Talking company culture with Christophe Lavigne
As part of our article on creating a positive company culture in the May 2013 issue of Boating Industry, we spoke with Christophe Lavigne, vice president of engineering at Rec Boat Holdings. When he came to the company, Lavigne dramatically shook up the culture and physical appearance of his company’s design center in Cadillac, Michigan.
Boating Industry: When you first joined Rec Boat Holdings, what did you want to improve in terms of culture within the design center?
Christophe Lavigne: The Four Winns design team is a very talented group of engineers and designers. They created many great boats over the past 25-plus years, but their offices and the organization of the building didn’t help them to share that experience. The offices were small and many walls separated the different levels of workers (drafter, designers, engineers). In order to have the people work together more fluently we basically broke down the walls. We opened [up] the space; concentrated the office in one major area, with a brainstorming table in the middle. This physical change helped to open the minds and facilitate communication at every level. It makes the people feel more involved in the projects and jazzes up our creativity.
BI: What are some specific qualities of a positive work culture that you’ve hoped to impart on your team? And, why is that important to you?
CL: Yes, the people need to work in a pleasant area, must create bonds with their fellow coworkers and have FUN! We are designing boats. It is a serious job, but we try to project ourselves into the minds of our future customers, and really enjoy the process of designing the boats as much as the people will enjoy their boats in the future.
BI: Are there aspects of creating a positive culture that require a financial investment? And, are there any that require no money at all?
CL: There are some financial investments in the building itself, the offices, the quality of the furniture. We are also investing in professional travel to different outside events, (boat shows, car shows, interior design trade shows, boat testing and a boat trip over Lake Michigan, for example). So yes, there are some investments, but the culture came at no cost. It is a mindset, a way to think, communicate, debate ideas and be receptive to others’ ideas. That is free.
BI: You said that you are still trying to improve your culture of creativity every day. What are some ways that you do that?
CL: The culture of a company should not be a stagnant thing. We change, the market changes, the people change. Most of our designers and engineers are [from the] X or Y generations. We have to adapt, make their working environment match their expectations as much as possible. The product also has to change to match customer expectations and embrace new technology developments. So to stimulate creativity we do many different activities — focus groups, concept meetings, open debates. We project ourselves as customers in different situations, we connect with salespeople, dealers, customers, and we do a lot of boating every weekend when the lake is not hard ice. We are in Michigan!
BI: You mentioned that you made some renovations in the studio when you arrived. What are some design criteria that help create a creative space? And, do you think any of these qualities could translate to people in other parts of the marine industry, like dealerships, aftermarket shops, etc.?
CL: Open space, brainstorming tables and personal areas (semi-open office) are the three elements we have developed in the building. We combined them with an elegant and modern selection of furniture (glass desks, dark modern wood elements and black leather seats). We also add display shelf to “show off” our parts and accessories developed here. The building is good. I wish we could have more natural light, and we are still working to improve that. Also, the building is connected with the tool shop. It is a great opportunity to be so close to the tools makers, the CNC programmer and the prototype builders. It enhances communication at every level during the design process.
BI: Have you used a company’s culture as a recruitment tool?
CL: It is important. I want the people that consider working with us to feel this office projects both professionalism and a fun perception.
BI: Do you feel younger generations (Millennials) require a different physical environment or in-the-office culture that’s any different than previous generations?
CL: Yes, certainly their environment, hours of work and lifestyle are different and we have to adapt. We recently changed our [dress code] policy to match the reality of this generation and it was certainly very well received. It was fun to see how it positively impacts the people.
BI: Is there anything else you’d like to add on the topic of creating a positive company culture?
CL: Simply that it is important. People don’t work for you any more. We work together, and it is much more rewarding for everybody.