In the mid-seventies, Canadian electronics engineer, businessman, and philanthropist* Lorne Trottier co-founded the computer graphics company, Matrox. He is now the president and sole owner of the group, which includes Matrox Video and Matrox Imaging. The company celebrates its 45th anniversary this year.
Trottier has been the key player in the engineering aspect of the business, originating many of Matrox’s most prominent products. He still works closely with key managers and engineers and maintains an active role in product development and innovation activities.
His interest in electronics started when he was 11 years old and he discovered his hobby of building small electronics – some exciting gadgets emerged like a telegraph set made out of electromagnets and batteries, as well as a crystal radio.
“Even more amazing to me was how my older brother was into ham radios, and the fact he could communicate with people all over the world. I thought that was truly remarkable. Needless to say, I got hooked on electronics after that, having started to build things myself. That experience as a young boy undoubtedly led to my becoming an engineer and eventually starting Matrox,” he says.
We all experience formative moments in our lives. Sometimes we don’t realise it at the time. “When I was in university, I had to get a summer job. It was 1967, and Montreal was hosting the International and Universal Exposition (or Expo 67), and I ended up working as a busboy at one of the pavilions.
I didn’t last a week there – it was not exciting for me,” he recalls. “Thankfully, I was able to take on a position as a technician in the Australian pavilion, working on their audio visual equipment, which suited me much better. From that experience,I promised myself that whatever I ended up doing in life, I wanted it to be exciting. Technology was the perfect fit.”
Valley guysAlso when at university, Trottier discovered Silicon Valley. “The Valley and its high-tech culture were particularly interesting to me – very informal, laid back, open, with no rigid, hierarchical structures,” he says.
“I became familiar with The Hewlett-Packard Company (its original name before being shortened to Hewlett-Packard) stood out as it had a great business philosophy in treating its employees exceptionally well with many initiatives (such as profit sharing). Founders Bill Hewlett and David Packard were also big on philanthropy, which I value deeply. They were inspirations to me, and I tried to adopt and apply some of their business and philanthropic philosophies.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Trottier also expects his employees to be highly motivated, creative, hardworking, and innovative. “The heart of our business is technological innovation, and our employees are the key to achieving this. They are our most valuable asset. They are responsible for our ability to continue delivering products that offer more than our competitors, which help address and overcome real-world challenges and issues.”
So, how does he keep teams motivated despite conflicts and obstacles? “We have very ambitious goals and objectives. Since taking sole ownership of the company in 2019, I am putting my money where my mouth is by investing, expanding, hiring – all the necessary elements required to grow the business,” he says.
“We, of course, reward employees through various programmes, but I think what motivates people the most is that Matrox is a company at the leading-edge in the areas of technology that we work in. All the engineers here find that exciting. If you’re a real techno-geek like I am, working on new, cutting-edge technologies, I think that is by far the most motivating factor.”
So, who does Trottier look up to for inspiration or mentorship? “Certainly some of the giants in the tech industry. Bill Hewlett and David Packard, the founders of HP, who were tremendously influential early on in my career. Today, it would have to be the entrepreneur of the century, Elon Musk. In terms of his technological leadership, what he has done is out of this world – it’s unprecedented. I also admire Bill and Melinda Gates for their business endeavours as well as for their Foundation. They have shown outstanding leadership in providing an excellent example through their philanthropic efforts.”
In terms of the most important attributes of successful leaders today Trottier can only speak from his own experience. “Being passionate and enjoying what you do are essential. Humility, as one is not always right – you have to be open to new ideas and perspectives. I always tell people, it doesn’t matter whose idea it is. All we are interested in is reality and the strategy that will lead to the best result,” he says.
Technology developmentWhen Trottier acquired full ownership of Matrox he talked about a “new era of tech innovation”, but what did he mean by that?“Almost by definition, the tech industry is perpetually in this new era. Major drivers in our industry segments in the current era is much more reliance on software and COTS platforms versus dedicated hardware, as well as much greater use of the cloud,” he says.
“The past forty five years have been a period of tremendous technological change. We’ve successfully reinvented ourselves multiple times. This is at the heart of who we are as a company. We embrace innovation and leading-edge technology.”
Some examples of the company’s long history of innovation include the first PC frame grabber, the first PC machine vision accelerator, the first 64-bit Windows accelerator, the first multi-head graphics cards, and the first to use GPUs to accelerate realtime video processing. The company is now working on the next series of innovations in AV and broadcast infrastructure, and machine vision.
* Since its establishment in 2000 by Lorne and his wife Louise, the Trottier Family Foundation (TFF) has made gifts totalling approximately $180 million CAD focusing on science education and technology literacy, climate change and sustainable development, research into astronomy and astrophysics, healthcare, and the community. In 2019, TFF gave grants to 115 registered charities.