A Conversation with Antoine Patte, Spirited Adventurer
This year marks the third time Antoine Patte, EMEA Sales Director, has achieved Le Club status. He is described by others as the consummate salesperson, “a salesperson in CAPS,” as Emilio Roman, Vice President of Sales EMEA, puts it. “It means that customers are at the center of his life,” he adds. While having a long talk with Antoine about his diverse work and life experiences, I also discovered his taste for adventure (and his aversion to boredom).
Part 1: Life in the jungle
JW: I understand you lived in Guatemala when you were twenty. How did you end up there?
AP: In France at that time, you had to do your military service. But if you had certain diplomas and if you were very determined and lucky, you could work abroad for a French company. So I found a pharmaceutical company and they wanted to send me to Sweden. And then one day they came to me and said, “Do you speak Spanish?” I said “No.” “Do you want to learn Spanish?” “Yes.” And then they said, “We are looking for people to go to Guatemala. It’s a priority but it’s very dangerous.” I said, “I’ll go.” For me, it was better to go to Guatemala than Sweden. It was more interesting, more adventurous.
JW: So what did you enjoy about your life in Guatemala?
AP: What I liked was to discover. When you’re twenty and living in Guatemala and traveling all over Central America, you learn something every day. I particularly remember everything that was strange, like the earthquakes and the volcanos. In the tropics, everything is stronger. The rain is stronger, the wind is stronger, the sea…
JW: Would you say living in Guatemala changed you as a person?
AP: When you travel, you become different. And traveling in the 80’s was very different. You had no email. My family and I sent letters to each other. They called me only once, after a volcanic eruption. It was four in the morning. I was sleeping, and my mother called me. She asked, “Are you alive??” “Yes, I’m alive. What happened?” Then I opened the window. And there was a volcano erupting right there, very near Guatemala City (as has been happening again in recent days unfortunately).
JW: Oh my goodness. Did you evacuate?
AP: No, we stayed because it was 10km away. But we had a cloud of volcanic ash for two months. It was dark.
JW: So you were really in the middle of the forces of nature.
AP: Yes, exactly. I remember one time I was hiking in sneakers on a volcano. And we heard a sound like, ‘D-ling, d-ling, d-ling.” It sounded like glass. We kept going and suddenly the ground opened and there was lava just under us! So the sound was the river of lava underneath. And one of my sneakers melted and got stuck to the surface. You always remember this type of thing.
Part 2: Work hard, party hard
JW: Tell me about your life in Grenoble, when you were working at Getris, the start-up you helped create.
AP: It was a company for computer graphics. Very expensive, very high-end stuff for video. Grenoble at that time had no TGV and no train to Paris except the night train. So it was easier to sell in Switzerland or in Italy than in Paris! It’s hard to believe now. As I was in charge of sales and marketing, I was known as “Mr. Getris “to everybody. I was traveling a lot—Seoul, New York, Munich, Buenos Aires, everywhere. To go to Paris, I had to wake up at four in the morning to catch a flight. And then fly back to Grenoble in the evening. Very good experience, very positive. A lot of work and good results.
JW: Anything in particular that you learned from your experience with the start-up?
AP: What was really tough was I was 25, and I needed to hire people and also fire people. When you are 25 and you have to fire a guy who’s 50, it’s not easy. So that’s where you learn. Nobody can help you. You have to do it yourself.
JW: And then you were in Montreal, right? What was that like?
AP: Over there I was working like crazy. From six in the morning to midnight every day, even Saturday. When I joined the company, there were 80 employees, and five years later, there were 800.
JW: You put so much of yourself into your work. You seem to be quite passionate about it.
AP: Yes. If not, I could not do it.
JW: Any other particular memories of Montreal?
AP: I was enjoying electronic music in the ’90’s. It was the very beginning. I liked what they called ‘happy house’ at that time. We were really into electronic house music – organizing parties, bringing DJs from all over the world… One of my best friends, a really good software engineer, even opened a club called Stereo. It was very successful.
