Hugues Lambert: When you have a family, there’s a pressure to have a base

Interview with Hugues Lambert, VP Sales, CEE, Russia & CIS at EVS.

The first question is normally about the family. When and where were you born? Who are your parents?
I was born in Rocourt, Belgium – if you want to know everything. Compared to Russia, Belgium is a very small country, so it’s just nearby.
My father was a geologist, so I had the chance to travel with him during most of my youth, especially across Latin America (like Venezuela), and Africa (like Guinea, Ghana, Namibia, etc.).
After around 4 years in Sudan, I settled back in Belgium. From my 4th primary school, I kept travelling a lot between all these countries. As my father was performing various exploration jobs, related to gold & diamonds, I had a chance to travel across a great part of the world.

In parallel my parents were teaching me the lectures they were receiving from a Belgian school, as I still had to pass the exams there on top, to earn a recognized diploma.

How many times did you change schools?
I went to different schools. When I was in Venezuela, I was taught in Spanish. While in Sudan, I attended an American school and had to learn Arabic. But it feels like a very long time ago. In parallel my parents were teaching me the lectures they were receiving from a Belgian school, as I still had to pass the exams there on top, to earn a recognized diploma.

International schools tend to have a pretty high level of education. Did you have good grades?
To be honest, I had my specialties. I was not a bad student, admittedly not at the top of the class, but quite good in most disciplines. There were two courses I had to work a bit harder on to get my grades, mathematics and German. And perhaps French as well, as for a few simple rules we have so many exceptions. In the Jesuit college I was attending, teachers were fond of Proust, who could write page-long phrases that could prove challenging for analytical grammar.

How and did you choose the university?
I graduated in economics, with a focus on export (foreign trade). It was quite diversified and practical. Also covering aspects such as finance, logistics, etc., and fiscal optimizations, which is a kind of national sport here in Belgium.

Stones haven’t “talked” to me much, nor gold or diamonds, unlike to my father.

Why did you choose international trade, but not geology like your father?
That’s a very good question. Stones haven’t “talked” to me much, nor gold or diamonds, unlike to my father. Though not a technical study by itself, export was open to the world and to a wide range of other disciplines.
Aside from this, I was passionate about my student job at a high-end A/V retail store, one of the leading in the region. Its activities included Prosumer equipment and its clientele – some regional broadcasters, including RTBF’s (our French-speaking Broadcaster, which we sometimes call “national”). Studying the manuals like novels and experiencing with as much gear as I could, that was very exciting. With that, the Presidency of the Student Organization, and all my travels, I could say I was pretty much busy – learning as much out than in University.
Interestingly, amongst the 3 EVS founders, you have one architect, one physician and one electronics engineer. Kind of a “Dream Team” which kick-started EVS. Combining ideas, realization and promotion – teamwork that made the company what it is today.

How did your career develop afterwards? And why did you make the decision to tie your professional life with broadcasting and TV technologies?
I was working a lot as a student, in parallel, and every time I had a month or two during big vacations to work on this kind of a small system integrator locally. And then, when I left school, I was working for a company called International Trade Corporation which is also a very vast set, and they were busy with imports and exports of different goods. The CEO was a Lebanese guy, and most of the business we were conducting at the time was with the Middle East, especially with Lebanon.
And, of course, EVS was a company that was getting increasing visibility in the city. I saw reporting on the television about EVS. I didn’t know EVS, to be honest, and when I saw it, I said, “that’s what I want to do.” Then I went to apply to the company, saying that I would like to work with them because their products excite me a lot. They were looking for somebody for Africa at the beginning. I applied, I was taken very quickly, because EVS was moving very, very fast. And then, of course, I quit my previous job, where the CEO of the company had become pretty much like a brother to me. It was a good relationship to have, but EVS was definitely a more exciting business for me. When I arrived at EVS, it was May of 2000, and we were 46 people at the company at that time. And then, by the end of the year 2000, we were already 60 people at EVS. So that’s all, I jumped.

