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Thank you to the 1646 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions! I hope reading 7 Questions with

Nathalie de Champlain

helps you in your leadership.

Nathalie de Champlain

Nathalie de Champlain

Name: Nathalie de Champlain

Title: CMO

Organisation: Ascent, Roadrunner and LyonIX

Nathalie was hired by a private equity firm to take on the role of Senior Business Advisor to the CEO and Chief Marketing Officer for two of their portfolio companies, Ascent Global Logistics and Roadrunner Freight, in October 2021. With her expertise in brand management, business acumen and leadership skills, she has made a significant impact. She successfully led the rebranding and created a marketing machine at Ascent, USA Jet (an Ascent subsidiary), and Roadrunner.

Previously, using her creative and business knowledge, she founded Caliloko in 2018, a luxury-inspired compression sportswear line designed to cater to the needs of highly active individuals, as well as those who spend extended periods standing or traveling long distances. Nathalie held the position of Global Senior VP of Marketing and Chief of Staff to the CEO at GardaWorld, a global security and cash services company.

With experience in acquisitions and integration, she effectively executed synergies for more than 35 M&A transactions. Prior to that, Nathalie worked as an executive with the L'Oréal Group, successfully launching new brands in North America. Nathalie is recognized as a visionary in branding, with extensive experience in retail B2B and B2C go-to-market strategies.

As a dedicated leader, she empowers her teams to excel and be creative. She thrives on pushing her personal limits, embracing health hacking, longevity concepts and athleticism. Nathalie cherishes her role as a loving spouse and a proud mother of two teenage boys. She deeply understands the significance of nurturing a harmonious and fulfilling life, where family takes center stage in her journey.

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

During my career, what I found most challenging as a leader was:

1. Navigating Uncertainty during the 2008 economic crisis: Back in 2008, as a young leader at the time, I held the position of global head of marketing and communications for a publicly traded company. Oh boy, it was challenging as I encountered significant hurdles that I was facing for the very first time - it was like doing 3 MBAs from different schools at the same time. One of the main challenges involved effectively managing the financial instability that emerged during that time, while simultaneously overseeing the integration of the largest acquisition in our company's history. An acquisition that presented its own challenges as well. The seller had presented synergies that were becoming unachievable which was deteriorating our EBITDA hence the value of the company. In order to address cost reduction all while maintaining marketing efficiency, I had to make difficult decisions. The market volatility resulting from the crisis also presented difficulties in maintaining a positive media presence, given the intense scrutiny from all stakeholders. After a fall of the share price from $24 to $1, it was crucial to restore and maintain the confidence of shareholders, customers and our own employees. To achieve this, I prioritized effective communication, transparency, and building trust to secure ongoing support and commitment. We went out in the media, accepted candid conversations with reporters throughout a profound uncertainty. Looking back, I think I drew inspiration from the leadership skills imparted by John Maxwell, a renowned authority in leadership development. As a young leader entrusted with high-stakes responsibilities, I endeavored to lead my team through adaptability to the new market realities, resilience, effective communication, authenticity, positive attitude, courage, and servant leadership.

2. Building and Leading Effective Teams: Building and leading a high-performing team can be a challenge. When I joined Ascent and Roadrunner, we didn't have marketing teams, just two individuals per company. However, the branding and growth goals were tremendous. Leaders need to identify and recruit top talent, foster a collaborative and inclusive culture, and inspire and motivate their team members to achieve shared goals.

3. Driving Innovation: Staying competitive in rapidly evolving industries required for me as a leader to foster a culture of innovation which is challenging. I needed throughout my career to find way to encourage creative thinking, push my teams to embrace and even propose new technologies and approaches, and drive forward-thinking strategies to stay ahead of the curve.

4. Managing Change: Change is a constant in the business world, I actually LOVE change, whether it's organizational restructuring, integrating acquired companies, changing a brand entirely, upgrading a team, or implementing new marketing strategies. As a leader, I must effectively manage change and the challenge is to be totally empathetic, communicate my goals, and support my team through the transition as their emotions in face of the change might not be the same as mine.

