Jean-Michel Maltais
Senior Vice-President, Omni-Channel at New Look Vision Group

One-on-One with Jean-Michel Maltais

April 19, 2022 - One-on-One

We sat down with Jean-Michel Maltais, Senior Vice-President, Omni-Channel with New Look Vision Group. He shared his insights on the importance of staying the course, seeing big and being nimble, and the inspiration he draws from having a positive impact on something bigger than oneself as well as strength in numbers.

1- What have you learned most about yourself as a leader?

I learned a lot about myself, actually. In fact, when you manage teams, you are almost always have to contend with yourself.

First, I would say that even though I maybe don’t feel very calm inside, I am perceived as a calm person. I’d even go so far to say that I have a calming effect. I am also positive and transparent. I learned that about myself over time because, like I said, it may be turbulent on the inside, but on the outside, that’s not what I project.

I have also learned that I can have an impact as a manager, and I am sensitive to this. I often have the impression that what I say to people “sticks” with them. I meet people who I’ve worked with in the past, who still remember what I’ve said to them, when I cannot recall it at all. It’s these kinds of moments that make you realize the lasting impact you can have on others when you are a boss.

Of course, in the heat of the moment, I can lose my cool for a little bit, but if I react too impulsively, the damage can last for a long time. So, that’s why it’s important to understand my emotions at specific times. If I feel annoyed by a situation, my rule is that I have to wait 24 hours before acting on it. It’s a rule I came up with after making a few mistakes. It’s called wisdom! Now, I rarely ever lose my cool; in fact, practically never. Now, when a project is late or when things are not working out the way I had hoped, well, these are situations that you may want to rectify right away, but I pull out my 24-hour rule. And if I feel the same way about it the next day, I think about it at length. It helps me manage the situation properly, without negatively impacting people and then having to set things right.

2- What inspires you? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What motivates you to throw yourself into your work?

Having an impact on people has always inspired me, but I’m also motivated by helping them do things they thought were impossible. Lately, I’ve also been inspired by the impact I have on society in general, and on our industry. Each day, with New Look Vision Group, we conduct 3,000 eye exams across Canada and the United States. With every exam, someone sees better, and it changes their life.

When I worked at Pearson, the biggest educational publisher, I realized that when you’re in marketing, it makes a huge difference to sell a product that people find useful rather than a product that has no social impact. From a big picture point of view, it’s about being able to help the industry change and I can get behind an industry that helps people.

In the day to day, it’s about having a direct impact on our employees and the pride they have in their work.

The past couple of years have been pretty complex, especially in terms of making changes. What have you done at New Look that you were especially proud of during this time? How have you innovated?

We introduced several initiatives, but what really stands out is our service that allows us to deliver glasses purchased online that are as good as those purchased in store.

To give you a bit of context, glasses sold online have been available for many years now. They are sold at a really decent price, but quality has been a problem: you have to be able to take extremely precise measurements for both the lenses and the frame. If your glasses are not comfortable, you won’t wear them; so, evidently, my goal of helping people will not be reached.

This project was already in the works, but the pandemic forced us to switch gears and ramp developing the technology. With the investments we made, we managed to create a tool that takes extremely precise measurements virtually, using the latest iPhone or iPad Pro models with Face ID. After that, using a high-precision scan that captures 30,000 data points on your face, we can take all the necessary measurements within a millimetre difference to design the perfect glasses. We can position the lenses and the line of sight exactly where it needs to be. We print a model that opticians use to make changes to suit your face and the shape of your face so that when your glasses are shipped to you, they fit perfectly and are comfortable. It completely revolutionized the industry: no more having to go to an optometrist. We were, in fact, the very first in the world to be able to do this. Now, all we have to do is to build our client trust in this high-quality online service. We have our work cut out for us, but we together we can do it!

3- What in your career prepared you to become a strategic leader? What helped you or prepared you for this role of leading a major business change in an established industry?

I think all my experiences helped me; I have a wide range of experiences under my belt. Often, managers don’t like seeing on someone’s CV that they’ve changed jobs every two or three years. Personally, I’ve spent the last 10 years of my career doing just that. I was at Téléglobe for five years, O2 for six years, but after, it’s true that I changed industries regularly.

