Early in my career, I took leadership of big project and I had the opportunity to build plan and lead R&D Projects with dedicated teams and the latest techonologies.
I celebrated my 30th anniversary by launching my own company. My thirst for freedom had never left me. I wanted a small flexible company to go where creation and innovation were needed. The first year, I went to London, New York and New Orleans representing my clients to financial investors. My clients were geologists, some of which discovered platinum and gold mines in La Fosse du Labrador and Val d'Or. I liked collaborating with Stuart Lee, Peter Ferdeber and Fenton Scott. The excitement I saw in their eyes when discovering a nugget in a carrot reminded me of the pleasure I get, every time I discover the potential of a human being.
It may look glamorous presenting like this, but in fact, my office was in the living room of the apartment where I was living with my mom. My father died the year before, so I was in charge of the family. I had borrowed money from the bank before quitting my job. I remember how anxious I felt at that time. My friends and colleagues told me that I had a lot of experience and creativity, but still!
The first year was tough. Small clients did not pay their bills and the others were not bringing enough money to make it profitable. My accountant advised me to go back to work for others. Before I left CGI, the president Serge Godin, had offered me 5000 thousand shares of the company, the public affairs vice-presidency and a good salary. It was a difficult decision, but I refused it. Freedom was more appealing. But when the business appeared to be so difficult, I was concerned. I had my mother to take care of.
Thankfully I did not listen to my accountant. One year later, I was working for multinational clients that were ready to let me express my creativity. They gave me the means I needed to create innovative projects. With the complicity of the community, I organized a great reception on free land with 500 prestigious guests, coming from different parts of the world. I did not hire experts from Montreal; but worked with the community. A true bond of confidence was then created with the American investor.
I participated in the design and launch of this one-billion-dollar smelter, the multinational built in Deschambault, an agricultural area having less than 1300 inhabitants at that time. It was my first large project of collective intelligence. I worked with architects and designers for the construction of a state-of-the-art aluminum plant in order to respect the environment, leaving the least possible traces in the air, water and ground. The plant blended in the bucolic sky of Deschambault.
We developed a strategy of care, openness and respect with the community. We preached frankness and transparency. Communication was simple and direct when there was risk. That forced collaborators to reduce risk as much as possible. At each stage of this construction project, we proved, while grafting communication strategies, the possibility of doing much better while working together. The project of one billion dollars was delivered on time and according to budget.
The film I directed that year explaining the process of aluminum for a consortium of corporations, won the prize of excellence of the world aluminum industry.
For the second part of this big project, I met an exceptional man, Mike Kazeef. We dreamt outlining the smelter of our dreams. Gradually, the dream became a reality shared by the employees. The most beautiful part of the story is that the dream did not remain theirs, but quickly became collective, as people were hired they immediately participated. It was important to make sure that people from the region could apply for a job. However, in agricultural zones, diplomas were rare. This is why, during the construction, we built a program with schools so that people of the area wishing to study can follow French courses, science and mathematics. Thus, Alumax made it possible for more than 2000 people to finish high school, and be qualified to apply for a job at the time of recruitment. Criteria were then revealed to the community before the plant was built in order to give them time to prepare. It worked - more than 70% of the workers were recruited in the area.
The second concern was to attract women postulated for nontraditional employment. A communication campaign was orchestrated sensitizing the women of the area on the competences they could bring to a modern plant. The plant won the prize, of Equal Chances, given by the Government of Canada. We knew that with women in the plant, there would be more respect, restraint, and tolerance. The third concern was recruiting a team based on values rather than technical skills. Various organizational experiences showed that it was very difficult, even impossible, to change the attitude of someone, whereas technical skills could be acquired with good training programs. Important budgets were thus allocated to training. We reversed the traditional pyramid in management, making workers in teams be able to choose the supervisors they will work with. A communication strategy was developed and applied to make values a constantly alive, encouraging the expansion of collective intelligence.
Finally, the big day! It was the inauguration of the plant with the idea that we had carried as children for almost five years. In the aluminum sector, rumors went on. Alumax had innovated in various areas, but several anticipated a failure concerning aluminum production. Surprise! The plant became one of the most efficient in the world.
I told you the story of the biggest project during this period, but we had other smaller ones. All were innovative, educational and creative. I finally had no regret to have become an entrepreneur.
I felt that I was ready for another leap... and was happy to have this perfect man by my side, always supportive.
PS: Pierre was an architect and an engineer, working for universities. During his free time, he was drawing and painting. I was so impressed (still am) with all his talent in so many fields. Now he is one of the co-founders of The New School of Creativity. We are so lucky to have him with us.