5. Balancing Short-term Results with Long-term Vision: As a leader, I have faced very often the challenge of balancing short-term objectives with long-term strategic goals. This involves making decisions that deliver immediate results while aligning with the organization's long-term vision and sustainability.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Everyone has the potential to be a leader in their own ways. I constantly tell my boys, be the leader that you are. When tension rises between them I would often say: 'Behave like a leader to your brother.' Ultimately, leadership is innate and learned, and it's up to us to decide and identify our own path, and whether we want to embrace leadership roles or not. Very early on in my life, I made the decision to become a leader. But not just anyone, I wanted to learn to become a very good leader for the people around me.

I develop myself to be the best leader I could be. At the start of my bigger, larger responsibilities, when multi-functional teams reported to me from different places in the world, I was very young. Thinking back, I was a tougher leader than I am today.

At the time, in the context of managing a team across different countries and as a French Canadian where I had to overcome language barriers, I felt more pressure to prove myself as a leader and establish credibility for the people reporting to me. This pressure made me more assertive. Despite all these feelings, I worked hard to share a vision for what my team needed to accomplish and constantly seek for feedback and communicate with them. My story evolved nicely.

I’ve learned through different human experiences, by listening to people around me. Not just colleagues that reported to me, but my peers and family. At first, it surprised me to hear that I was assertive. I didn’t realize the image I projected. If it wasn’t for me, asking for direct feedback and accepting to be vulnerable, I would have probably never evolved to the strong leader that I am today. The art of listening is crucial if we want to learn and develop. I consider myself a calm and empowering leader. One that is authentic, empathetic to other peoples’ needs and emotions.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I find this question intriguing as it has been a focal point for me throughout the years. Striving to strike a balance between my mental and physical well-being is an ongoing goal, which begins with effectively structuring my workdays. Currently, I am dedicated to serving my team, driving results, and overcoming obstacles in their path. To maintain some control over my schedule, I establish specific blocks for various activities such as thinking, writing, meetings, reading and fitness.

My day commences at 6am, a cherished time spent in the hot tub with a delightful latte. This routine, which my husband and I have maintained for over a decade, allows us to connect, plan for our family, and tackle challenges together. By 7am, we prepare breakfast and pack lunches for our children, waking them up in the process. During this time, I review the priorities I had set the previous day and make any necessary adjustments to my agenda. I also analyze the business figures, such as revenue, using PowerBi, and communicate them to my CEO. At 9am, conference calls and intense work kick off.

Before diving into that, I allocate an hour for reflection, utilizing this period for writing and deep thinking. I make it a point to tackle one significant and demanding task or project during the morning, and I keep my daily to-do lists concise. As the day draws to a close, I take a moment to review the rest of the week priorities and identify the key objective I wish to accomplish the next day.

This helps me sleep better and not being tormented with a to-do list in the middle of the night. Sleep is another crucial aspect of my routine, and I prioritize it by maintaining a consistent bedtime. To enhance the quality of my restful nights, I refrain from eating within three hours before going to bed. This practice significantly contributes to my energy levels for the following day. Additionally, I dedicate 10 to 30 minutes before bed for meditation, which helps me relax and unwind.

Prior to that, I indulge in some reading while in bed, further aiding in a peaceful transition to sleep. When I am traveling, which is often the case, my routine is naturally disrupted. For instance, I replace the hot tub session with a morning run or a workout at the gym, ensuring that I prioritize my physical well-being.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

As the CMO of two different companies over the past year and a half, I have faced unique challenges where building new teams from the ground zero was crucial. In both instances, I've learned to invest time to hire the right people, with personalities that would work together, and complement each other. I learned also that entrusting younger people with large responsibilities could work. For the first company, the challenge was to no longer be the best-kept secret in the logistics and supply chain industry.

The company had remarkable capabilities and expertise and a unique culture, but its brand recognition was very minimal. I assembled a talented and multi-functional team, carefully selecting individuals who could take the company to the next level. We embarked on a comprehensive rebranding effort, preserving the positive heritage while modernizing the brand image, voice, and tone. By creating impactful brand assets and establishing a strong digital presence, we significantly improved lead generation and expanded our reach within the industry.

