Mathilde Lelièvre of ITWP: “Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel; 5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During the Corona Crisis”

Fotis Georgiadis
May 28, 2020 · 9 min read

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. During the pandemic, it’s important that we follow a schedule. While we all wish the crisis would end in two weeks, we recognize that’s unlikely. So, set your pace, take it one day at a time and make sure to be kind to yourself to avoid burnout.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mathilde Lelièvre, the Executive Vice President of Global Operations at ITWP. Over the past 15 years, she has grown her team from three employees in a single location to approximately 700 team members worldwide. Throughout her tenure, Mathilde has been instrumental in defining and implementing the company’s operations strategy and shepherding the due diligence and integration of four acquisitions.

Earlier in her career, Mathilde served as a Project Manager at Ciao Survey Solution, and a Promotion and Communication Manager at the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China.

As a citizen of the world, Mathilde has lived on three continents and in six countries. She holds a Masters’ Degree in International Relations and Political Sciences from Sciences Po Paris.

Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I have always wanted to live and work internationally. At only 16, I left France and went to Germany alone for a year of school and did the same thing again in college when I moved to California to study for a year. I then relocated to Hong Kong after graduation to work in academic research for the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China. I knew that’s what I wanted to do at that time; work as a professor performing research in China. I spent two years at the Centre before moving to Spain. After learning Spanish, I secured a job as a project manager at Ciao Survey Solutions in Madrid. Ready to be back home in France but eager to continue to work internationally, I moved into operations for Toluna.

In 2005, Toluna was a start-up with around 20 employees, a small office in Paris and a founder and CEO, Frederic-Charles Petit, who was searching for a candidate to run operations. Once Frederic and I connected, it was clear that this was the company and role for me. I liked the spirit of Toluna — small company with big energy. I loved that Toluna was a company based in Paris with a clear goal to develop internationally. We quickly opened an office in London and acquired another company in Germany. Being a polyglot was very helpful to me in communicating with our global customers and employees.

This month, I celebrate 15 years with Toluna. Key to our company values is “Meritocracy’ — which we define as: regardless of an employee’s background, it’s critical to give every person the opportunity to grow and build a career, irrespective of location or skill set. Recognizing and rewarding talent is one of the most important things that we do — of which I am a prime example. I am the Senior Vice President of operations, with approximately half of the companies’ 1400 employees falling under my remit.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

“Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, originally published back in 1998. As many likely know, it’s a short parable about how people adapt or do not adapt to change. It is the story of four characters on physical and emotional journeys to find, lose and rediscover happiness, and deals with big changes in people’s lives. I’ve given it as a gift before and it’s worth mentioning that it is appropriate to our current situation. Amid a pandemic, we are all learning to do things differently and learning new things about ourselves. For example, how do we embrace change and make sure all our team members are cared for during such uncertain times?

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

The ability to adapt to change is inherent in every one of us. Seemingly overnight, the majority of the workforce shifted to working from home. While remote working has been on the rise for years, it’s become a necessity in the current pandemic. The good news is that employees around the world were quick to adapt and maintained their regular productivity levels. Companies made sure to provide necessary hardware and software so employees could work from home, and many are also providing mental and emotional support during the crisis. For example, Toluna launched a series of formal and informal meetings where managers and colleagues could regularly check up on each other to ensure they each had the support they needed. At times of crisis, it’s crucial to embrace change and adapt accordingly.

We have seen a great sense of care and solidarity across the world, as people turn to help others in need — from neighbors offering to grocery shop for their elderly neighbors, to hundreds of new volunteers at hospitals and multiple fundraisers designed to help care for the vulnerable. The pandemic has brought out the best in people, so don’t be afraid to ask for help, whether it’s from an employer, neighbor or friend. The world may seem like a scary place at the moment, but we should keep in mind that solidarity can triumph over panic as we face this emergency.

