AQT – Conversations entrepreneuriales – Julie Watson
Note: This video is in French only. The interview has been translated in English below.
In this episode of “Entrepreneurial Conversations”, Benjamin Beauregard, CEO of Convernet (convernet.com), discusses with Julie Watson, CEO of Ultimate TechnoGraphics (https://imposition.com/) the challenges surrounding business succession, and more specifically the succession of a family business.
JW: Of course, things don’t always necessarily go the way you want, or as planned, but you just have to have the determination that you’re going to get there and overcome the obstacles that are there.
BB: Perfect! Listen, delighted Julie. So your name is Julie Watson, CEO of Ultimate TechnoGraphics which was founded in 1989. Ultimate TechnoGraphics is a business creating and selling print production and finishing automation software. You sell on all continents and 90% of business is international. Where are you based?
JW: In Montréal
BB: You are based in Montreal. You have a bachelor’s degree in management at HEC. You have returned to take over a family business. You came back in 2012 and have been CEO since 2017.
BB: wow! So 1989. How was the transition to taking over the family business? There must be a lot of pressure too.
JW: Yes, but of course there are two components. Take over the business and after that take over the family business. Of course, you have to learn to compartmentalize things, but ultimately, in my opinion, taking over also means ‘taking your place’, because when you arrive in either a family business or another business, ‘we are going to acquire or we want to take over, the place will not be given to us. Often in the succession, that’s the ‘challenge’, the second or third generation, those who take over, have to come with a concrete plan, a vision and they have to take the place and demonstrate that they are capable to do. That’s kind of the ‘challenge’. Because also the family dynamics that come into play, so it’s not always easy. But it is doable, but you have to be determined.
BB: Yes, that’s it I guess. So, you came back in 2012 and for 5 years you made the plan?
JW: That’s it 🙂
BB: It’s good. It’s amazing. And today since 2017 is taking his place, I imagine it comes with making decisions. Did you make any changes, and plus it happened, you had the pandemic to deal with, that definitely has an impact. So what are the modifications, changes you made?
JW: Of course, one of the first things was to see what the future of the company is, the technology for our customers for a long time. So we had to have certain technology renewal projects also to address new market segments and then basically ensure the existence of the product for our customers. That was project number one.
Project number two, of course, is growth. When you take over it’s interesting to have a growth plan at the same time. So, it was to look at how we could increase our market share but also now we are looking at how we can address certain verticals where we are not necessarily present. And then develop new extensions, new modules, new products for these verticals.
BB: That’s interesting. So if we talk to someone who would potentially like to take over the reigns of a family business, what advice would you give?
JW: My God. Advice. I’m not an expert then…. I judge to have succeeded, but it is definitely to be patient and to have the determination to succeed. Of course, things don’t necessarily go the way you want, or as planned, but you just have to have the determination that you’ll get there and then overcome the obstacles that are there.
BB: Now that you’re in position, how do you see the future? Because you are in a special area for printing.
JW: We’re in the tech industry but in the print industry too except it’s not something that if I don’t wake up I don’t go to bed at night thinking, I’m in a male industry. That’s not how it works. In fact, for me, it’s equal opportunity, you just have to have the right products for the customers. Finding solutions for customers for the rest after that is secondary.
BB: Then even, if anything there are certainly attributes then benefits too, right?
BB: Absolutely, to be a woman in a man’s industry. Are there any things you couldn’t think of me as a man, are there things that, certainly if I say bring you a different angle. Do you realize this in your job?
JW: Surely there are differences, of course there are differences between women and men and the way they manage but I think that ultimately the success of companies or a project is really to go look for diversity and then a combination of skills including a combination of perspectives. I don’t think there’s one method that’s better than the other, but it’s really to seek out a wealth of variation in skills and then in ideas that will ensure that we can ‘think outside the box’. Finding new solutions, that’s it.
BB: How do you think ‘Outside the box’ in a more conservative world like the print market, which I feel like, I don’t know, is that a conservative world.
JW: Yes, relatively.
BB: So how do we ‘think outside the box’?
For us, we find new solutions every day so we often come up with ways of doing things that are newer so it’s more of a ‘challenge’ not to find these ideas, but it’s after that to explain and then ensure that customers also adhere to these solutions, which take time, but with patience we get there. Of course, the pandemic has also helped a lot, but we are really working to help our automated customers as much as possible in the print production process, which is essential today. The majority of orders come via an e-commerce site and then you should not be able to touch these products on file or product throughout production as much as possible. The pandemic has also accentuated this even more.
So the solutions we offered to our customers before were like a ‘nice to have’, then the pandemic made it essential. So sometimes, in change, it’s an industry that’s more conservative, there are also impacts, like the pandemic or a recession or something like that, that will allow us to help pivot and then really push it in a new direction. Because we realize that we no longer have a choice, we have to change to survive.
BB: You bring up an interesting point about the recession. How do we prepare ourselves? How do you prepare for this level, for example? Do you have poor growth levers?
JW: In our case a company that grows organically so our idea is really to continue to add value to customers, then we think that unlike perhaps other types of companies, for us a recession is is an opportunity. This is an opportunity to continue to push the mission of our company even further.
BB: What is the mission?
JW: It’s to help our customers automate. So, it is sure when there is a recession, our customers in the different markets will have more pressure on costs, on the speed of production, so that will force customers to review things. So this is the opportunity to come back with new solutions, which will allow them to be successful despite the challenges in the market.
