Serge Halberstadt: Leveraging Expertise, Inspiring Excellence
VP Technical Services at Scality
Around five years ago, Serge Halberstadt, now VP of Technical Services, led the life of a musician, writing guitar songs and playing and singing them in bars. This six-month hiatus from a rich career in IT management and consulting was both experiment and experience. “My motivation was to see if the whole creation process was something I enjoyed. So I would sit in my kitchen with a blank paper and throw around ideas to myself. Having these ideas become a song that you sing in front of people and then getting their feedback was really enjoyable. It was a little bit scary, but it was a good challenge to have.”
This fearlessness with regard to choosing life experiences speaks to one of Serge’s most valued life philosophies, being authentic.
“I enjoy being authentic,” he asserts. “I’ve been in workplaces where to be able to evolve, you had to play roles. You had to be vicious. That’s not me. I’m really authentic in what I do.” He adds, “Scality is the first company where I feel I can be myself.”
Although Serge is known around the office for his lighthearted humor, according to Pierre Derome, VP of Engineering, he is also “uncompromising on what’s important to him.” One of Serge’s top priorities, both in his prior position as Director of Customer Operations in Europe and in his current position, is providing top-notch service to customers. Thanks to his previous work experience, he has a comprehensive understanding of the customer’s point of view. “The insight he brings is really valuable,” Pierre remarks. “Serge is always on top of what’s happening with our key customers—what the big issues are and how they’re progressing. One of the top compliments that customers always give us is the quality of the technical services we provide. That’s Serge and his team providing that.”
For Serge, reaching that outstanding level of service comes down to successful team management. This starts with understanding company-level strategy and translating that into tactical decisions and guidelines for his team. “When you think about it,” he remarks, “it’s actually quite cool to be in a position where you can discuss our strategy with the CxOs and the investors, and also be on the field on a daily basis with your engineers and our customers. This is what I love.”
The day-to-day of successful team building involves enormous amounts of perceptiveness and dedication. “When I started my career, my main objective was to develop my technology expertise, which was networks and telecom at the time,” he recounts. “My father was a mathematician and my brother is a mathematician. So I grew up surrounded by that science-oriented mindset. But the more I progressed in my career, the more I understood it was all about people.” He realized that he was able to achieve the best collective results by leveraging team members’ individual expertise such that their strengths complemented each other. “When you understand how people behave, what their strong points and weak points are, you can work with them so they complement each other to make them better at what they do,” he says.
Not only does Serge value his team members’ existing skill sets, but he also tries to provide them plenty of opportunities to grow. This can involve empowering employees to implement their own ideas or demanding a higher standard of professionalism of them. His team is always at the center of his focus. Pierre explains, “Besides having meetings, Serge will make a point of walking from one desk to another and talking to each person, asking how things are going or about their weekend. Now that he also has worldwide responsibilities, he goes to the US on a regular basis to have that direct face-to-face contact.” He continues, “This goes back to his passion about the team, knowing how each person is growing and what feedback to give. Continuous improvement for his team and for himself is really important to him.”
When Serge isn’t at the office or traversing oceans for work, he enjoys slowing down, whether it’s spending time with his wife and two teenage sons in their countryside home or simply making time for himself. One way he achieves this is with his daily mindfulness meditation practice.
“It’s a very instructive experience,” he says, “to try and go beyond your natural way of dealing with your thoughts.” For Serge, being able to step back from the trees to see the forest is essential. “I believe in living for things that are bigger than myself, bigger than the team. I’m always going toward something that I can be proud of.”