As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Adrien Châtillon.
Adrien Châtillon, co-founder and CEO of Actipulse Neuroscience, a pioneer medical technology company focused on brain health. In addition to living and working in more than eight countries, Adrien co founded two startups in his native France before founding Actipulse, which specializes in non-invasive brain stimulation therapeutics for the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I have held three jobs as an employee in my life. After being fired in two of these positions for the same exact reason (“your entrepreneurial spirit does not fit with our company culture”), I decided that I should just embrace it, and become an entrepreneur!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When you read your first peer-reviewed paper in a medical journal, it makes you realise how far you have come, from a simple idea, to a recognition from the scientific community. However, the biggest ‘wow’ moment was when we started receiving thank you letters and calls from patients and their family members; that’s when I knew I had found my true calling: helping people.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We were organizing a medical congress, and 3 hours prior to the opening, I was tasked with buying food for the team, by app delivery. I ordered 4 kgs of BBQ meat for the whole crew, but I did not double check, and ended up ordering…4 kgs of frozen chicken. The crew had to go all day without eating, stating that they were pissed in an understatement.
I am now officially banned from ordering food in the company, and I’ve learned to triple check whatever I order on-line, it’s my eternal punishment.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Professor Federico Pigni, from my graduate school in Grenoble, France. After I finished my master’s and I decided that I wanted to become an entrepreneur, he helped me by not only giving me confidence in taking the big plunge, but also by guiding me during my first startup. Ten years later and I still call him for guidance and advice.
Also Alessandro De Pace, who was my manager in my last employee position. He also saw that I was a free neutron trying to do entrepreneurship projects in the company, but instead of firing me like the previous two employers, he recognized in me a potential. I’ll never forget when he took me aside and told me that I was still young and had plenty of things to learn, and if I was willing to listen, he would teach me. I decided to swallow my pride and for the next two years learned so many lessons that I still employ today as CEO.
Now that I realize it, both of them are Italian! Great people.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
It’s always important to have a team that represents the society and patients that you are trying to help.
As a French-founded company we have a different education and views on integration, from early age we are thought the virtues of humanism and universalism, meaning that we are color blind, and judge people by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin, who they pray or not pray to, or who they love.
For us, social integration comes from serving and hiring people from underprivileged communities, who have not had access to better education, healthcare and opportunities in life.
In Actipule, we are proud to be part of a federal funded social program in which we recruit young people coming from underprivileged and underserved communities, in order for us to train them and give them access to equal opportunities.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Being a CEO is both a blessing and a curse, as you have privileges and responsibilities. The most important one is having the privilege of taking decisions, which in turn becomes your most important responsibility, as you need to make sure that the decisions taken are the correct ones for the company and employees.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The biggest myth is that a CEO is a master of his/her own time, and that we can go whenever we want on holidays. I wished it was true! There’s never really a good time to take a break, there’s always a fire to attend to, or a project which is about to close. You can leave, but you always have your mind back at the office.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought that being a CEO would be a less stressful position, as you don’t have the pressure of a higher authority (for CEOs that have the majority voting rights, that is). The reality is that you need to answer to everyone: employees, investors, providers, clients, and even your spouse at home!
Presumably not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
You’d be surprised how many people do not have the ability to listen. I strongly believe that it is the most important skill to have as an executive: the ability to listen to your peers, regardless of their hierarchical position. People that believe they have a saint’s knowledge of every subject, and that tend to talk before listening, are not cut out to be a good executive, in my humble opinion.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
I would say the key is communication and to be a good leader. I would tell them to always stay in touch with every employee and area of their company and to always respect them and listen to what they have to say. Don’t forget to remind them how valuable their work is. It is also important to have in mind that you can’t control everything and that you have to trust in your team completely. I can’t think of a specific story but I think that everyday we are working together and learning to communicate better and to always find the best creative solutions to solve any problem we may encounter.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
The mission of Actipulse Neuroscience is to help democratize mental health. Right now, one of the most important problems globally is a second pandemic: mental health. We have observed how the diagnoses, suicides and problems related to mental health have been on the rise. I want to treat more patients, to bring them the help they need and to end the stigma existing on mental health, in that way we can improve the quality of their life and make the world a better place for them.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- It is not going to be easy. I know it may sound simple but no one ever tells you how difficult it will be to be a leader. For example, I had a management academic background but when it came to actually being in an office trying to make a business grow it’s definitely different. There’s a huge difference between launching a business, and scaling one.
- Trust in your team. Sometimes it’s difficult to delegate, especially when you are starting, but you have to trust in your instinct and know that you chose the right people for each area. A story I have is that my company is in the health tech industry, that’s why I had to learn to put my complete trust in the medical experts, and scientists. A good entrepreneur is first and foremost a good recruiter.
- It’s okay to ask for help. Even though you are starting your business, there’s always areas in which you are no expert, that is why it’s important to learn that it is not wrong to ask for help, because sometimes you don’t have all the answers and need external support.
- Support your team.In Actipulse Neuroscience we have a biannual psychiatrist approved mental health program to ensure we take into account their mental state and how satisfied they are at their work. Our program consists of depression, anxiety and burnout evaluations, referral to a professional if needed and the implementation of more vacation days to prevent burnout. Mental health is just as important as physical health.
- Data and measurement: measure everything to better understand and optimize your company, from marketing campaigns, to meeting times, HR progression, time spent at the office.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to inspire a mental health movement, in which everyone can talk openly about it, ending the stigmas and the fear of seeking help. Mental health is as important as physical health, that is why I would like to initiate a movement that’s a safe place for everyone suffering from a mental health disorder or have a loved one in that situation.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“It is better to light a small candle, than to curse the darkness” I tend to think about this quote in the bad times, it basically translates that it is better to do the smallest of efforts, than to only complain about the situation you find yourself in.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I’m a big fan of another neurotech entrepreneur: Bryan Johnson, who cofounded Kernel. While we at Actipulse are trying to ‘write’ the brain, Bryan and his team are working hard to ‘read’ it, in order to better understand the inner workings of the brain.