Frank Matthey is an IT specialist responsible for managing email access rights at Tech & Ops in Geneva, where he’s been working since August 2018. Handicapped since birth, his whole life has been a story of willpower triumphing over adversity. It’s meant not only accepting his own disability but also showing others that behind that disability there’s a human being with different talents.
Frank, tell us about your career path and what led you to work in IT.
Different twists and turns in my life have brought me here. Although I’ve been handicapped since birth, I went to ‘normal’ schools, going against my doctors’ advice. I have Little’s disease, a form of cerebral palsy, which means that my legs work at 40%, my arms at 80% and my brain at full capacity. I had an operation on my spine and hips so I was late starting my apprenticeship at the end of the cycle d'orientation (editor’s note: the last three years of compulsory education). But I finally found a place as a commercial apprentice with what was then the Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC) in 1992. My training programme included rotations to different teams every three months. But my disability – I am in a wheelchair – meant that I wasn't able to work at the front counter. I would have had to wear a shirt and tie, and I couldn't button shirt buttons or tie a tie. I was then transferred to IT, initially in a support capacity for IT technicians – the Help Desk for the Help Desk, if you like – and finally to access rights management. But following the merger of SBS with UBS, these activities were transferred to Zurich in 2000, and I lost my job.
But after that you did have some stability in your working life for quite some time.
That's right. I sent a motivation letter to Lloyds Bank, explaining that I was disabled but could work just like anyone else. And they gave me the chance to do so. I stayed there 13 years, working in access rights management but also IT security. I then went to evening classes at the university to study information systems security for two years. As fate would have it, the building where I worked at Lloyds at the time is the same one I'm now working in for Pictet... Then Lloyds Bank was taken over by UBP in 2013, and I lost my job. At that point I took some coaching courses that helped me get a temporary job between 2014 and 2015, again at UBP, in access rights management.
You then met a counsellor who helped you highlight your skills in what proved to be a decisive way.
Exactly. I first had to endure two years of unemployment, but they were two years that changed my life permanently and for the better, as I met a coach who “brought me up to speed”. She was used to working with people with disabilities and persuaded me to make a video that I could use as a CV. You could see me walking in the video – within the limits of my ability. This personal promo film helped me increase my efforts to find a new job, showing potential future employers that behind the wheelchair was a man who wanted nothing more than to give his all to anyone willing to give him a chance.
And then your path crossed Pictet’s path...
Yes. I'd already applied three times to Pictet, but without success. Then I met Nathalie Perren, who'd seen my video. I made it through the interviews and joined Pictet on 2 August 2018. I was absolutely thrilled. Pictet has such an aura in Geneva that it was the fulfilment of an aspiration that had seemed way beyond my reach. I knew I wasn't the first disabled employee in the company to use a wheelchair. There had been someone who'd died a few years earlier (editor's note: the late Pierre Fontaine, who worked in the Legal Department), but I didn't know him.
Did your job search leave time for other activities during those two years?
Yes. I was able to spend more time with my family. I've been married for 15 years, and my wife Veronica and I are the proud parents of a 12-year-old daughter, Tina, who will be starting the cycle d'orientation herself in September. This year I'm president of the parents' association of the school in Charmilles. I've also continued to manage the website of the singer Eddy Mitchell, which I created in 1996. This website opened the door to radio shows that allowed me in my spare time to do the job I'd have really liked to do most: music critic and radio host. I found myself reviewing new albums by several artists, most of them French speaking, such as Francis Cabrel, William Sheller and of course Eddy Mitchell. Music has played a key role in my life and helped me overcome the solitude of my disability.
You're also very involved in the integration of people with disabilities in the workplace.
That's right. For instance, I’ve kept in touch with the coach who gave me so much support during my job search, and we’ve set up a workshop together on disabilities and working life, with the aim of destigmatising disability. I've only really been at ease with my disability myself for about five years. And I'm 47! Filming the video CV was the trigger. Up until then I'd never put myself centre stage; I understood my disability but rarely how others saw me. It was only then that I realised I was one and the same with my wheelchair. The self-realisation was quite an ordeal but it helped me move forward. So it took me more than 40 years to accept myself and get to where I am today.
What did you find when you arrived at Pictet?
Very attentive colleagues who care about people. My disability has an advantage and a disadvantage: it's visible. And the building I work in isn't necessarily equipped for people in my situation. I'm fortunate in that I've got really helpful and understanding colleagues. I've always felt a lot of kindness and consideration.
How have you found teleworking since the outbreak of the pandemic?
I was in the office every day for the first few months. Both because I have tasks that are difficult to perform from home and also because I'm not considered an ‘at risk’ person. I'm currently working 40% at home and 40% in the office. I work 80% – not by choice, but because of physical capacity issues. In general, though, I'm happy to see my colleagues more; I find it far more stimulating to be working in the office. I get out of the confines of my home and make a break between my personal life and my working life. That's very important for your personal balance.
Is there a project that's particularly close to your heart?
I'd like to promote the cause of disability in the company, based on my own experience. If I could help lower the physical and mental barriers to people with disabilities and make it easier for them to be integrated into the workplace, I'd feel that I'd given meaning to the years I had to plug and plug away myself. I enjoy challenges; I've accepted mine. We need to overcome the feeling of sympathy, if not awkwardness, that people often feel in front of a disabled person; and we need to see that behind the disability is a woman or man with their own story, but above all with talents that are just waiting to be put to good use in society.