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Business leaders discuss innovation strategies at the 2nd ESADE Alumni Forum in Latin America

ESADE Alumni recently brought together 170 business leaders – all ESADE graduates – from every corner of Latin America. The theme of the event was “Reinventing the Future: Talking to Leaders”, and the topics addressed included diversity management, the challenges facing upper management, and innovation as strategy

Are companies ready for the digital transformation? According to Luis Vives, Vice-Dean of Programmes and Associate Professor in the Department of Strategy and General Management at ESADE, “In order to manage the digital transformation, we have to promote innovation. The future is being shaped by technology – which establishes the context and affects business – as well as by transformative capacity and talent management.” These were among the key points covered by Prof. Vives during his talk at the 2nd ESADE Alumni Forum in Latin America, which was held recently in Bogotá under the theme of “Reinventing the Future: Talking to Leaders”. The event, organised by ESADE Alumni, brought together 170 ESADE graduates from all over Latin America. “The greatest threats to business today are not digital technologies or growing competition, but the loss of relevance and the inability to adapt to change,” commented Prof. Vives.

“Technology, which poses great challenges, also offers opportunities that are within reach for companies that figure out how to take advantage of this new context,” commented Prof. Vives. “Examples include the opportunity to create value for your customers, the ability to go beyond products and think about solutions, and the possibility of developing innovative business models.” He added: “Radical innovations, the creation of new business models and the emergence of new players are realities that are forcing us to rethink how we work – not to mention the best way to transform organisations. To succeed in this context, you have to be different and learn how to change the rules of the game.”

Managing diversity and talent

Innovation in business involves multiple factors, including the incorporation of diversity into processes. According to Ana Isabel Rojas, Presales Manager at SAP, “Without diversity, there can be no innovation. Organisations with diverse management teams improve their operating margin by more than 48%.” To do this, companies must incorporate the development of female talent – a challenge that Ms. Rojas described as “everyone’s responsibility”. “Diversity offers different perspectives, visions and opinions, and it is a fundamental source of new ideas and innovation,” commented Sergio Brown, President of Danaher Latin America. “Organisations must create diverse, inclusive and flexible spaces in order to attract the best talent.” Irina Valassi, Executive Director of Payroll at Banco Santander, commented: “Technology must help us in this process.” According to Natalia Arias, General Manager of Viveka, “Companies should provide resources. However, if we don’t push for resources, companies won’t provide them. In this regard, senior management really needs to be committed to bringing about change.”

Entrepreneurship and innovation strategies

Alejandro Gutiérrez, founder and Managing Partner at Gamma Sigma Investments, shared a few tips on how to successfully launch a business: “Develop the idea thoroughly, understand society’s needs, formulate a solution, and develop a vision for the medium and long term.” To bring a project to life, he added, “Acceleration programmes can provide assistance in applying these ideas, developing business models, and providing access to contact networks.” Frederic Llordachs, co-founder and Partner at Doctoralia – a member of the Docplanner Group – observed that “people buy ideas, prototypes and realities”. As a result, he argued, entrepreneurs must take risks, make mistakes and “fail quickly, so that they don’t waste time or stray from their objective”. Mr. Gutiérrez noted: “It’s important to promote a culture that allows innovation, curiosity, the questioning of the status quo, and the creation of spaces for communication and creativity.” David Ruyet, founder and Managing Partner at Energías Renovables del Plata, commented: “Projects succeed when the people involved are committed and when there is engagement with the entrepreneurial idea.” Samuel González, President of the Education for Entrepreneurs Foundation, noted: “Innovation is linked to entrepreneurship, although these are two different talents; companies succeed when they manage to incorporate both innovation and entrepreneurship into their strategy.”

Challenges for upper management in disruptive environments

“Digital transformation is a complicated process in large companies; it’s not easy to change established processes and systems,” commented Senior Executive Consultant Cassy Ramsey. In order to take advantage of digitalisation and new technologies, she added, “large companies must have a thorough understanding of their business model and strategy, establish alliances with technology companies, and improve their infrastructure and processes, which in many cases are obsolete”. Greys Elizabeth Suárez, Vice-President of Research and Development and Technical Director at Recamier, commented: “Purpose is the driving factor that companies must effectively transmit to their collaborators. The challenge for large companies is to incorporate their purpose into their strategy.” The key variable that companies must incorporate into their strategies is “how to respond to the challenges posed by digital society and turn these challenges into opportunities”, according to RocaSalvatella CEO Josep Salvatella. “The main task for upper management will be to understand that this is a competitive and highly positive territory,” he added. “Right now, we’re seeing a difference between managerial leaders who manage a particular reality and entrepreneurial leaders who are capable of reconfiguring companies.” Alejandro Gregory, CEO of Aon Reinsurance Solutions, commented: “The main challenge is to maintain leadership capacity in variable environments that are constantly transforming.” He added: “This translates into the ability to survive in a complex market, improve processes, and constantly implement technology within the company.”

The global reach of the ESADE Alumni network

ESADE Alumni is an association made up of more than 60,000 ESADE graduates. More than 18,000 of the association’s members live outside of Spain, in more than a hundred different countries. ESADE Alumni organises its events with the help of its 72 international chapters, 14 of which are based in Latin America. The 2nd ESADE Alumni Forum in Latin America also featured contributions by Koldo Echebarria, Director General of ESADE, Diego Cardona, President of ESADE Alumni’s Colombia Chapter, and Iñaki Ocaña, Director of International Alumni Relations at ESADE Alumni.