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Where did you jump?
I jumped to EVS – I went from one job to another. That was how I got there.

And why EVS in particular?
Because there are not many companies like EVS, even fewer if you look at Belgium or Liege. When I heard about EVS, it seemed like it gave me the possibility to combine products related to audio and video that I liked a lot. At the same time, I could be open to the world and keep meeting people from different areas. That was really a perfect combination, that’s why I applied to EVS.

So why did I decide to stay in Belgium? Because Belgium is still an interesting country.

You spent your childhood travelling internationally, why did you decide to stay in Belgium?
I’ve travelled around the world – that’s certainly true. So why did I decide to stay in Belgium? Because Belgium is still an interesting country. It’s a very small country, nothing comparable to Russia. But it is very interesting in its diversity. We have quite a lot of different subcultures: of course, there is a French-speaking side, a Flemish-speaking side, a German-speaking side, and there is Brussels, which is an international-speaking side. And then, we have a part of the coast, we have a part of Ardennes which is a huge forest area. In three hundred square kilometers we have a great diversity in terms of people, landscape, in terms of everything – that’s what I like in Belgium.
I liked travelling all the time with my parents, but most of the time my dad was working abroad on three-, four- year missions, and the kids were following, and sometimes that’s not so easy for the wife and kids. I wanted a more fixed base for my family, where we could always come back to, but still travel a lot.

There was a discussion with my wife about whether I should go to Moscow or Warsaw to live there, because we also do some business in those countries. But, at the same time, we had the chance to meet quite a lot of very talented people. In Russia, we had Paul Putilin working with us. Now, Alexander Papin has replaced Paul Putilin, who is moving to the Australian team. Of course, when you have kids, a family, there’s a pressure to have a base. That’s why I kept Belgium and Liege as my base.

How many languages do you know?
I don’t remember any Spanish or Arabic from when I was travelling. The only trace I have left is the cassettes that my grandparents made me listen to again, that I had recorded to show them my progress in the language. My parents also showed me the different school books where I started to write Arabic. Honestly, I didn’t have a chance to practice. And my parents also didn’t incite me to practice, because there was so much change. So, at some point, I had some Spanish and Arabic basics which totally disappeared.
Of course, being in Belgium I speak Flemish. You cannot go very far with that in Italy, because that’s only on the Flemish-speaking side and on the Dutch side. I could also probably recall a few things in South Africa – that’s pretty much where you go, it’s quite limited. I had a quite good base in German at some point, I can still understand, but speaking is a bit more complicated. Then, of course, French is my native language. And, of course, English.

When I started, I pretty much immediately took charge of Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and CIS.

What was your first position at EVS?
When I started, I pretty much immediately took charge of Central and Eastern Europe, Russia and CIS. Initially, I started with Africa, but at that time there was pretty much nothing done in Russia. If you look at EVS in 2000 in the area I’m in charge of today, we had a few deals, but you could count them on your fingers, so everything had to be done from scratch.
EVS saw pretty quickly that there was a lot of potential in this area, and that it would become more and more important. Okay, that’s pretty obvious, but when you look back to 2000, it was a company of 46 people, and you had to always make choices – you cannot run in all directions with a company of that size. But very early on, we decided to give it a chance.
By the end of 2000, I was already in charge of that area. Of course, I was pretty much doing everything alone at that time. Basically, we had to do sales, installations, training – it was pretty much an end-to-end service. And then, when we started to grow, we had more and more colleagues getting assigned to different places. Nowadays we have the solutions which are, of course, getting a bit more sophisticated, that’s why we now have a larger team.

