Ubisoft boss keeps consumer in mind throughout busy day

Finalist Simon Bibeau’s impressions of Ubisoft CEO Yannis Mallat’s leadership style – special to the Montreal Gazette.

By: Simon Bibeau

MONTREAL — If I were to compare my day shadowing Yannis Mallat, CEO of Ubisoft Montreal, to a video game, I would say it was a combination of Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed — filled with sensitive information and action-packed.

My day began in Mallat’s office as the company’s executive management team tackled strategic considerations in the marketing plan for Watch Dogs, a soon-to-be-launched video game.

What impressed me most during this interaction was the seemingly limitless number of angles that were considered to fully understand the impact a particular decision might have on all stakeholders.

Mallat valued the opinions of everyone in attendance, including mine. I was asked my personal view on a certain topic. Although this was unexpected, I certainly did not shy away from expressing my thoughts.

(I cannot be specific about what I saw and heard during my day at Ubisoft, since I agreed not to disclose such details.)

The most interesting place I visited at the company was the user research lab, where Ubisoft observes and collects data from players who are testing their games. The breadth and depth of the process used to create a video game is almost unbelievable. From conception to production to commercialization, millions of dollars are invested during an undertaking that takes several years.

If you know that most video games earn the majority of their revenues in the first month after they’re released, and that gamers are widely considered among the toughest crowds to please, you can imagine how everything is pushed to be as close to perfection as possible at launch time.

In the afternoon, I had the pleasure of playing a new game being produced by Ubisoft but not yet revealed to the public. I was surrounded by artists, programmers and project managers, working as a unit to materialize what was once — and not so long ago — an idea.

Mallat’s management style is what I call VCR, which stands not for the outdated videocassette recorder, but for vision, communication, and relationships.

Throughout the day, whether during media interviews or while interacting with colleagues, Mallat’s vision of Ubisoft was always at the forefront. He constantly had the player, the ultimate customer, in mind. Mallat was easily able to explain the complex intricacies of his industry and work to an outsider such as myself.

Mallat’s relationships with his colleagues, no matter their job at the studio, seemed authentic and consistent. I don’t know if this is the way most CEOs operate, but this sure seems like a winning formula to me.

Since I am interested in the interwoven fields of finance and technology, I had expressed an interest in Ubisoft during the selection process for the CEO X 1 Day program offered by headhunting firm Odgers Berndtson.

Although not a “gamer” myself, I was thrilled at the opportunity to gain insights into how this firm, and particularly its CEO, blends technology and entrepreneurial creativity to create value.

The main benefit I derived from this experience was that it demystified the role of the CEO. My initial belief was that a CEO of a tech company needed to have a background in computer science or engineering to succeed in the role. While such a background may be beneficial, Mallat is living proof that it is not essential. He taught me that his role is to be a holistic thinker, one who thinks both vertically and horizontally. What I mean is the CEO needs to zoom in and out (vertically) in a wide range (horizontally) of situations. He described his role as akin to casting for a film: placing the right people in the right places so they can be successful.

I think the best piece of advice Mallat shared with me is that, when putting together a team, surround yourself with individuals possessing complementary skill sets. This will ensure that when consensus needs to be reached, that decision will have considered most viewpoints, even though the process may be laborious.

This increases the likelihood of going in the right direction and, more importantly, knowing why you have taken that path.

Simon Bibeau is a student at McGill University. He is in the Honors Investment Management program and is co-captain the men’s varsity basketball team.