People are resourceful and quick to find new ways to interact. While the pandemic has greatly reduced (and in many cases eliminated) our ability to interact in person, the digital age offers us an array of applications and platforms to stay connected. Coworkers are hosting morning coffee breaks on Zoom or Skype, friends are assembling for online trivia nights, and companies are organizing virtual happy hours. We should celebrate the fact that the digital world has given us the ability to adapt to the new environment and master the art of quarantine socializing.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. During the pandemic, it’s important that we follow a schedule. While we all wish the crisis would end in two weeks, we recognize that’s unlikely. So, set your pace, take it one day at a time and make sure to be kind to yourself to avoid burnout.

Sense of perspective — While we can’t be certain, the current situation will likely only last for six months. When we are older, we will look back at this time as only a page in the rich story of our lives, and it will be but a distant memory, as long as our family and friends remained healthy. It’s important to keep things in perspective: this too shall pass. In the meantime, reach out to colleagues and friends, and remind yourself of the activities you will enjoy once we’re on the other side.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

The switch to working from home was new for Toluna, as many of us had never worked remotely for prolonged periods of time. To help with the transition, I offered my team a few tips:

  1. Have a routine. Start the day. Set milestones that are not directly related to your work: a coffee break, lunch, ten minutes to chat with a friend or colleague. End the day. Give yourself permission to turn off your laptop and remember that this is a marathon — your motivation won’t last long with non-stop 15-hour days.
  2. Give yourself permission not to work. Talk about activities that you enjoy outside the scope of your job. Recommend books, television shows or exercise to your colleagues. This way, coworkers will see that a healthy work-life balance is encouraged
  3. Connect with team meetings. My managers start and end the day with team meetings via video conference. Everyone must turn the camera on so they can see one another, which has helped with the transition from face-to-face meetings to online meetings.
  4. Reach out to those who may be lonely. We have co-workers who are currently living alone, far from their families in small flats in France, Romania or India. We’ve found that arranging e-lunches where people eat together online and share recipes or e-coffee breaks where people gather to talk about hobbies has gone a long way.
  5. Be the example. I told my managers to set the example for their teams. They can write emails at 2 a.m. but should send them during work hours. After all, no one will disconnect if their manager doesn’t.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

Enjoy what you have and pay attention to all the small things that bring you joy in your everyday life. If you have children, really see the smile of your child and play together. If you have pets, the actions of your pet can bring laughter. Not only that, but spring has arrived, and the world is developing again.

Put things in perspective and remember that the current situation will not last forever. In a few months, we will likely be able to resume somewhat normal activities, meet up with friends and family and enjoy outdoor activities as we had previously.

If you are feeling anxious and lonely, connect with people. Video conference calls give you the ability to see and speak with someone you’ve worked with for years but have possibly never met. As everyone is at home, now you get to see a little piece of their life that you normally wouldn’t — this can bring us even closer together. Maybe you will see the color of their living room wall, a fun painting, or meet their family on screen.

For example, in my last management meeting, I decided to bring spring to my team. I wore a shirt with bright butterflies on it, I brought in cherry blossoms from the garden and put them on my desk where everyone would see. It is the little things that have a great impact on morale and mood.

Try to see the positive. The pandemic has created new ways of working together that we can maintain in the future, and it has brought to light the goodness in people, as well as the lengths friends, family and employers will go to support others.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Confucius said: ‘When the wind blows, the grass bends.’ At the moment, the wind is blowing and we cannot keep every blade of grass standing straight. What does this mean? In some circumstances, and I believe this applies to the current situation, there is nothing we can change. So, the best course of action is to adapt rather than fight what is outside of our control. Work with the situation you find yourself in and you will find a way through to the other side.

You may find yourself physically constrained, but that doesn’t mean your mind cannot travel. You can dream, read and imagine. You have the ability to travel within yourself and revisit all the places you’ve been, the friends you shared it with and the people you met. You can escape your home through reading, listening to music or watching a good movie.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I believe in a sorority. Having lived and worked about the world, I see the need for an international women’s professional support network. I would like everyone to have a mentor or support group in another country to help them grow and learn.

I do all I can to encourage the women who work with me to assert themselves and to own their careers. My advice is to take a look at what you are bringing to your job and consider all your skills and assets — do not simply focus on the gaps. Leverage your assets — be confident that you deserve a promotion and that your company should invest in you.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Readers can find me on LinkedIn at:

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