BB: It’s interesting. So you say with the recession there will be increased pressure on costs and production times. So how do we address these issues now or work on solutions now for when it will happen and it will be even more real.
BB: I mean there’s always stress on the spot, there’s always pressure on delivery times, but it’s going to be accentuated even more. Then you I mean you have excellent visibility by doing business on 5 continents. How do we stay sane?
JW: Of course, there are factors that we cannot control. Of course, each country basically has these policies. As we have seen with COVID, there are different regions of the world that have had completely different policies in the face of COVID. So we have to stay agile. We have to stay agile and on the lookout for what’s going on, then we have to adapt quickly to different situations.
BB: How do you manage to properly equip the resellers, then to keep, I imagine that there is an element of training that must still be important to properly maintain such a large network of resellers?
JW: Training, certification etcetera, but also a co-marketing aspect. It’s really trying to help them be successful. Then if they are successful, we are successful. So we really engage with them as much as possible.
BB: Then for once again for a software which would have an interest let us say to export then to begin to build, where one begins?
JW: Where to start.
BB: In your opinion, there are you, in the sense that there are places in the world, which I mean, it is an extraordinary prospect to do business in 5 continents. Surely there are easier places to export software?
JW: JI think it depends what the solution is. What is the solution, what is the target market, in which country or which region of the world is this industry flourishing or busier and probably these countries would become the primary targets for this solution there. It is sure that like us in the Printed matter when the printing press which are much more dominant than others. So it’s normal that these countries have bigger markets for us. But, it is really relative to the solution as such and then to the Industry as such. It is certain that the United States is a big market, it is certain that Japan, China too, Germany too, it is a very important country.
BB: Japan and China too huh?
Japan, I heard that it takes a lot of patience to break into the Japanese market. I don’t know if you have a perspective on this level?
JW: Yes, we have partners in Japan. In fact I think the key to success, or maybe one of the keys to doing business with different countries, is also getting to know the different cultures. Because, the way of doing business in different countries is different, then you have to respect that in a way. So if we’re doing business in Japan we’re probably not going to do things exactly the way we would in the United States. For example, in meetings, and it is sure that it has evolved since then, depending on the culture, there are certain behaviors to have and others to avoid. As if we cross our arms, it shows that we are closed to the idea for example. But if we are sensitive to that, then we really try to respect other cultures, at the same time, I think it facilitates business exchanges and then the potential that we can seek. In Japan, of course, people take longer to make a decision. So the decision-making process is longer. On the other hand, once they commit to a project and then give their word that they will go ahead, they go ahead, and they are very loyal people. So it is to understand this dynamic a little. While if we go to the United States for example, it may be different. Decisions are made faster, but they are much less loyal.
BB: Also the price, they are more price sensitive maybe?
JW: Yes, exactly!
BB: It’s quite a perspective. I imagine you must have, as CEO, do you travel to all these countries, where do you go? I imagine you must have some key partners that you need to interview in person, despite the pandemic or not?
JW: Of course, we’ve been doing a lot of things virtually for a long time, even before COVID. I know a lot of companies that started doing virtual appointments during COVID, but for us it was a reality long before. Precisely, selling in different countries we cannot move every time. When we travel, we will take the opportunity to go, for example to a conference, or a congress, where we will meet all the actors or players in our industry in that region. Then also, by the same token, go for visits. But we try to optimize our time because we are still a small team, and the world is… big.
BB: Absolutely I understand, Ah but it’s interesting. So there, so if you want to let’s say develop a market, you may identify a trade show on which you will potentially have a booth and then around that you have targeted different visits. You have organized some visits. So what is it, how do we do that. How are you doing at home?
JW:I’m not sure I understand the question.
BB: To make visits, do you simply make ‘cold-calls’? I’m guessing maybe it’s the sales team doing that?
JW: In fact it is a combination of things; First, these are probably people we already have in our network. Either we’ve already made initial contacts with them, sometimes we’ll see existing customers, sometimes we’ll see opportunities that are already in our ‘funnel’, that we just maybe want, we say to ourselves that the visit will help solidify the relationship. And then sometimes, it will be people that we are suggested to visit. So in this case we get in touch with them, via LinkedIn, we tell them that we are going to be in the region, according to such a date, since there is availability we have the potential to book our meeting.
BB: It’s great! What are the next major growth levers for you in the near future?
JW: Of course, by using our network, the idea is to provide more complete solutions, to have modules that add up to a solution for existing customers and via our existing network. So for us, growth will come through innovation and then the development of our products.
BB: So, if I understand correctly for you it will be to offer more services to the customer base you already have. Tremendous! Then if for people who want to continue to follow you, what is the best way to stay informed?
JW: It’s on our website, like everyone else. Then also on social networks.
BB: One in particular?
JW: Let’s follow our page on LinkedIn. This is where you can see an overview of what we do in general. But also, LinkedIn is a good place to see what the opportunities are to join our team.
BB: Also, well that’s it.
JW: We are a small company, so we have a kind of interesting collaborative atmosphere, but we also work with clients who are all over the world, so our team is diverse by the very fact of the people who are part of our team and our customers too, so anyone who wants to who loves innovation, creation and diversity, I invite them to join our team.
BB: Certainly, but excellent. Thank you very much, it’s a real pleasure.
Thank you for being so generous in your comments.
JW: You’re welcome.