Thomas Fillioud, UK Regional Sales Manager and third time Le Club winner, values doing what’s important to you and doing it well—or else risk having regrets. And the way he’s lived his life certainly shows it. Before building up Scality’s sales presence in the UK, he’d had similar professional experience as Atempo’s first UK-based employee before moving on to a more international role at Sohonet. Having had much experience starting businesses from scratch as well as his share of exploratory travels, he enjoys the challenge and excitement of facing new frontiers. He shared with me his insights on the dynamic life and career he’s led so far.
Part 1: A Frenchman in London
JW: You grew up in France and then you moved to England at the age of 24. Why England of all places?
TF: I’ve always wanted to travel and work in a foreign country and it was a good opportunity for both me and my girlfriend (who’s now my wife). At the time, my English wasn’t very good and in order to work for big American companies, I had to be better at English. So I decided to leave France and live in the UK—try to find a job, learn the language, and then potentially come back. But now it’s been 13, 14 years actually. So it wasn’t such a short trip after all!
JW: How are you finding England culturally, as a French guy?
TF: I started out working for a British company so I was always mixed into the local culture, and I really like it. As long as you can understand the jokes and you like the way of living, it works. Some of my friends in France have told me, ‘You’re more British than French now!’ and that may be true to some degree. Obviously I’m still attached to my roots and culture, because there’s lots of things that I love about it.
JW: So pubs or bistros?
TF: I still miss bistros and cafes because I like the fact that you can be on the terrasse and have your coffee and your beer. Here in the UK pubs don’t have outdoor seating areas so you have to take your pint outside and stand up. It’s still very nice, but again, it’s very different.
JW: What particular challenges did you face in your early days in England?
TF: Obviously the language was the biggest challenge. I was a sales guy before I left France, and I wanted to be a sales guy in the UK. So I’ve got some very funny memories of going to interviews and having to pick up the phone and talk to virtual customers, and not understanding them!
It took me six months to find the job. I was doing some temping, PowerPoint design, moving boxes from warehouses… Essentially you try to do whatever you can. And in fact just before I got that call from Interactive Ideas, I was handing my CV to a shoe store in SoHo. I was thinking, ‘OK, that’s what I have to do to be better and learn English—speak the language and spend more time with the locals.’ And then I got that call. They said, ‘You’ve got the job.’ They gave me the chance I was waiting for.
JW: It must’ve felt really great when you finally heard back from them.
TF: I wouldn’t say I cried, but I could have, I think. I was also astonished. I thought, ‘God, someone’s giving me the job! I’m going to have to talk to customers on the phone!’
JW: We come to a very crucial question. Do you like the food there?
TF: It’s still a bit of a challenge, but I’ve put on weight since arriving so I’m guessing I’m enjoying it in some respects! Fish and chips isn’t my favorite dish, but Yorkshire puddings are nice. I’m a big eater and I love my food and tasting new food, so it’s always a good and quite appreciable challenge for me.
Part 2: Breaking new ground professionally
JW: Educationally you started out in engineering. Why did you switch to business?
TF: In my line of work I was a network engineer. So I was going out to big French companies as a junior engineer to install the network. Throughout the work, I met a lot of people and started to work with pre-sales engineers. And I became really interested in that, in selling the story about why technical solutions were right for customers and their requirements. After those 4 years, I decided to do my Master’s, and that was purely commercial.
JW: Have you ever dreamed of having your own company?
TF: In fact, back in those days one of my teachers was a very good friend and mentor. We started a project to create a company together with two of my fellow schoolmates. Obviously, after I moved to the UK, the project vanished, but I’ve always had this sort of entrepreneurship in mind. And since then I’ve been quite lucky to have some challenging experiences with starting things from scratch. Very enriching experiences, I would say.
JW: As the first Scality employee in the UK, what challenges did you have?
TF: When I first started, I myself had never heard of Scality in the UK. So my biggest challenge was, not just starting a company branch, but the fact that object storage just wasn’t as popular then as it is today. We had to do a lot of education. That was the hardest part, but also a very enriching one. The trends in the market were not necessarily toward object then, but things have changed since.
JW: What specific aspects do you enjoy about your work?