Russia is a former empire, and, like, in many former empires, a lot of people don’t speak foreign languages. Russia and CIS countries have a lot of CTO’s of TV channels who don’t speak English. How did you break this barrier?
It’s a very good point. It’s clear that I should probably develop my Russian to be a bit better than it is today, which is pretty much inexistent, to be honest. The fact is, Russia is very important, but at the same time the area is quite vast. If I were to start going to the Czech Republic or to Poland speaking Russian there, it’s not that natural, I would say. Of course, with the CIS part it still helps. The area is so vast, the logistics, the administrative particularities of all the different countries are different anyway. Even if you go to Kazakhstan or Tajikistan, it’s still a bit different than Russia. So, at the end of the day we had to work with local partners, and most of these local partners actually spoke English.
We are still in a technical business, and there are special terms, so in the industry most of the time people will use the terms in English. And even when some engineers talk between themselves in Russian, they use a few key words that allow me to understand where the discussion is going. And we do the same in French – we use a lot of English terms. In terms of language, I had quite a lot of languages as a background, and the problem is notlearning it, it is maintaining it.
And also because of the countries, we are going far, so all the partners speak Russian. The younger generation is also getting increasingly fluent in English. It was probably a challenge at the beginning, but nowadays it’s so easy to go everywhere with English. It’s a common point – everybody is putting in effort to find the intersection and find a common language. I think it’s very practical.

And also because of the countries, we are going far, so all the partners speak Russian.

You work with many markets. Where is it easier for you? In what countries do you have the best communication with local people?
I don’t think any is “the best”. I think they are quite different, and this means that the fun can be also different. It’s clear that the market in Uzbekistan or Tajikistan or even Turkmenistan is not the same as the Czech Republic or Germany. Because the Czechs and Germans are very similar – they are very organized. The Polish get a little bit more flexible, but still quite organized. Some countries can be a lot more fun. It differs on where you are working, different communications. Sometimes when I would be, for example, in the Czech Republic or in Poland, I would be missing Tajikistan or Uzbekistan. And when I’d actually be there, I would wish that they were more organized like the Czechs or the Polish. So, I really wouldn’t say one is ‘best’.

What is the peak of your career? What is your most important achievement?
I have three pillars in my life. Of course, I have a family side – that’s a bit more my “private box” which I’d like to keep closed. I have another side of business – I’ve been working in real estate. I started quite early on, when I got my first job, getting the first house, and then renting flats and apartments. Nowadays I have quite a few of them. So, this also took a bit of time on the side. Then, EVS is really, of course, my primary business. And I would say that I’m really quite happy in the position that I have today. I’m quite lucky because I have a position which I appreciate a lot, at the same time at the headquarters, and, of course, at the same time locally.
I am very interested in this position, because it’s an intersection between the strategy, which is like being put on the sea level of the company and being able to adapt it to different markets and teams, and being an orchestrator between the support, installations, projects. And because we are trying to be an intimate company, we are trying to get the structure of a large corporation, but at the same time keep the flexibility of the smaller company that we used to have in the past. Our position is trying to be the flexing points to ensure the coherent structure and flexibility at the same time, and to ensure that we can keep the same agility that our clients request from us, especially in live production, which can be very challenging.

Because we are trying to be an intimate company, we are trying to get the structure of a large corporation, but at the same time keep the flexibility of the smaller company that we used to have in the past.

A few words about your private life, when did you meet your wife?
It was a long time ago, in a far, far away galaxy. We’ve been 23 years together – quite some time, we know each other quite well.

Do you have children?
Yes, I do – two teenagers. I have a son Victor, who is now 13 years old, a boy. And I have a daughter who is going to be 17 in May.

The situation with COVID in Belgium is very bad. How are your parents?
Thanks for asking. In Belgium we did not fully confine as a lot of countries did. The kids still have a chance to go to school, I still have a chance to communicate a lot, even though Skype. My parents are actually a bit older than me, and they really felt the seclusion a bit stronger than we do. We still allow the kids to go there pretty much every Wednesday, because otherwise they will really get crazy. And for them to meet the kids once a week is still a way to connect the family. Of course, we try to wear masks and keep a distance, not to hug or kiss them, I think it’s hard for all of us.