The second company faced a far more complex situation. Previous embezzlement by the CFO and management team had tarnished the reputation of the company, leading to negative perceptions and poor customer experiences. It was essential to rebuild trust, restore the company's image, and overcome the challenges caused by the past. Once again, I built a dedicated team, carefully selecting individuals who understood the significance of our mission.

We embarked on an extensive rebranding journey, distancing ourselves from the negative associations while maintaining the positive elements of the company's heritage. Our new brand assets were a complete departure from the previous brand, reflecting our commitment to change and rebuilding, all while being transparent, and keeping our name. Under my leadership, several things needed to happen quickly in addition to the rebrand of both companies: To drive revenue retention and strengthen customer relationships, we organized engaging customer events, where we could connect on a personal level and address any concerns directly.

Internally, we developed guiding principles and implemented internal newsletters to foster employee engagement and retention. Understanding the importance of talent acquisition, we launched targeted campaigns to support our human capital team in recruiting new employees who aligned with our vision and values. To measure the impact of our efforts, we integrated our campaigns into a CRM platform, allowing us to track and analyze the results in real-time. This data-driven approach helped us refine our strategies, optimize our resources, and make informed decisions. While age is not the sole determining factor of competence, entrusting younger individuals with bigger responsibilities in the marketing and digital world can harness their unique strengths and drive innovation.

By combining their digital fluency, fresh perspectives, adaptability, collaborative mindset, and willingness to take risks, organizations can capitalize on the strengths of young professionals to stay competitive in today's fast-paced digital landscape.

1. Tech-savviness and Digital Fluency: Younger generations have grown up in a digital era, making them naturally attuned to technology and digital platforms. They possess a deep understanding of social media, digital marketing trends, and emerging technologies. This fluency enables them to adapt quickly to evolving digital landscapes and leverage innovative tools and strategies effectively.

2. Fresh Perspectives and Creativity: Younger professionals often bring fresh perspectives and creative ideas to the table. Their unique experiences and exposure to diverse digital platforms allow them to think outside the box and propose innovative solutions. They can inject new energy and creativity into marketing campaigns, helping brands stand out and connect with younger audiences.

3. Adaptability and Agility: The marketing and digital world are rapidly evolving, requiring professionals who can adapt quickly to change. Younger individuals are often more open to learning and embracing new technologies, platforms, and marketing techniques. Their agility enables them to stay ahead of trends, experiment with new approaches, and drive innovation within marketing strategies.

4. Collaborative Mindset and Team Dynamics: Younger professionals tend to have a collaborative mindset and thrive in team environments. They are accustomed to working in cross-functional teams, breaking down silos, and leveraging collective intelligence. This collaborative approach fosters synergy and enables efficient execution of complex marketing campaigns and projects.

5. Willingness to Take Risks: Younger individuals often possess a greater appetite for risk-taking. They are more likely to embrace experimentation and embrace unconventional ideas. This mindset can lead to breakthrough marketing strategies and campaigns that push boundaries and yield significant results. Through these experiences, I learned the power of assembling talented teams, not fearing to give bigger responsibilities to younger employees and setting a clear vision.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

The book I read about 6 years ago, 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things' by Ben Horowitz, resonated with me so much that I’ve bought it to friends entrepreneurs and repurchased the audible version recently to go back to it. When I first read it, I was in the process of founding Caliloko, my sportswear brand that I injected with my own money. This book became then a guiding light that inspired and shaped me into the leader I needed to be in a new context of creating and developing my business.

Through its candid and practical advice, the book provided me with a deeper understanding of the challenges that leaders often encounter when they take risks like the one I was taking. Ben Horowitz's personal experiences as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist resonated with me back then and continue to do so even now. The book fearlessly delved into topics such as making tough decisions, managing through difficult times, and navigating personal doubt.

Reading 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things' at that critical juncture of starting Caliloko was transformative. It opened my eyes to the realities where success is not always immediate, and setbacks and difficult decisions are part of the journey. It taught me to persevere, adapt, and make tough choices with at times limited information about the competitive landscape. The book's practical advice boosted what I already had in me: resilience, determination, and continuously having the attitude of a learner.

