Pau Herrera – President, Spanish Executives Association (AED)
Pau Herrera, President of the Spanish Executives Association (AED), discusses the services and offerings the association brings to their widely varied base of members spanning all industries in the country. He also discusses recent evolutions seen in the Spanish economy, including a great number of Spanish firms expanding abroad, as well as the unique characteristics that he believes Spanish executives bring to the table.
AED was set up more than 20 years ago in 1996. As an introduction, can you discuss what the ambitions behind the founding of the association were, as well as what your activities look like today?
The AED is a professional association that boasts more than 2,000 members, all of whom are professional executives who join independently from the company they work for. As an association, we have members representing all professional sectors and industries, and we work to compliment and develop their skills by promoting networking. This is one of the main strengths of AED: we are not focused on one sector and this allows our members to exchange and apply ideas and strategies from one industry to another.
We also work to defend our executives in terms of legal and tax issues, and in this capacity, we represent them in a variety of ways. This is key, as there are many organizations that represent various companies, but we are the only organization that represents the executives themselves and their interests. One of the secrets of our association’s success is that we are there to support the executives in both good moments as well as challenging ones.
In the last few years, executives from Spain have been doing a great job not only to make their companies strong but to expand their companies around the world, as a way of having different bases and diversifying their businesses, and we have been there to support them.
Could you elaborate further on the specific services and offerings that your members are able to take advantage of?
We offer a variety of services to our clients, and we have adapted our services to address the needs of our members. We work to develop various initiatives developing new techniques and new ways for our members to open their minds and engage with other members. We organize conferences, dinners with leaders, meetings with senior managers, management challenges meetings, skills workshops, company visits, meetings, afterwork meetings. Additionally, we work with executives when they have interruptions in their employment, as we do assist with personal issues as well as professional ones.
For example, last year we created what we call a “board members school”. We did this because just last year, 40 percent of companies needed to change their boards in order to incorporate new executives. Due to these circumstances we developed this school to help our executives acquire the different skills needed when making these changes and adjustments. Another initiative was what we call “Leaders for a day”, in which managers shared their work day with young people aged between 16 and 22. The goal is to move the profession to youth. It was very enriching on both sides.
You were elected President in 2011, reelected in 2014, and during your tenure you have been introducing many changes to the organization. Can you expand further on these evolutions?
The principal changes have been focused on increasing membership, not with regards simply to quantity but also quality, and this is important for us as it allows us to increase our territorial reach. For example, we have many executives who travel around the world for business, so we need companies and executives that have that global experience as well. In terms of economic value, we have doubled the budget.We have also focused on building our female membership, which is very important, as well as initiated a new program focused on young executives. As many young people do not like to pay a set fee, but to rather pay per session or activity, we have created different mechanisms with the aim of getting closer to young business leaders. Examples of this include the many activities we participate in with universities and business schools, as we have excellent institutions here in Spain. Last but not least, we have gained in influence and visibility and we have adjusted our offer of services to the partner, as we have already mentioned.
What are some of the key industries that your membership base is active in, and how important is the energy sector?
We have members active in a wide variety of different fields. Many of our members are in the industrial sector, the tourism sector because this is a critical industry for Spain, but also the agribusiness field for example, or consulting and audit services. Overall, I would say that we are increasing our reach in industries and geographies across Spain.
Regarding the energy sector, many executives working for the leading players such as Repsol, Gas Natural Fenosa and CLH are part of our organization. This sector is very important for our association, especially considering the fact that the energy sector needs to compete in different fields. They are active in everything from the industrial side to the service side, and it is very important that they understand the needs of the consumer, which makes them very valuable members of the association.
The energy sector contributes with great knowledge for all of our members. Energy issues are a country challenge. We see how cost and energy management are among the main concerns of Spanish companies. In this sense, surely it is highly recommended that managers from all areas expand their training in energy.
Recently we have seen many Spanish companies developing and expanding outside of the country. What are some of the key benefits that you believe Spanish companies offer the broader international community and why is this still too unknown?
My belief is that the Spanish people working in the energy sector might be more focused on doing excellent work rather than communicating their expertise and talents! Many other companies are more well-known and have more recognition, and this is not only in the oil and gas sector, but in other important sectors such as engineering and construction. I believe this has not stopped Spanish companies from developing strong reputations as well as expanding abroad.
Do you believe that the recent financial crisis actually helped to motivate Spanish firms to expand internationally?
I do believe that the crisis here forced companies to look abroad, and that now we are seeing positive results from those actions. This has proven true even with small and medium sized Spanish companies, in recent years they have begun to export their services abroad. The country has developed a great group of global companies competing around the world.
What do you see as being the unique and defining characteristics of Spanish executives that allow them to thrive, especially in the international community?
Spanish executives are well regarded for their creativity, flexibility and adaptability, as well as their innovative mindset. Spanish executives possess all of these qualities, and when you go into a new market these qualities are crucial. They manage to interpret and reinterpret the problems they encounter, and adapt to cultural, geographic and other differences that occur while working abroad. This means that when a Spanish company arrives in a new country, they adapt and integrate, they work to understand everything about the country they are working in.
Currently the Spanish economy is growing at a rate just under three percent, much better than many European countries. How optimistic are you for the future of the country’s economic development?
We have a curious political situation right now in Spain, where we are seeing some strong populist sentiment. Despite this, I believe that the industry is working independently of the political system, and this works well. The only thing that is dangerous is when politicians interfere in a system that was working well. Currently here we are experiencing some “municipalization”, meaning that decision-making power is being transferred from corporations into municipal ownership. For example, in Barcelona, they have created their own electrical company within the city, as they believe they manage better than the private industry.
However, it is important to remember that one of the most successful models we have in Spain is public private partnerships, and these have been successful not just with regards to the economy, but in the view of the association as well. The populist movement is trying to move away from these partnerships. Regardless, what we need to have is stability, predictability, and coherent standards and regulations to sustain economic growth.
I would like to conclude by saying that in Spain, one of the strengths we have is that even with instability, we have been able to raise up the country, grow the economy and take the country to another level. This is something that many countries have not been able to do. The Spanish country and people are extremely resilient, and we have great business expertise. This means good leaders as well. And in order to achieve good leadership and to make a difference, an association like AED is important, whose mission is to help managers and managers grow personally and professionally so that they become the companies that our society wants. How? Listening to the managers and stimulating the dialogue, sharing talent, experiences and knowledge.