The online community Club-MBA was created early this year (29 January) and is rapidly consolidating as a meeting point where its members can share information about careers, employment and other curricula, as well as opportunities to develop the professional network, work or study in different countries.
Currently, the Club MBA management team is made up of Jaime Sánchez-Laulhé, Rocío Pillado López (the two founding members), María del Carmen Linares and Antonio Herráiz Molina (colleague from BBVA-T&O, now on leave, and author of the interview with José Olalla that we are including in this post).
With a degree in engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid and an EMBA from the Chicago Booth School of Business, how do you think your background has helped you during your career?
I am convinced that you can not let a decision you make at the age of 18, based on little information, such as the university degree you will study, condition your professional activity throughout your entire life. I think you must always look for what most excites you and motivates you, regardless of what you have studied.
In fact, I’ve never worked as an engineer. And it was by choice; just after finishing my degree, and with a bit more knowledge, I realised I did not like “being an engineer“. Professionally, I have worked in strategy, finance, innovation, marketing departments and now in technology and operations. And I hope that this won’t be the end.
Without a doubt, having completed very demanding training programs, such as engineering at the Polytechnic University of Madrid or an EMBA at Chicago Booth, gives you the skills and opens the doors to think about taking on professional challenges for which, hypothetically -and only hypothetically-, you don’t have the necessary theoretical training.
What did getting the EMBA bring you personally and professionally?
I would definitely say that the time when I was getting the EMBA was one of the best of my life, in every way. At that time I had about eight years’ professional experience and it was like returning to the university environment but with the knowledge and experience of real life in a company, so the sessions in and out of the classroom were of the highest quality.
There were around eighty of us in my course, and together we brought over five hundred years’ professional experience across all industries and business functions, in more than thirty countries. Sharing that experience, along with a good background of knowledge in accounting, strategy, finance, macro and microeconomics… is what you get at the end of the EMBA. Well, that and -just as importantly or even more so- a network of contacts and friends for life.
Do you think an MBA or EMBA is the most logical path for engineers who aspire to become CIO or CEO?
The first thing I have to say to this question is that spending your life thinking about becoming CIO or CEO (or any other position), unless you’re the owner of the company, can be quite frustrating. Whether or not you get this kind of position depends on a multitude of factors that are out of your control.
In professional life, I think you must enjoy every moment knowing that you work according to principles and values, with the drive to improve every day, with discipline and self-reliance to achieve it, and not afraid to change. All this does depend on you and should be your focus. And, certainly, for those who share this philosophy with me, an MBA or EMBA makes perfect sense.
What are the options for MBA students wishing to pursue careers in the Technology department?
I would say there are many. It is widely believed that it is an area that requires deep, sophisticated technical knowledge and it is true that this knowledge must exist in the department. But it is also true, especially in large companies, that Technology departments manage a great number of projects and teams of people, to serve internal and external customers. And to do this, they need, above all, management skills, such as those obtained in an MBA.
What did it mean to you to have been honoured by ComputerWorld magazine as “CIO of the Year”?
It’s always an honour to receive an award like this one and even more so when it is awarded by a prestigious institution like ComputerWorld magazine. But it is important that everyone be clear that, although the award was given to me as a CIO, this is really a recognition of the excellent work done by the entire BBVA Technology and Operations team.
Technology is the driving force at BBVA. What are the cornerstones of that force today?
At BBVA, we are working aggressively to build a much more “customer-centric” bank. And beyond this term, which is perhaps a little “overworked“, what we mean is a bank that is much more streamlined, simple, friendly, less bureaucratic… I think you understand what I’m getting at. And in the technology department we support this objective primarily on three cornerstones.
First, technology platforms in a broad sense of the word. In other words, the applications and systems on which the bank bases its operations. We have been immersed in a process completely renovating these platforms for four years, which is positioning us as the industry benchmark.
Secondly, processes, from two points of view. On the one hand there are the internal business processes, which we are working to simplify, eliminate paperwork, etc. And on the other hand the business and customer service processes, where we really would like the customer to be the centre of attention.
And finally, the points of customer interaction with the bank; that is, what we normally call “channels“. And here we include both the traditional offices, whose configuration we are transforming, and all the other channels (telephone, ATM, mobile, smartphone, Internet, etc.). Customers are who decide when, how and where they connect to the bank, and our aim is to offer a unique multichannel experience.
How does technology contribute to BBVA’s ambitious expansion plan?
If we go back a few years, to the formulation of its strategic plans, no business unit took technology into account; it was simply a facilitator that came later.
At present, this has changed radically at BBVA. All business unit directors start with what technology can bring to the business as one of the key points in developing their plans. This is how the latest growth plan was developed, with technology at the centre.
From what I know from my conversations with colleagues in other institutions and other sectors, this approach is very unique to BBVA. Few companies consider anything similar.
Is an economic situation like today’s a time of prudence or of opportunity?
It seems to me that a proper dose of caution in business should always be taken, regardless of the economic situation. What is certain is that difficult periods enable you to differentiate and distinguish the best from the worst.
If we compare it to a bike race, the good times are like the flat stages, everybody goes in a pack and there are few differences; a time like the present is like a mountain stage, when only the best are able to compete and many lose control and are eliminated.
For me, this is doubtlessly a time of great opportunity. This opinion is shared by the entire BBVA management team. And we are acting in accordance. Within technology, and as a clear example of this philosophy, during the crisis years, not only have we not cut investment, but we have invested more in transformative projects. And BBVA is, in relative terms, in a better competitive position than ever.
BBVA has recently opened a new office in Silicon Valley. What could this presence in the global centre of technological innovation mean for the institution?
Innovation is part of BBVA’s genetic makeup. We have an innovation department that leads this activity throughout the group, an Innovation Centre in Madrid that we recently adorned with prominent figures from both politics and technology, and every business area has its own groups that foster innovation.
The opening of the office in Silicon Valley is another step forward in this strategy. Being close to the word’s main centre of innovation will enable our early identification of major technology trends, and probably also some interesting investment opportunity.
Technology companies like Google and Facebook want to establish new payment services for the customer. Might a venture of this type into banking by these companies require greater commitment and investment by the entities in areas such as innovation and technology?
We must recognise that the world of payments has something special that makes it very attractive. Telecom operators, utilities, retailers and now Internet companies are trying to open a niche there. In fact, it is a very complex activity with very tight margins, so it is not easy to make yourself a space.
But I think these constant attempts by all types of businesses to enter into payment methods is very good news because they increase competition and force the “traditional” players to sharpen their wits and not rest, resulting in benefits for the end customer. And, who knows?! Google and Facebook, among others, are radically transforming the world we live in. Maybe they will succeed in doing the same with payment methods.
Of course, we are not going to make it easy for them. And, indeed, the payment methods line of business is one that has recently been reinforced with the creation of a global unit, from which BBVA intends to accelerate the traditional business and proactively innovate in new payment methods.