Alumni Spirit | THE ART OF STARTING OVER
Fundamentally passionate about his work, Laurent Hayoz has had an atypical career. A sailing enthusiast and professional sailor, he became Leader Product & Engineering for the digital team at Décathlon Switzerland, after returning to study at CREA Genève, which opened the doors to the digital world.
A first career in sailing
When he discovered sailing at the age of 11, Laurent Hayoz didn’t know he would become a professional sailor.
“I discovered sailing by accident, on holiday with my mother. I sailed a Hobie Cat catamaran and it was awesome. Back in Geneva, I told my father I wanted to be a sailor. He found me a club and I was able to practice the sport I loved,“says Laurent.
Laurent Hayoz is as enthusiastic about sailing as he is about all his other hobbies. He says he has a condition called “learning bulimia.” If he likes something, he goes all the way. He carried on sailing at the same time as studying and working until he found the right person.
A boat owner made it possible for him to become a professional sailor. He quit his job and jumped right in. “I was paid peanuts but it was great, sailing the seven seas and taking part in competitions ,” says Laurent, reminiscing.
In addition to his sailing career, Laurent Hayoz set up his own sailing school. As if that weren’t enough, he also created Sailup, an online boat booking platform.
“I organized cruises all over the world and more than 30,000 boats were referenced on my platform. That’s how I fell into the world of digitization! I learned everything on the go,“explains Laurent.
Life moved on and Laurent had a family. He wanted to settle down and put a stop to his sailing career and his entrepreneur status. He knew that if he was going to change jobs and go back to studying, he’d like to work in a digital environment.
Back to school
Aged 30, Laurent Hayoz resumed his studies and joined CREA Geneva, part of the OMNES Education group. “Returning to education was pretty scary. I wasn’t sure of myself, I was worried I’d be completely out of my depth. It was my wife who encouraged me to go for it. I spent two months following an online digital marketing course to catch up but in fact, I was well ahead!” he says with a laugh.
Looking back, Laurent is very pleased with his decision. The CREA Genève program equipped him with quantities of knowledge on the marketing and communication ecosystem. He was able to develop analytical thinking and a strategic vision of how online businesses should be.
“I don’t think I’d have got to where I am without CREA,” says Laurent. Of course, I could have worked in a digital environment, self-taught, but not at this level. Above all, CREA has given me legitimacy.“
A deep dive into the web
CREA Genève and the internships Laurent did as part of his program confirmed his desire to work in the digital industry.
His first internship was with Label Bleu a regional grocery in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, which provides home deliveries of local products. He worked on the e-commerce aspect, traffic acquisition and on developing the right digital strategy.
He then discovered how web agencies operated at Suisseo, an agency specialized in Google Ads. The business appealed to him, and it was only natural that Laurent should join Enigma at the end of his studies, a 360° communications agency which at the time was looking to develop its digital media division. He developed the business and created digital campaigns for over a year before moving to web hosting company Infomaniak .
Laurent was head of marketing. Yet despite the 200 staff employed there, senior management did not invest much in marketing and he found himself working alone on many tasks. “It wasn’t tenable. I wanted to work with people who wanted to invest more in the product, the acquisition, the media and so on. It’s the reason I joined Decathlon,” he explains.
Decathlon Suisse, startup style
With Decathlon Switzerland, it was love at first sight. The company has been in France since 1976 but its presence in Switzerland is far more recent. “Decathlon offers countries a high level of independence, which gives them a free rein to develop intrapreneurship. We combine the best of a large company and a startup!” says Laurent.
At Decathlon, Laurent Hayoz is Digital Product & Engineering Lead. Surrounded by a team of 7 people, his job is to ensure the development and user experience of decathlon.ch and all omnichannel digital solutions in Switzerland, such as the rental system or the future customer loyalty program.
He also works on A/B testing and site optimization. Laurent tells us that he has a utopian vision of the user experience, both online and instore. He would like to offer an ultra-personalized customer experience but there are many technical obstacles along the way. He’s working on it!
“I enjoy the projects I’m working on of course, and the company’s impact. But what I like most about my job are the management principles and values at Decathlon. You don’t find that in many companies. The company really gives us the opportunity to take on new projects, as long as we can justify the business merits of our actions,” explains Laurent.
The French and Swiss branches may be close to one another physically, but they operate very differently. Decathlon is not a Swiss institution yet: there are only 25 stores and the e-commerce team has a staff of around 30.
“The business model is different. The size of the market, the cost of salaries, the complexity of languages are all elements and dynamics that need to be mastered in order to conquer the market on a long-term basis. If I worked at Decathlon France, 5 people would be doing my job. In Switzerland, we need to pool our resources, replicate existing solutions and not reinvent the wheel, because the Switzerland market is different. It’s a subsidiary role with the freedom to implement local solutions,” he assures us.
Because Laurent Hayoz was previously an entrepreneur, we had to ask him whether he ever thought of setting up another company in years to come.
“If there’s one company I’d like to stick around with, it’s Decathlon. I love what I do and the company really encourages horizontal career moves, internally. There are plenty of opportunities! I already have entrepreneurial freedom at Décathlon, so I don’t need to set up a new company to regain it. But maybe one day, I’ll set up my boat rental company again, to see if I can perform even better with all the knowledge and experience I’ve gained,“says Laurent.
“Cette reprise d’études, c’était beaucoup d’appréhension. Je n’étais pas sûr de moi, j’avais peur d’être complètement largué. C’est ma femme qui m’a poussé à me lancer. J’ai passé 2 mois à suivre des cours de marketing digital en ligne pour combler mon retard mais en fait, j’ai pris de l’avance !”, plaisante-t-il.