If you don’t embrace change, you will likely be left behind. You must take a leap of faith and translate all this acquired data into your own view of the world and the future of your industry. If you fall, dust yourself off and forge on. It’s what a leader of change does.
—Jean-Marc Allain, president and CEO of Trans-Lux Corporation
Jean-Marc (J.M.) Allain’s experience in manufacturing spans multiple industries and regions. He has managed operations, marketing and sales for enterprises ranging from startups to multinational companies. He is recognized industry leader in a multitude of electronics fields, and has led deployments of leading-edge integrated systems in high-profile public and private projects.
J.M. Allain is president and CEO of Trans-Lux Corporation, a 90-year-old New York-based company with a new vision to be the premier supplier of digital display solutions for the financial, sports and entertainment, gaming, leasing, and myriad markets where digital signage is a viable business tool.
JM has spent his entire career in the high-technology sector. He directed telecommunications and datacom strategy for Newbridge Networks, a pioneer of voice-over-data-network technology. After Newbridge was acquired by telecom giant Alcatel, he took on technical roles over several years, both domestically and internationally. After a stint as president of Panasonic USA, he joined Trans-Lux, where he has spent the last five years.
BS in Applied Arts & Science from Center for Multidisciplinary Studies (2003)
- What led you to choose RIT?
I went straight from high school into the workforce because I was eager to jump on the networking and telecom rocket ship that was driving a lot of growth in the technology sector during the 90s. At the time, I was living in Texas and spending a lot of time working around the world, especially in the Middle East and South America. I was learning a lot on the job as a systems engineer, but I knew I needed to deepen my technical knowledge in order to succeed. I was lucky that my employer was willing to work with me on this, and let me study for my degree while I was working. As far as I was concerned, the reputation of RIT’s engineering school was second to none, so I applied to take a B.S. degree in systems engineering. RIT was a pioneer in distance learning — a top requirement for me so that I could simultaneously pursue my education and feed my family.
- Tell us about your experience at RIT
I’m pretty sure that my RIT experience was unlike that of most of the other students, because I studied about 90 percent of the content remotely. At the time, RIT was one of the few colleges that offered a high-quality distance learning option for some of their degree courses. I was a non-traditional student in a non-traditional program within a reputable traditional institution — and that is exactly what I needed. Keep in mind that, back then, there was limited Internet, and bandwidth was either very slow or very expensive — or both! So my RIT degree experience began with the arrival of three huge boxes of VHS tapes. Think about that for a moment: it was a four-year degree so I received literally hundreds of tapes over those years and each one had to be transferred by a work colleague from the US NTSC format to a hard drive so I could digest it, wherever and whenever. The content was fresh and relevant, and it needed to be consumed immediately.
was studying at home and on the road, in hotels all over the world, across several continents. Certainly, as a learning experience, it was much more difficult — I was sending in term papers from a dial-up connection in Saudi Arabia, for example. Let me just say that it was a good thing my job gave me access to the telecom infrastructure in places like Riyadh, because the Internet wasn’t widely available in the hotels back then. The tapes were the actual classes and I had access to a virtual blackboard for interaction with the professors and other students. In addition, the university had set up a proctor system for overseeing testing around the globe. Despite the challenges, it was exactly what I needed to get my career on a fast track.
- How did RIT prepare you for your professional career?
Right out of high school, I had a career plan to get into high-tech and to be a leader in that sector. I feel very lucky to have chosen that path and to have got where I am now. I think most people who have succeeded in their careers will say that luck plays a significant part. But that said, there’s no doubt in my mind that RIT was the single-largest factor in determining how my career evolved.
As I expected, the technical content was both rigorous and state-of-the-art. RIT had —and still has— a well-deserved reputation for preparing its graduates for the workplace so they can immediately add value from Day One. I knew I was getting an excellent technical education because I was learning the latest technical advances one day and actually putting that into practice in the field the next day as part of my job. It was the ultimate real-world training, and I could see the benefits immediately, as my job kept getting easier and easier, every day that went by.
- Change: something to fear or something to embrace?
While some people crave change, I think most fear it — it’s a natural survival instinct. In my experience, what people are concerned about is that they don’t know what the change will lead to — they’re afraid of a tomorrow in which they might not fit in. I signed up for high-tech, so I went in expecting change. I’ve seen transformative change in every single company I’ve worked for. When I started in telecom the Internet was something only the military and academic institutions were using — and the Internet completely transformed the telecom sector. The same disruptive change is happening right now in my current company, where LED technology is rapidly displacing a technology that been around since 1876.
- How do you deal with change?
My approach has always been to focus on expanding my knowledge so that I can understand the changes that are happening and then embrace the change with the confidence to know how to adapt to it. That means focusing on continuing education, reading everything, tapping into your peer groups and networks — assimilating information and learning new skills, and then applying that knowledge to chart your course. Maybe you’ll be wrong — the tech industry is littered with good idea that didn’t work out – but there’s a much better chance you’ll be right if you’re well equipped with the requisite knowledge. If you don’t embrace change, you will likely be left behind. You must take a leap of faith and translate all this acquired data into your own view of the world and the future of your industry. If you fall, dust yourself off and forge on. It’s what a leader of change does.
- What advice do you have for prospective students?
As a father and also someone who is still very involved with RIT, I think the best advice I can give is to say this: “Whatever you do, make sure your heart is in it. And then commit.” Yes, you should do your homework and pick a career in a growth sector, but it had better be something that motivates you, inspires you to succeed, and for which you have a real passion. RIT gave me a solid foundation in peer communications techniques. Group work is integral to the curriculum and grading schemes, and this philosophy carries well into the business world. The role of a leader is to allow for adaptation that makes us all more successful in the long run. Leaders of people and industries need to shepherd change to provide value back to shareholders, families, and peer groups.
And, I’ll say it one more time: always be seeking ways to educate yourself.