 acquisitions at Cognicase, it was time to move on. So, I went through a series of startups, some very successful, some not at all; it was the best way to learn.  In 2016, I was introduced to Charles, our former CRO, during a cocktail event, and he told me Explorance was looking for a CFO.  At the time, I was consulting and wasn’t looking for a change, so I took on a short mandate.  After 2 months, I told Samer he should look for someone full-time, and he offered me the job.  I decided to take it on because I had seen that we had a serious business going with large Higher Education institutions loyal to the company.  That, to me, was the key ingredient.  It meant the product was real, the need was real, and we knew how to sell it.  That was something to build on, and it contrasted with a lot of startups I saw around Montreal in my consulting practice, where there was a lot of hype, hope, but much less reality.

Q: In your 4+ years at Explorance, you’ve seen a lot of changes. What excites you most about the company’s future?

Marc: The company is 5 times bigger today than it was when I joined due to a combination of internal growth and two acquisitions (Thoransoft and Metrics That Matter). We’ve taken risks, and we’ve struggled through the pandemic, but what excites me, irrespective of the challenges we’ve had, is the renewed energy that it gave us. We did not slow down. Instead, we toughened up, we doubled down on product development, and we’re now doubling down on our sales and marketing efforts. This ability to not take anything for granted, welcome change, take a harsh look at our weaknesses and tackle them, keep focusing and meeting our promises to our customers, encourage our people to be the best they can be, is the DNA of success. It does not guarantee it, but it is undoubtedly required to win a game played on the world stage. 

Q: When you start to examine the title of COO, it accommodates a diverse range of responsibilities depending on the company. What does the COO role mean at Explorance?

Marc: You are correct that the definition varies from company to company.  At Explorance, it means close to everything but software development, sales, and marketing.  I am glad to do my part in letting Samer focus on clients and what we sell them.  I think this is where we will get the most leverage from any CEO, but even more so from Samer, as he is passionate about both of these things.

Q: How are the roles of CFO and COO similar? How are they different? 

Marc: The similarity is that as CFO, you must stick your nose in everything because finance is, by definition, impacted by everything that is going on with the business.  So, I had and did try to work by influencing everything I was not directly responsible for when I felt it could be improved.  As COO, the role is much broader, so the key difference is that I can directly influence changes.  The role of COO has added leverage and an opportunity to make a bigger difference, which I find exciting.  I feel accountable for much more as it’s no longer ultimately someone else’s problem.

Q: What are some of the goals you hope to achieve as COO at Explorance?

Marc: The best business strategy will not go anywhere without great execution. I was reading the story of Jeff Bezos, who retires from his CEO position this year, and it made me reflect on the fact that Amazon grew firstly by executing way better than everyone else. They did not invent selling books on the internet. They just did it a hundred times better, always meeting their clients’ needs and expectations.  And here we are today – we hope for something, click a button, and it shows up on our doorstep the next day, flawlessly. 

Execution is very much part of the product. As COO, I have an opportunity to influence that and make sure we continue to deliver on our promise. Every gesture counts – every customer experience, every support call, every bug fix, every installation, and every integration. That is what our customers will talk about to their peers. I will try to face head-on every problem we have, fixing it and not going around it.

I also hope to encourage creativity. I want to try to do everything smarter, from closing our books to invoicing, to installing our software, to supporting them, from hiring to managing people.  I am always asking myself if there’s a way we can do it better – and cheaper. If your cost structure is lower because you work smarter, you can beat any competitor who is complacent about costs.

Q: What were the shared traits of the best company cultures that you experienced?

Marc: The focus on reality, not dreams. The obsession with customer satisfaction. The obsession with quality and the intolerance for mediocrity and sloppiness. Once the whole team shares these same values, the team is in sync, and the success that people have personally and with the company puts a smile on their face. It gives them a sense of pride and career satisfaction as it creates a virtuous circle of expansion both for the company and individuals.

Q: What would you say led you to be successful in the various positions you’ve held?

Marc: I wasn’t successful in every position I’ve had; sometimes I was the wrong casting, sometimes the company had no hope. Part of the recipe is to move towards places where you are the best fit. And then, I always brought a lot of intensity and energy to the roles. I study my files, always try to see things from a different angle, challenge people wherever they sit, which means to accept a certain level of risks, as you cannot avoid ruffling feathers at times. But in the end, if one adds value and works with people that care about the company, you will exceed expectations in the position.

Q: What’s something most of your colleagues don’t know about you?

Marc: I bring this same intensity to everything I do. I am on the hyperactive side, so when I started running, doing it casually was not enough.  I must have read 10 books and countless magazines about running and training. Then I ran 7 marathons, beating myself each time. Then it got old. So, I got into the science of health and nutrition, read everything I could find, and radically changed how I ate; carbs are out. I am also a voracious reader, which gives me access to so much knowledge.

I cannot read novels or do sudokus, what would be the point?  I once saw my girlfriend solve one, so I challenged myself to write a program that could resolve any sudoku. I was curious about the concept of using a browser to run code, so I used it as an opportunity to learn something about JavaScript.  It humbled me, as it took way longer than I thought to figure out the language and find the right algorithm – but I made it; it was great fun.  

Q: Who did you look up to growing up? Who do you look up to now?

Marc: I was always fascinated with great business people. I cannot pinpoint a name during my youth, except Björn Borg because I loved tennis growing up.  Today, I am in awe of folks like Elon Musk, who wants to save our planet and probably do the most about it.  I am so happy he became the richest man on earth recently. This will be more powerful than anything else to drive behavior and show the world that you can save the planet and achieve fame and fortune. Bill Gates is another ruthless businessman who has now dedicated himself to free the world of infectious disease, and he does it as a student of science, as Elon Musk is.     

Q: Any advice for anyone looking to follow the same career path?

Marc: I don’t believe that there is a recipe. One of the books that influenced me the most was Now, Discover Your Strengths by Gallup Press. It taught me how to build on my strengths, and I found a way that worked out for me. Some people do much better with a high school diploma. They focused on who they were and did not look back.  I think there is a common trait among people who achieved their goals, and it’s hard work – both towards their mission and themselves. If you strive to improve continually, good things happen, but you cannot expect a direct and short-term effect. This is one more reason why Explorance’s mission to help people improve through feedback appealed to me.

Q: 20-years ago, the internet was new; the idea of WFH was just an idea. Now almost everyone is working remotely. 20-years from now, what do you think the workplace will look like?

Marc: Just as classrooms look the same today with their desks and blackboards as they did 200 years ago, work will still be a place where people exchange ideas, share meals, and interact. This is so profoundly human that it’s not likely to change. The internet allows us to get by through this pandemic, but it will go back to normal, with a twist. I do not expect people that are dedicated to building something significant to work remotely. There is a reason why Silicon Valley exists; it’s not the water. Cities and office spaces are here to stay. I think technology will be another way to facilitate and speed up the communications required to achieve things – like how the phone did – but without changing the core dynamics of human interactions, which will remain face to face.

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