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Jean-Michel Pittet, vice-president of engineering Adobe Experience Manager, Swisspreneur Podcast

EP #145 - Jean-Michel Pittet: A $240M Ticket To Your New Job

Jean-Michel Pittet (Day Software)

April 1, 2021

1:33 – Working a minimum wage job in America
8:12 – Finding out what you’re passionate about
26:20 – The dot com bubble
53:49 – Getting acquired for $240M
1:08:17 – Merging two teams

About Jean-Michel Pittet

Jean-Michel Pittet is Vice-President of Engineering of Adobe since 2013. With his decades-long expertise of management and product development, Jean-Michel believes any tech-savvy person can become a skilful leader. His main concerns include creating meaningful digital experiences, cultivating purposeful customer/business connections and promoting a healthy leadership spirit.


Tech and Sales: how to be both

“For me, it’s natural. I could never be one without the other.”

Jean-Michel’s early experiences as a minimum-wage sales worker for RadioShack taught him how being outspoken and knowing how to land a value can make or break your company’s productivity. But how can we apply sales know-how to product development?

  • Finding fundamental patterns and understanding market fit are key to tech development. So, getting that field experience in customer contact helps your innovation stay relevant.
  • Scientific entrepreneurs should know their numbers. Your idea can sound trailblazing in print, but always consider your profit and loss.
  • Filling both roles is a fantastic opportunity for growth. Creating and selling your own product and being in charge every step of the way makes you fully grasp the entire process from A to Z.
  • Ultimately, it’s all about the human experience. Face-to-face exchange is the most valuable feedback. Consider all facial expressions, hesitations, choices of language: these can definitely help you shape a stronger pitch.

Big wave surfing

“With every change, you have denial.”

After working for Siemens in the late 90s, Jean craved a younger, more dynamic workspace. In 2001, he joined Day Software, a thriving Swiss company with a passion for creating a universal digital experience where different services suit all offerings and aspirations of both companies and individual users. Despite what some might expect, “a Swiss company that is not selling cheese, chocolate, or watches can have an influence on the world stage”, and Day Software was truly taking the lead!

Pulling off an IPO was an impressive move, but the company soon stumbled: after the bubble burst, more and more investors stepped back from Internet investment. As rounds of terminations and lay-offs piled on, the company struggled to see the silver lining.

We all know change is especially tough when it affects someone’s livelihood. Collaborators soon accepted paycheck reduction and stood close in those delicate days, which shows solid company culture. The best approach, Jean defends, is searching for conscious solutions that won’t overlook anyone’s needs. If towers of paperwork and legal quests await you, it is the role of a leader to hold fast, stay fair and help every single worker get to the other side of the tempest.

Breaking on through to the other side

“To take this energy and to ride this wave, we knew we could get a lot more stuff moving if we had access to a bigger distribution channel. That was a realization we had as a team.”

In a positive twist of events, Day Software’s market dynamics and stock performance were on the rise by the late 2000s. As a public company, they knew how a valuable integration could really boost their ambitions. Adobe, already a customer to DS, couldn’t be a better choice! Having just launched a marketing cloud service, they showed how DS’s 2010 acquisition deal was a perfect example of aligned core philosophies, product visions and corporate cultures. Common passion is all in M&A: in this case, building a systematic digital environment where analytics and context evaluation work to deliver customers the most individualized experience possible.

Managing team fit in company merging and acquisition

“It’s about approaching it very consciously, realizing where you’re at but also realizing what the end goal is: that end goal is good integration and meshing of opportunities.”

  • Representatives should have a very cautious conversation on possible culture shocks before closing the deal and announcing internally.
  • Let collaborators go global. Having teams visit other locations nourishes worker comfort and trust in the organization.
  • Keep a flexible position. Like bridges, managers should try their best to move with the flow.
  • Always keep in mind that human creativity depends on human wellbeing.

What to consider in talent selection

“Part of it is intuitive, but the other part is clearly the respect for the individuals.”

  • Intellectual drive is without a doubt Jean’s focal point. A good candidate should not only master the available tools, but also apply them into the problem-space.
  • Ability to step back from the immediate problem and think of the long-term picture.
  • Beyond accomplishing the required tasks, collaborators should try to make the best of their space of freedom to brew awesome new ideas.
  • Intrinsic motivation for building innovative products is a key differentiator.
  • Sharing the common passion.

Jean-Michel’s tips for fellow managers

  • Less managing, more leading. Help the team see underlying potential in new opportunities, but also stand shoulder to shoulder with it when a promising project falls flat.
  • Difference is a treasure! Don’t stick to your field of interest for incredible inspiration. What can you learn from other industries?
  • Speed up iteration time while keeping worker comfort by choosing collaborative cloud solutions.
  • Fairness over intuition: a gut feeling is often a differentiator in talent selection, so remember to reduce subjectivity through similar sets of questions and diverse evaluating boards.
  • Be receptive to out-of-the-box input. Before social media and digital networking, open source part-time collaborators caught everyone’s eyes with their passion and commitment. Your next great collaborator may come from a totally unexpected background, so don’t limit your choice to curricula!
  • Solidarity is crucial in international teams. Stay informed of your team’s living and political ecosystems and help them through social instability whenever necessary.

The future of Basel as an innovation hub

According to Jean-Michel, the Swiss region has many highlights that startups should look into:

  • Basel is fresh-blooded and inclusive! The Swiss linguistic diversity, many cultural upbringings and educational backgrounds are incredible advantages for attracting a larger customer base.
  • A positive attitude in difficult times. COVID-19 is opening many doors to the digital world, since companies are increasingly aware of what clients need: faster automation and AI-centred systems to ease the burden of mundane tasks.

If you would like to listen to more episodes on big exits, check out our conversation with Ariel Lüdi.

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