Ubisoft’s Josiane Valverde has won the Jerry Lawson Lifetime Achievement Award at the 6th Annual Black in Gaming Awards show, which honors the achievements and contributions of Black trailblazers in the videogame industry. Valverde has been at Ubisoft for 35 years, and throughout her tenure has worked in a multitude of roles across a multitude of cities; she started in the mail-order room in Paris and is now Head of Special Projects at Ubisoft’s Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility Department globally. A trait she’s kept through it all is a powerful sense of curiosity, a driving force since her first job interview with the Guillemot brothers in September 1986.
“They asked me a question about my studies, my background, a bit about my family and stuff like that.” Valverde recalls, reflecting on her career ahead of her award. “And during the meetings they talked about arcades and arcade games. I had no idea what they were, but I didn’t say anything, I just went home and opened my dictionary.
“I came from a working-class family,” Valverde laughs. “Entertainment wasn’t really a focus”.
Valverde quickly learned everything there was to know about arcade games and machines, and after several years as a sales director assistant – where, among other things, she built a database of Ubisoft assets using a 1986 Amstrad PC1512 that she taught herself to use – she moved to Brussels to start extending Ubisoft’s market share in Belgium and Luxembourg. As an expert in Ubisoft’s portfolio of games, it was a natural step to sell it.
The move to a more remote office with more responsibility gave her a welcome sense of freedom, Valverde says. “At that time, I realized how much I could do because I was far from the mothership. They just told me, ’we need you to sell X many, just manage that the way you want.’”
Valverde moved from key account manager to sales director until 2001, where she was promoted as general manager of Ubisoft Belgium. Though she had plenty of experience in shipping games, management of a studio was new. So, she went back to school – evening classes, specifically – to learn exactly what she needed to know.
“I decided to go back to school to learn how to manage a company. The first six months were management training, and after that I did two and a half years of study to learn how to run a company,” Valverde says.
The Ubisoft Belgium subsidiary went on to be extremely profitable under Valverde’s guidance, and, ready for a new challenge, she moved back to France in 2005 to take on the role of EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Asia) manufacturing and logistics director. Again, this was a move defined by a rampant curiosity, and saw Valverde heading back to her studies once more, where she completed a master’s in supply chain management. In 2012, she left Europe for the United States, stepping in as the NCSA (North, Central, and South America) senior director, operations at Ubisoft San Francisco.
“I was lucky to be supported by so many people who helped me grow,” Valverde says when asked how she managed to switch between different roles and disciplines. “But I'm also very curious. I enjoy reading. I enjoy traveling and having a job where I have different areas to take care of. Switching from one thing to another, I really like that.
“If I could do it all over again, I’d try something completely different. I’d be a gardener,” she laughs.
These days, Valverde’s focus is on diversity at Ubisoft through recruitment, development, and retention. The importance of the DIA department was hammered home after she co-founded the Black Employees At Ubisoft (BEAU) employee resource group (ERG). “I've always had managers who were supportive and who gave me the tools to grow with the company,” she says. “And when we started the ERG, and I heard others’ stories, I realized how lucky I was. So, I would love to give the same opportunities for them to get a chance to do what I have, to have what I had.”
For Valverde, the Jerry Lawson Lifetime Achievement Award is important for a similar reason: she wants to show others that it’s possible. “This award opened my eyes about what I have done in my career. I would love for others to see they can have a similar path.”
For more about the teams and employee resource groups at Ubisoft, visit the Inside Ubisoft hub.