It reminded me that leadership requires embracing difficulties, staying true to your vision, and leading others with conviction. I didn’t have a large team, but I had people following me for that vision. It was a huge responsibility. 'The Hard Thing About Hard Things' has been a pivotal resource throughout my journey with Caliloko. Its valuable lessons have helped me navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, make difficult decisions with confidence, and build a resilient and successful company. I am grateful for the profound impact this book has had on my leadership style and the growth of Caliloko.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

My piece of advice for young leaders is the emphasis on continuous growth and development. It is very important that you adopt early on and throughout your life, a learning mindset to constantly refine leadership skills and embrace new challenges. Leadership is not static but rather a journey of constant improvements. By prioritizing your personal and professional growth, you can adapt to evolving situations, expand your capabilities, surround yourself with people who will fight for you. Have the humility to ask questions, learn, listen, and you will set yourself on a path to become an exceptional leader who drives lasting impact and inspires others to reach their full potential.

Recognize that leadership is a journey of growth and discovery. Stay curious, seek new knowledge, and remain open to different perspectives. Embrace challenges as opportunities for personal and professional development. Refining your leadership skills goes beyond managing those under your direct authority. Learn to lead laterally and upward, effectively collaborating and influencing colleagues at all levels. Build strong relationships based on trust and respect. By expanding your sphere of influence, you'll become a catalyst for positive change and drive collective success.

Other pieces of advice for things that don’t always come naturally:

>Empower others around you. True leadership lies in elevating and inspiring those you lead. Nurture their potential, delegate responsibilities, and provide guidance when needed. When your team thrives, so do you.

>Maintain a positive attitude and cultivate a can-do spirit. Optimism is contagious and has a remarkable impact on the work environment. Embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, and approach setbacks as steppingstones towards success. Your positive energy will inspire those around you and foster a culture of resilience.

>Shift your focus from self-centeredness to making a meaningful impact. By genuinely caring about the well-being, need and success of others, you create an environment where collaboration and support flourish. Remember, doing good and helping others ultimately benefits you in ways you may never expect.

>Surround yourself with individuals who possess strong emotional intelligence, not just technical knowledge. Emotional intelligence fuels effective communication, empathy, and understanding. These qualities are essential for building harmonious relationships, resolving conflicts, and creating an inclusive work environment.

>Embrace calculated risks and be courageous. Leadership often requires making tough decisions and taking bold steps forward. Have the confidence to step outside your comfort zone, seize opportunities, and embrace innovation. Growth happens when you are willing to venture into uncharted territory.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

A meaningful story about my leadership journey is actually a story of my evolution, leading high visibility projects and intense challenges. It is a story of fast growth in the most ambiguous circumstances. At L’Oreal, I launched a brand that didn’t exist and that the company was on the fence about. I convinced upper management in France to invest in the brand; by rallying multi-functional teams around me, we made the brand a real success. It is still on the shelves after two decades.

Right after, I reported to a Founder, CEO and savvy entrepreneur whose ideas were to expand rapidly, from a local company to a global powerhouse. It included 35 acquisitions in the context of a publicly traded company and growing from 10k employees to over 300k. Not a day was straight lined and clear. I had to lead in constant flux. Next, I did my own venture to realize my lifelong dream of creating a new brand from ground zero. While I thought I had learned everything about business, I invested all my savings and created my own business. Such experience allowed me to apply all my learnings.

It was intense and stressful, and I realized that I had still a lot to learn. It was quite satisfying to watch the baby crawl, walk and run. Today, in my current role as CMO of two companies under the umbrella of the private equity realm and related pressures, I have been challenged to compartmentalize, grow two brands and successfully bring them to light. Collectively, these experiences have shaped me into a leader who can make tough decisions, embraces challenges and values humanity in harsh business conditions. I have grown from a leader in the rough at the start to someone who has honed its skills and refined its approach. I believe that leadership is a journey of constant growth, and for over two decades, I committed myself to evolving, adapting, and making a meaningful impact on others.

With an outward mindset, I actively seek opportunities to develop others, and continuously pursue results. Such mindset is ingrained in my leadership approach, driving my commitment to creating a collaborative, trustworthy and growth-oriented environment for my people.

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