JW: Is it still open?
AP: It’s still open. We had the largest analog sound system in the world at that time, so we had the best DJs coming to play for free to test it. And every year I organized one or two big parties. There were 400 people and the best DJs in Montreal were calling me to ask for a slot. It was fun.
JW: Did you ever learn to DJ?
AP: Yes, for fun – but not good enough!
Part 3: ‘Mr. Getris’ goes to Scality
JW: You started at Scality 7 years ago. What were the unique challenges for you back then?
AP: My role was to help Scality to sell in Europe. We had sales in Italy, Germany, Spain, but nothing in France. Zero. It was not easy at all. Because six years ago, nobody cared about this type of solution. Myself, I was convinced by object storage technology. This technology was the future. Our success proves it.
JW: So how did you get French customers on board?
AP: At the time I was working a lot with Brad King. So Brad and I were pushy, but pushy in a positive way. It was really a combination of determination and having the right focus. And experience. I’d learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work from my other jobs.
JW: Why are you so passionate about what you do?
AP: For me, what’s rewarding about it is between me and myself, between the customers and myself, and between the team and myself. I’m happy if the customer is happy. Technical sales is about an exchange, which I really like. The customer has a business problem and when I’m convinced that our solution fits his problem, it’s great. Not just his technical problem, but the overall trajectory of his business.
JW: So it’s not selling for the sake of selling. You’re selling because you know it’s going to benefit the customer.
AP: Selling Scality products is like selling the foundations for a big building. It’s not sexy at all. But when you discuss the foundations for this building, you discuss the building itself, you discuss how many people, you discuss how it will grow, the full business plan. So we can do the foundations for a 5-floor building up to a 5000-floor building. Your ‘foundation’ solution is key for them to grow. And that’s what makes it an interesting exchange.
JW: So your role is as a positive enabler.
AP: Exactly. For this, you need imagination and you need to listen to the customer. You need to also be a little bit passionate.
JW: You seem to really love the interactions with the customer.
AP: Yes. What I like is to make sure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together well. And I like to get everything moving in the right direction.
JW: What impact do you hope to have professionally?
AP: You know, I’ve hired many people in my career. And a lot of them stay in touch with me, even just as a reference, even ten, fifteen years later. When I was at Getris, I had a trainee who later went into advertising very successfully and has now bought a large fashion company. And in an interview, he said he learned a lot from Getris. I was like, ‘Yes!!’
JW: So you want your impact to be that you’ve helped a lot of different people?
AP: Yes, that I’ve given people a chance to grow. That’s what I like. It’s the same with the customer, actually. You give them a chance to move forward to the next level.
Part 4: The art of living
JW: Moving away now from your professional life, I hear you have a lot of diverse interests. Like marathon running for example.
AP: I like to run, and sometimes I like to run marathons. Running is yoga for me. You can have fifteen problems, and then you go running, and afterward you have only three or four, because you realize the others aren’t important. But right now I have an injury and I haven’t run for two months. So I’m going crazy.
JW: How else do you enjoy spending your free time?
AP: I love design and art, so I go to exhibitions and I collect paintings.
JW: Tell me about your art collection.
AP: I buy modern art. And I only buy a painting when I know the painter. For example, I have a lot of pieces by a Franco-American artist who lives in Los Angeles and Mexico. I love having his paintings at home.
JW: How did you come to have this interest in art and design?
AP: My family has those kinds of interests. My grandparents, my parents…all of them had an interest in the arts and fashion.
JW: To wrap up, if you could do anything you wanted for a year, what would it be?
AP: Travel. One of my friends and his wife quit their jobs and will live on a boat for two years, starting this June.
JW: So is that something you’d want to do?
AP: Not anymore, because my wife wouldn’t do it. But if you said to me, one year of traveling, for example, around South America, I wouldn’t say no.