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Interview Talent, Innovation and Technology: A Q&A with Isabel Aguilera

Talent, Innovation and Technology: A Q&A with Isabel Aguilera

For a history graduate I’m always looking forward – tomorrow never dies right?

The former CEO of Google Iberia and of General Electric Spain and Portugal, Isabel Aguilera is one of the 'Top 50 Most Influential Executives in the World' as proclaimed by Fortune Magazine. 

Isabel's career has been centered around a core axis of talent, innovation and technology, which allowed us to probe into key trends we're seeing at the moment, including how employees get the best out of their teams, what advice she has for aspiring female leaders and of course what does the future workplace look like.

We sat down, notepad in hand, to pick Isabel's brains... 

You’ve had what some might describe as an eclectic career, spanning General Electric, Dell Spain, Portugal and Italy, Google Iberia, NH Hotel Group and so on. How did you transition so successfully into each unique industry?

It might seem eclectic from some perspectives, but considering talent, innovation and technology as the three axis of my professional career all those company names are fully consistent and compelling.

Looking ahead, however having what you are finding so unusual, is going to be very common as the frontiers between different industries are fading and now creating new realities.

On one hand, I was not making beds in a hotel, manufacturing computers or planes, or developing software… I was dealing with people satisfaction and happiness: customers, users and colleagues, goals and results, alignments, atmosphere and communication… all of it is quite horizontal across companies and industries and will be even reinforced in the near future.

On the other hand, I have been looking for a learning career and I have always picked up experiences where I could contribute but also where I could enhance my learnings. Sometimes it was about the industry, other times about the view of them from different angles: subsidiaries or corporate point of views, pure tech´s companies, more services´ companies, box-movers or something in between… diverse momentums, diverse business models, etc…

From your experience above, how do leaders get the best out of their employees?

By being very much involved in recruiting to get the best available talent, attracting them with challenges and guarantee of success, and with being surrounded by other talents…, enriching their backgrounds with continuous training, facilitating them the ultimate tools and an open atmosphere for them to deliver their best… keeping up with them to get their respect and being consistent in applying a fair system of evaluation and rewards.

Establishing the right goals and metrics and being very fair and grateful with their (good) delivery of results, assuming mistakes as part of innovation and testing, or if necessary, assuming ownership for the bad outcomes and congratulating them for the good ones.

I tried to be a role model for them but only on values, not on what I was doing as I recruited people better than me for each position. And mainly caring about people, really enjoying the time we spent together, trying them to get fun while being as demanding as you only can be with the best.

Can a business grow internationally, and become more efficient and streamlined at the same time?

I think there is always a room for improvement, yes I believe a business can grow and become more efficient at the same time, due to learning curves, due to critical mass… even though I think that is not the question anymore as what I think international businesses need to be redefined in respect to what used to be, as new technologies are facilitating new levels of efficiency and enabling new ways of managing, coworking and communicating nowadays.

Furthermore, what advice would you give a business leader who wants to become more competitive and drive innovation within their market?

My first one will be to get together the best people and give them time, attract more talented people around them, develop the tools and an atmosphere that would allow and celebrate making mistakes.

Second, to think about the users and customers, how to fix their issues and problems… and last but not least, to think really big picture, such as how to make any type of contribution to fix the major millennium goals.

You’re one of only two Spanish women included in Fortune Magazine’s ‘Top 50 Most Influential Executives in the World’, so we’re intrigued to know what advice you could give to young female professionals looking to follow in your footsteps?

I will ask them to apply for the opportunities they see around: a woman needs to meet 120% the requirements while a man applies only meeting 60%.

I will ask them to unleash their full potential. The name of the game is to be good enough to be accepted by the best talents in each practise, within their geographies, their companies, their businesses. 

I would encourage them to go for permanent training, to stay curious, trying to get out of their comfort zones fostering their creativity…but keeping reinforced their ethics and values.

I would recommend them to deliver their best without regretting any effort but I would remind them that perfection is a goal but does not need to be a daily mandatory request that will make you unhappy for ever.

Indeed, with the vast generations now present in the workplace, how do leaders ensure a healthy balance between the new vs the old? 

It needs to be based on a mutual respect. But for me, everyone that is still doing his/her best, trying to learn new things, having projects, being ambitious is still young at heart, so everybody might be forever young, especially now that we are going to live longer and better (thanks to technology!).

Finally, if there was one message you wanted to leave a senior audience with, what would that be?

You do not need to become a bad person to be a good professional.

Everything that can be digitized, will be automatized very soon, but those skills that can't be digitized will increase their value in the next coming years, such as empathy, creativity, compassion, integrity, ethics and so on. It is time to reinforce those values and capabilities, and in times of Artifitial Intelligence, it is time to become (even) more human.

Thank you Isabel, that was a fascinating discussion. 

For further information or to book a speaker, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email info@speakerscorner.co.uk.

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