President and founder of SYRUS Réputation
One-on-One with Alain Bergeron
May 22, 2020 - One-on-One
1. In this period of chaos, as an entrepreneur, what prevented you from sleeping?
Layoffs. Even if they are temporary, still hurts. Otherwise, generally speaking, I don’t need a lot of sleep and I sleep pretty well. Right now, I would even say that I sleep more than before, being confined in the countryside and by working remotely there. I am also sleeping well because I have great confidence in the human ability to adapt and rebound despite the magnitude of the crisis. And lessons must be learned! As an entrepreneur, one needs to learn to simplify processes and to be more agile. Reading, reading and reading even more to stay informed. Over the past few weeks I have particularly appreciated Henri-Paul Rousseau’s open letters in Le Devoir as well as all of McKenzie’s writings. Staying close to your team, even through a screen. And also, trusting your corporate values. Ours: courage, performance and caring have been the drivers of our actions over the past few weeks.
2. As a leader, in times of crisis, what personality trait is accentuated?
In fact, being proactive and staying calm, this is why I get paid… This is not my first crisis! Although this one is colossal and sometimes, we lose some of our bearings, other things don’t change. Being a good leader is knowing how to surround yourself and above all trusting your leaders. Myriam Crevier, my right arm, is without a doubt the best person to weather this storm by my side. Every day I say thank you for having put her on my professional path. Many of our clients have also seen leaders rise at all levels. In times of a crisis, if I had to admit defeat on a personality trait, I would without hesitation say my patience. When everything abruptly stopped last March, we had a short, somewhat confusing, standstill before falling back onto our feet. I like it when you’re going at high speed while being relevant on a daily basis for our customers and colleagues, when we manage, heads-on, 4 or 5 big and complicated mandates and it just rolls. In the space of a week, by the time our clients and us reorganized, we lost proximity and speed. To be cut off from any face-to-face contact with our clients, to wean ourselves off, even if only for a few days, from this action that we value, which values us and that the client values, was surely the greatest of my challenges at the beginning of crisis. For a few days, we felt less relevant. I had never felt that. Fortunately, it came back quickly but it was very hard on my patience (laughs) and a good test on Myriam’s …
3. What inspires you now on a daily basis?
My team’s resilience, their creativity in preserving the SYRUS culture even from a distance, and their ability to bounce back. Everyone’s adaptability. Outside of SYRUS I cannot ignore Quebec’s entrepreneurship which is reinventing itself and which, for a moment of a short reflection, realigns itself on the grounds of generosity and a contribution to the crisis. There are great stories that we don’t tell enough. That’s inspiring and in Quebec and in Canada, we are well served!
4. Faced with the current situation, with your entrepreneurial mindset, what is, in your opinion, the greatest injustice?
It’s unfortunate, there are too many deaths. Literally too many, but also figuratively… when there are companies that shouldn’t die that will die. Despite all their efforts and though not their fault, the crisis is larger than life and will catch them with full force, eventually not recovering from it. It’s unfair… The crisis wasn’t in their strategic plan and even if they had the best in hand, they won’t survive.
5. Who is your hero in this crisis?
I have heroes at various levels. Of course, at the first level, those who keep operations alive on the front line and at the risk of their own lives. They are so many! And quite a few do it with all their heart, yes in fear, but they do it for all of us. Secondly, my heroes are all the parents who juggle their professional life while managing the children, the household and everything that comes with it from home. My hat goes off to all of them!
6. What is the most interesting innovation that your organization has carried out during this tumultuous period?
We didn’t invent a time machine or an algorithm that manages social media on its own. We innovated by not deprogramming ourselves and thus by remaining who we are. At SYRUS, the value of caring has been increased tenfold for our customers. We positioned ourselves one step ahead of the client to facilitate the management of their challenges, anticipate their needs, enabling them to make better business decisions. It is true that it was already in line with our business model, but today it stimulated the team’s innovation capacity to think differently and quickly about new products and services, new consulting offers, and new angles that our clients could take advantage of within their organization to relaunch and even stimulate growth.
7. For your organization, the broader economy, how do you envision the future in the short term?
Being an eternal optimist, I always saw the glass half full. I have a lot of hope in the future and as a society, we could have benefited from this crisis to review our ways of doing things, myself included. Let’s take the example of working remotely, for which I was fairly resistant and conservative. I am forced to admit that we are extremely efficient while saving time, that work is being done with the same concern for excellence and that communication tools allow us to be connected to one another in real time. The consulting business will change. Will I take a plane, headfirst, for an emergency meeting in Toronto? I don’t think so anymore. Despite all that, human contact is stronger than anything! We are in business of influence and I miss frenzied boardroom meetings. It will all come back… even if we have to sit on red taped X with 2 meters of a distance.
8. In closing, the question that kills, if you were François Legault, from here, how would you write the future?
I must admit that I was impressed with the crisis management during the first weeks. For me, a leader is someone who tells the truth without any pretense and who, when in wrong, accepts to say so. But now, you feel the tiredness and the wear of time and it is completely normal. Without shying away, it may be time to share the burden a little. I would involve additional players from multiple sectors to plan and talk about the recovery. I would name them to show all of Quebec that it is not the business of a single person nor 3 or 4 ministers, that the community is working together to get out of this mess.
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