There are places and moments that rekindle stories or influence the story of our lives in very important ways. I experienced one of those special moments about three years ago. Something changed in my life and, since then, it has kept me very busy and amused at the same time.
I had arranged to meet my lecture agent for a coffee in a bar on Calle de Juan Bravo, a street in Madrid. He turned up with a friend of his whom I did not know; he was Bernardo Quinn, then HR Strategy & Executive Talent Director of Telefónica.
We talked for hours over coffee and croissants. We immediately realized we had lots of things in common in our personal and professional lives. We had both been educated by the same brotherhood, the Christian Brothers, so we had grown up surrounded by rugby, the same values and Irish strictness. As for our professional careers, we both sought excellence in leadership and management, especially in these times of extreme change in most companies.
With Bernardo (Barney), we discussed the parallels that may exist between the challenges and trials faced by companies and the extreme situations human beings may encounter when they suffer an accident or a highrisk situation like the one I personally experienced in the Andes in 1972. In my case, due to that moment of absolute urgency and struggle against an imminent death on those mountains, I had to learn how to take critical decisions at maximum speed.
The true and harsh reality hit me when, 10 days after being left to our fate at an altitude of 4,500 m (14,760 ft) in the Andes mountain range, a small radio tuned to a Chilean broadcasting station gave us the news that the search for survivors from our plane had been called off. What can that news be compared to? It is a slow and freezing death sentence. The very same day, I decided that if I were to die, I would die struggling to get out of that place. Being completely honest with myself and with those reading my words or listening to me, I don’t know why I did that. It was not a matter of courage, as many assume, but a fear that is difficult to understand for those who have never been sentenced to death. But I did it. Ever since that moment, when the urgency of my decision allowed me to struggle hour after hour for 72 days to survive, my life strategy and behavior has been the same with my family, in sports and in my enterprises, and it has allowed me to attain a position in the business world and in my everyday life that I would never have dreamt of… I have an incredible family that loves me beyond belief, I have been successful in several sports at an international level, I have become CEO of three companies at the same time, and I continue learning as a lecturer, advisor and consultant of some of the most important enterprises in the world.
We also talked about the great problem companies have when dealing with change processes, and how difficult it is to break the existing inertia and get people to act more proactively to find solutions. Sometimes, these change processes must be undertaken urgently, but in large companies most people’s comfort zone makes them expect that somebody else will do the work. People mistakenly think that problems will sort themselves out with no help, or they simply do not realize the global situation they are in, confused by data that are always analyzed according to their needs and not reality.
We had four coffees and half a dozen croissants while we compared our lives and learnt from one another. I discovered in Bernardo a very special person with a truly deep knowledge of the management and operation of global companies.
He told me about things that I thought I knew intuitively, but the way in which he talked and explained them to me made them even more interesting and understandable. It was then that I suggested he write down all those ideas in a book, convinced as I was that the result would be very positive for companies and even, in a larger context, very useful for parents. It was only an intuition, but intuition and my heart also saved my life in the Andes, which is why I always follow my instincts and listen to my heart.
Now, more than two years after that rendezvous in Madrid, I’m not sure whether I should regret my idea or be glad about it, because, since then, Bernardo has not stopped giving me work. I have had the honor of working a lot with Telefónica, giving lectures at Universitas (the corporate university they have in Barcelona), at TEDx Telefónica in London and in different countries around the world where the company is present; I was named Global Leadership Consultant for Telefónica and I have had the opportunity of doing interviews for the press and television. And, now, I hold the book that was conceived that afternoon and whose foreword I am proud to write.
The decision to accompany Bernardo in this project and be part of such an insightful story is a privilege in my life. It has opened up many new paths and has educated me in many ways. One may believe, at a certain point in life, that it is no longer necessary to acquire more knowledge, but the speed at which the business world moves and, especially, everything related to technology, has shown me that I still have a lot to learn. I thought I was doing things very well and believed that the scope of my marketing and communication system to connect with people and companies was the appropriate one.
Through the model of leadership management described by Bernardo in his book, I took part in the MOOC (I had to learn that Massive Open Online Courses are the future of digital education), I moved out of my comfort zone of lectures and saw how, in just two days, 10,000 people had seen me and approved of what we were doing. This is very different from being in a large hall with 100 or 200 people, and the possibilities this new experience is offering me are unimaginable.
Both in our personal lives and enterprises, we usually find challenges and trials that we must face. And this is just the consequence of a context that is constantly changing. These changes can be slow, incremental and gradual, or can be more dynamic and groundbreaking due to the speed of adoption of new technologies that are increasingly available to us all.
In Defying Doom, Bernardo explains, in a pragmatic and simple way, the main factors and tools we can use in the business world to tackle a difficult situation that requires transformation of the company to adapt it to a new reality.
I have always said that one of the things that saved me in the Andes was what I had learned from my father, a simple man, born in a small village of inland Uruguay, with an outstanding capacity for hard work, but more than anything else a pragmatic and realistic man. He was not much given to philosophizing… not at all, really! He always said: “things in life are as they are… not as we would like them to be”. I remember sentences of his as clear as: “rain falls from top to bottom” and “water is wet”. He always reminded me of these things when, for some reason, I wished to imagine my own reality different from the one I had in front of my eyes. This saved me in the Andes because I was able to see the reality in which we found ourselves and do something about it instead of sitting back passively, striving to reinterpret that harsh reality in terms of a utopian and unreal situation.
Bernardo tells us about the importance of facing reality with facts, with data and with the signs that we often have under our very eyes but do not want to see. He suggests specific tools we can use to be able to write that story, our story, of the necessary transformation we must face, and how to achieve the alignment of all the people or agents who must necessarily take part in the process.
The stories in the book touch us in a direct way and we remember them much better than any complicated mathematical formula or theoretical model. Much has been written about change management and the leadership necessary to carry it out, but I would like to highlight Bernardo’s outstanding ability to tell us about it through simple stories, real anecdotes from his own professional experience and the analysis of different companies that have, or have not, overcome difficult situations in the past. Sometimes, good management is not something exclusively academic or of theoretical philosophy, based only on the quantitative or qualitative analysis of data. In Defying Doom, Bernardo, who has had an extremely successful professional career, demonstrates this with his attitude and business performance in a way that combines theory and analysis with large doses of common sense and concepts based on his broad experience.
The world is changing and, with it, most of the models we have known in the past. Companies and people must evolve to successfully deal with these changes. This book will undoubtedly help readers, by means of a simple model and real and pragmatic stories, to better understand the keys to success that must be taken into account to be able to adapt to the future that awaits us.
Speaker and author of
Miracle in the Andes