Things that shape us

Watson, Aaron. ‘Things That Shape Us’. Acuity 2.5 (2015): 58-59. Print.

Alberto Saiz has learned lessons from the world’s most inspiring business leaders, in his role as MD of the World Business Forum in Asia Pacific. Acuity quizzes him about what he’s picked up along the way.

We operate in a complex and dynamic business environment in which there is much to learn – where should a business leader start?

Honestly, I think that a leader should start from the beginning of their career. There are certain attitudes that shape us from the beginning, such as the assumption of responsibilities – particularly of your failures, working for the team instead of for yourself, and sharing your successes.

There are important attitudes that we develop internally and there are also very important lessons that we learn from the leaders we have worked with. I think that one of the worst things that can happen to anyone is to have the wrong leader in the early stages of your career.

My advice to young professionals: if you don’t feel proud of your leaders, change jobs.

There is a lot of talk about turning failure into learning – are there ways to ensure you learn from negative experiences rather than become despondent?

I don’t like to fail, so I’ll never encourage anyone to fail. However as I have unfortunately failed a lot of times, I have observed that you learn much more from failures than from successes.

When you succeed, it is difficult to extract learnings as we tend to enjoy what is happening rather than reflect and analyse the factors that you took to reach it. At that moment in time, your ego increases and people that you’re around flatter you. In these circumstances it is difficult to have the humility to learn.

When one fails there is an enormous loneliness. Your insecurities grow and some people around you say “I knew that would happen”. It is under these circumstances, if you stay self- controlled, when an enriching learning experience begins.

What is a key thing you have learned from the experience of others?

Create an environment in which people always feel free to say these three things:

  1. I’m wrong: an organisation where people hide their mistakes is doomed to failure. We all make mistakes and if you make many decisions you make them more often. Don’t penalise errors or people will try to hide them.
  2. I don’t know: don’t assume everything you need to be done, can be done. Sometimes you have to teach how.
  3. I need help: the important thing is the project, not who does it. Get your team to feel supported.


I believe these three things will help you to build high performance teams. Furthermore, the most important thing for me in business is honesty.

Marketing is often left to experts. Does a senior executive need to understand it?

I have a very crude way of defining marketing: how to make your customers buy from you.

In an era when the customer is the king, a senior executive can’t ignore marketing. In the past it had a certain vision that marketers focused on creativity, without specific purposes. I think that this has changed radically.


Even so, if we were to survey and ask how many marketing directors sit on executive committees or boards of directors, we will probably find that very few do so. I think that this is a serious mistake and that this is going to change over time, both the profile of the marketing executives and the vision of the rest of the organisation towards them.

Marketing is strategic within an organisation, not tactical.

Are brands still important in a world of instant online consumer feedback on products and services?

I think that the customer has changed so much that brands must adapt. Relationships have changed, but brands are still very important

We must remain faithful to the brands that are doing well, as consumers are willing to pay more for them or wait longer to get their products. I think it is very important to define your attributes well: what do you want to be? how you communicate this with your customers? and why is your offer is better than that of your competitors.

The professional body for chartered accountants in Australia and New Zealand launched its new brand in 2014 – I expect in order to change stakeholders’ perceptions of chartered accountants.

When a client thinks about a product or service, they should think of your brand and associate it with the attributes you want.