It really taught me to adapt quickly: when you change organizations and industries, you must learn how to roll with the punches. I have a lot of references now that I can draw from when it comes time to decision-making.

Another thing to keep in mind is that working in both big and small companies has really helped me because big companies really teach you how to develop your strategic thinking, be an inspiring leader, learn to communicate better, but in smaller companies, you learn how to roll up your sleeves and get down to work, to motivate people and use this energy to move projects forward. This is something that I like to see when I recruit candidates, what I like to look for in their career path.

4- How do you keep growing and developing as a leader?

The pandemic was a bit of a handicap in this respect, but I have always been someone who likes to meet people and build my network. One thing is certain: I continue to read up on leadership. I enjoy reading biographies of inspiring leaders. I also learn a lot from my CEO, who is a pretty incredible person: I pick up a lot from people like him.

Aside from that, I’ve discovered my brother-in-law in a new light; his name is Olivier Mathiot and he started a podcast with another entrepreneur. They are actually pretty well-known in France. Their podcast is called 40 nuances de Next and they interview the next generation of CEOs. I listen to it when I go jogging. You learn a lot about the experiences of people like this, because they can start from scratch and build amazing companies.

5- What advice do you have for managers about how to make an impact as a leader?

That is a really interesting question, and it gave me lots of food for thought. You have to be impatient and patient. You have to see farther, bigger and want to get there quickly. But, at the same time, even though you’re propelled to go farther, you have to temper it tons of patience, because you’ll never get anywhere alone.

You know the famous adage, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”? Well, that really makes sense, because maybe you know where you want to go, and you can want to get there quickly, but that doesn’t mean that everybody shares your vision and that everyone can get there as quickly. That’s where good communication comes in. You must strike the proper balance between pushing, pushing, pushing and sometimes stopping and making sure people can catch up with you.

You mentioned what gets me out of bed in the morning. If somebody comes to see me and says, “I never thought we could do it”, then that for me, is extremely satisfying. I realize that I have helped someone go farther than they ever thought they could. If I manage to do that, then I’ve done my job well. Otherwise, you just keep pushing people and they never really understand what you are trying to accomplish. You really need to take the time to explain.

6- What would you like your legacy as SVP at New Look to be?

When I joined the company in 2019, it was a traditional company. There is nothing more traditional than eyewear. These are artisans, there are rules, it’s a medical profession, and so on. It’s very traditional but it’s an industry that we saw as outside of the group that had started to go digital and change. But we totally caught this wave. What I truly hope is for New Look Vision Group to become a digital force in the North American and global industry. That’s what we’ve got our sights set on.

A candidate that I interviewed told me that we should share our technological innovations, build a service that we could maybe sell to other eyewear stores that haven’t necessarily gone digital yet to help them get started. It made me stop and think that someone from the outside saw us in a position to do that. Because three years ago, nobody would have said that about New Look. Now, they see the innovations we’ve made and, increasingly people are starting to see us as a digital leader.

I am really proud of this, and it’s the beginning of something big. There is still a lot of work to be done, but this is really the legacy I would like to leave behind: to look back and be able to say that when I joined the group, it was traditional, but today, it’s a completely digital and avant-garde company.

7- Who is your unsung hero/heroine?

That one really made me think, and you’ll be quite surprised by my answer, but it’s my father.

He is really very amazing because at 84 years old, he is still working today. He owned 18 different companies over the course of his life. His energy and inspirations are boundless, and he is intensely curious.

One thing in Québec that I find particularly striking is that people often talk about retiring. Their dream is really pull out of professional life at 55. I really believe in staying active and I think that working keep us healthy. It might sound a little old-fashioned to say this, but that’s what I think. I am grateful for every day I can have an impact on society and stay in the game.

My dad is a bit like that too, actually. He has never stopped working toward trying to change things. If he is 84 and still in good health, it’s because he’s got that fire in his belly. I am really amazed by my unsung hero. Hands down, he inspires me. I look at him and I think, “I want to be like that.”

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