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Creating a promising digital future for Quebec

As VP of Corporate Affairs at Ubisoft, alum Francis Baillet is helping the interactive entertainment star continue to grow locally and internationally in the new economy
February 1, 2018
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By Maureen McCarthy

While still in CEGEP in Montreal and exploring his career options, Francis Baillet, BSc 92, received a valuable piece of advice.

“I met someone in the banking industry who said that people skills and the ability to communicate your message no matter what the situation were as important as any other skill,” Baillet says.

Francis Baillet Alum Francis Baillet, BSc 92, VP of Corporate Affairs at Ubisoft, will take part in the Concordia President’s Speaker Series on Digital Futures on February 20. | Photo courtesy of Ubisoft

The advice stayed with him as he enrolled in Concordia’s Actuarial Mathematics program, and completed work terms in Montreal and Toronto.

“Those work opportunities were key to the start of my career,” he says. “By the time I started my first full-time job as a pension consultant at Towers Perrin in Montreal in 1992, I knew that the ‘people’ side of things was as interesting to me as the math.”

Following Towers Perrin, Baillet moved up the business-world ladder and eventually became VP of Human Resources and Corporate Affairs at Bell Business Solutions in Montreal.

Discovering the creative side

In 2007, Baillet changed gears when he was hired as VP of Human Resources at Montreal-based Ubisoft, one of the world’s leading creators of interactive entertainment. Baillet’s days were now spent learning how games like Assassin’s Creed go from preliminary design to finished product, a process that can be years in the making. “The software — that is, the development of software — is something I understood backwards and forwards,” he says. “But the creative component was completely new to me.”

Developing a game means assembling a team of artists, designers and programmers in equal measure. “It was the most interesting aspect for me coming in,” he says. “I got to know the people, their crafts and everyone’s impact on the final product.”

Making it easy

Baillet feels his time as VP of Human Resources was essential preparation for his current role as VP of Corporate Affairs. “My job is to make things easy for our developers so they can express their ideas, and also make it easy for the people around us to understand what we do. Today when I interact with government and various institutions, I understand where we are going as a company and where this fits in the Quebec landscape,” he says.

Francis Baillet Francis Baillet took part in the panel discussion “International Competition: Why is a company moving to one location rather than another?” hosted by the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations on November 21, 2017. | Photo courtesy: CORIM

“For example, Quebec is currently making a strong commitment to artificial intelligence [AI], but it’s been around in video games for 20 years. So as the research on AI and machine learning at universities gets better and better, we’re able to take some of that research and use our expertise internally to improve the way players interact with the machine.”

He sees it as the sum of two parts. “It’s a matter of understanding where the government, the public and institutions are headed, understanding where we are going as a company, and working to match the two so that together we create a promising future for the next generation of video game artists, designers and programmers.”

Already a $100-billion industry worldwide, gaming is growing at about seven per cent annually, so just maintaining market share means significant growth. Yet Ubisoft aims to capture a larger piece of the pie.

“Our goal is to be a game changer for Quebec’s economy of the future," Baillet reports. "Last September, we announced our next growth phase in Quebec. With plans to add 1,000 jobs in the next 10 years, Ubisoft studios in Montreal, Quebec City, Piedmont [Que.] and Saguenay [Que.], which will be inaugurated this month, will be home to 4,600 creative minds by the end of 2027.”

If at first you don’t succeed

Applying for his undergraduate studies, Baillet set his sights on Concordia with the goal of studying in the co-op program. Yet he didn’t make the co-op cut right away. “I decided to keep my dream alive and start at Concordia anyway,” he says.

Maria Paradiso, then head of the co-op program, was instrumental in helping him reach his goal: after the first term, Baillet’s grades and a successful interview earned him a place in the program. “That was a really important moment for me,” he says.

Baillet feels the major advantage of a co-op program is the chance to explore different career possibilities before you graduate, and figure out what’s best for your personality. “It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

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