Before He Designed an HR policy, He Found Balance in His Own Life: Meet Olivier Vachon
Olivier Vachon’s human resources skills include being a good judge of character in the recruitment process, a personal belief in work-life balance and a disdain for unresolved conflict. The Robotiq employee adds another must: a good laugh every day.
Robotiq was founded after lab-mates Samuel Bouchard, Vincent Duchaîne and Jean-Philippe Jobin decided to commercialize some of the mechatronic work they and their professor Clément Gosselin had created at Laval University in Quebec City. That was in 2008.
Today, Robotiq counts more than 30 full-time staff, and our Grippers and sensors operate in 40 different countries. We felt it was time to start telling the stories of our team members.
Olivier Vachon is the kind of person who engages in meaningful conversations with airplane seatmates. He had one with CEO Samuel Bouchard and it led to him being hired at Robotiq.
He’s that sociable guy, who in high school made you laugh and at work makes you comfortable to approach him. As a human resources professional, he believes that a company needs a welcoming and fun atmosphere. He has an ulterior motive for spreading that joy: He knows that happy employees talking to others about a good working environment are his best ambassadors for attracting needed talent.
Prior to Robotiq, Olivier spent 10 years at a company that counted a few dozen workers upon his arrival – just like Robotiq today. The company’s workforce ballooned to 420 at the time of his departure earlier this year.
When he met Samuel on a flight last year from Tokyo, the conversation moved from their mutual love of camping with the family to the growth that Samuel was seeing at Robotiq and that Olivier experienced at Creaform, the company where he was working when they met.
While Creaform’s rapid growth had Olivier spending a lot of time hiring people, he also made sure to take care of such things as having employees’ first days go off without a hitch. Their conversation touched on growth, hiring and implementing policies, and ended with talk of keeping in touch.
A few months later, Olivier was looking for a new start and some relief from a crushing schedule that kept him away from his young family. After his departure, he thought back about having shared his experiences and knowledge with that CEO seatmate. So, he decided to call Samuel and see if he needed some type of consulting. Samuel appeared to jump on this offer. Soon after, Olivier was hired by Robotiq to run human resources. To think, it all began with a friendly in-flight conversation.
Meet Olivier Vachon: Director, Human Resources & Administration
Throughout elementary and high school, Olivier did not take his studies very seriously. “I just wanted to have fun,” said the Quebec City native. And being a non-competitive youth, he saw sports teams as another way to socialize.
“I played basketball throughout high school. I was never really good at it. But that didn’t bother me; I was comic relief on the bench.”
When he thinks back of school, he remembers cracking up school mates, such as the time he and a group were coming back from a school trip. “I entertained the bus for about five hours. Everybody was laughing,” he recalls. But he actually does not like attracting attention to himself. “I’ll usually stay in the background. I was a drummer in high school. That’s the kind of the personality I have: I like to hide behind my drum and give them the beat.”
That analogy spreads to his work. He collaborates and supports, but avoids the spotlight. Using another analogy, he says, “I prefer to follow a path that’s been set and then help make it better.”
His mother was a social worker and his father an accountant. From his mother, he seems to have inherited an ability to assess a situation with his gut. His father, meanwhile, played a key role in his choice of university program. Recognizing in his son good people skills and knowing of his interest in business, he steered him toward industrial relations, an area of administration that deals more with human relationships.
A year after Olivier graduated from university, he was hired on at Creaform, a company where he had interned. The growing company needed help with its human resources department. The then-small company was taking off after launching its first product, which brought with it some challenges. “There was nothing implemented in HR. There were no policies or structures. I had to do everything on my own but I didn’t have the experience or knowledge,” he says. “I learned the hard way.” Growth was so quick that in 2007, his second year, he personally hired 80 employees.
Away from home 10-12 weeks a year and putting in long work hours when he was in town, his girlfriend Kim Dupont had been handling the brunt of the family responsibilities. He wanted to change to a job that would make room for more time at home, which he did. At Robotiq, his four-day week gives him have an extra day to be more present for his son Edouard, 5, and daughter Ariane, 3, and all the activities associated with keeping up a household.
He says work can trap you in a bubble that has you forgetting about the people closest to you. He now has time to go camping in the summer with his family, staring at the stars and being in front of the fire. This past winter, his son required some extra encouragement to go through with skiing lessons. Olivier experienced an unhappy boy for the first three weekends until he announced to his dad how much he loved his lessons. He says his former traveling schedule would not have given him the time to go through that process.
Just as Olivier helped engineer a better work environment for himself, his mission at Robotiq has been to build a really good workplace for all employees and be an attractive company for potential recruits. “It all starts from the inside,” he says. “People who are happy start to spread the word.”
He places importance on welcoming employees, making sure there’s a training plan ready for them. Aside from ensuring a smooth on-boarding process, he emphasizes that employees’ needs be met and conflicts resolved. “You have to see what’s making life difficult for them. If there are conflicts between people, you have to get them together to talk and try and get them on the same page.”
Olivier oversees the activities of different departments by constantly keeping Robotiq's growth in the back of his mind and reinforcing the company's culture. Nonetheless, recruitment takes up a large part of his job. He says Robotiq is lucky to be near Laval University in Quebec City, with its robotics program and lab. While the company’s reputation in the robotics community helps them attract talent to their technical positions, it’s the non-robotics positions that prove difficult to fill.
At the time of this writing, Olivier was trying to find an in-house web developer. He said the problem is that companies of all stripes are also looking to hire someone to run their web operations. But he was consulting his networks, going on social media, especially LinkedIn, and offering financial incentives to employees who could help him fill the role.
Once he is ready to interview someone for a position, he makes sure they can integrate well. “Before looking at technical skills, you talk to the person see if they can fit in with the team,” he says. He poses questions to them about activities outside of work and the type of person they are. “It’s not only the answer itself but the way the person answers and the details they give you.”
No longer the lax student, he is a serious builder of company culture. And the person who was looking for work-life balance has found it in a place where work schedules are flexible and no one has to book a flight to meet with upper management.
A good fit is something he looks for in new employees. A good fit is something he has found for himself at Robotiq.