TF: I love the thrill of sales—always being on the edge, having to sell, having to achieve your target. The best part is also being surrounded by so many clever people. I think at Scality we’re quite privileged to have very intelligent and enthusiastic people. And I’m just passionate about the technology as well, even kind of emotionally attached, I would say.
I remember at the beginning of the company, you could feel the support from the other employees. You could call someone at any time of day or night, and they would answer, because they all care. Everyone cares, and that’s what I really enjoy at Scality. People care.
JW: Do you feel that in our modern day and age, the way we do customer relations has changed?
TF: I think it has changed but not so much. Things like WEBEX, GoTo Meeting, and Skype help businesses to be more efficient, but you still need to meet your customers in person. At the end of the day, people sell to people. You can have the best technology, but if you don’t get on well with your customer, you’re going to have a hard time selling. If you don’t believe in what you say and you can’t transmit that to your customer by looking him in the eye and telling him, ‘This is why you should invest in our technology. This is why we should work together,’ I think it becomes very difficult.
I feel in the future we’ll have this problem of people not necessarily wanting to meet each other in person anymore because they won’t feel the need. They’ll already be consistently seeing what others are doing. If you see someone’s day-to-day life on Facebook, what do you ask when you meet with him? Luckily we’re not there yet in business, but I think for our kids in the next generation, that’s going to be a challenge. If that turns into a habit, what does it mean for business in the future? I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to find ways. We’re humans; we’ll adapt.
JW: You’ve been described as having a strong pioneer spirit. Do you agree with this description?
TF: I like the idea, but I don’t know if it’s really true. I’m not doing something exceptional. But what excites me is the fact that you can start something from the beginning and see the results at some point. Scality’s the longest company I’ve been with and fortunately, we’re really innovative and always coming up with new ideas and new products, and that really excites me.
Part 3: Journeys in far-off lands
JW: Shifting away from work stuff, you’d mentioned taking a gap year in Asia. Why did you decide to go for it?
TF: I’d always wanted to travel, and it was a good opportunity for me. I didn’t see any career progress in my job at Dell. I was one of 60,000 employees. I didn’t see myself making a massive difference. So I guess in that pioneer spirit, I was like, ‘Look, now is the time.’ It was an amazing experience. During that year, I realized I didn’t want to work for a big company anymore.
JW: Are there any particular memories of that trip that have stuck with you?
TF: Traveling for me is about meeting people. It’s about meeting the culture. So I remember at least one moment in every single country where I thought, ‘You know what, this is why we’re traveling!’
In Mongolia, we stayed with the family of a couch surfer for 3 weeks. We were living in their yurt—7 of us in 15 square meters sharing everything! No running water and electricity for only one lamp. You had to go and get the water down at the river by filling up a 180 liter bucket. It was just so lovely, so amazing— meeting with a family, sharing meals with them, cooking for them, sharing the culture. It was just amazing.
I could say the same thing about Japan. We were in Tokyo and suddenly the weather just became horrendous. Storm and rain. And we were drenched. This couple was walking down the street and they saw us completely wet, from head to toe, and they gave us their umbrella! And that’s only one example.
I’ve actually got lots and lots of experiences of Japanese people being very genuinely nice. In fact, I have great memories of all the countries we visited.
JW: Besides traveling, what interests do you have outside work?
TF: Obviously my first interest is my kids. I think it’s funny how when you become a parent, you change things—your lifestyle, what you do, who you do it for. I do some mixed martial arts and some rock climbing now and then. I love mechanic sports and motorbikes. I used to do some enduro. I still have my bike actually but I don’t have much time. In fact I’m just realizing that I work too much!
JW: So what’s on your bucket list?
TF: I want to go traveling with my kids. I would love to try having my own company. And I think that’s really all. I’m pretty happy.
JW: Any particular place in mind for your future travels?
TF: I will definitely go back to Mongolia because I want to see that family again. I think we want to do South America with the kids because I haven’t done that yet. Or maybe Africa. Obviously it’s about exploring new territories for me. Maybe buy a caravan or a camper van, get everyone in, and let’s enjoy ourselves. If we want to stay three days in Yellowstone, or two weeks, let’s do it. Freedom for a year.