"Difficult Circumstances Make you Stronger"
Ricardo de Ramón, Saint-Gobain chief executive, at IESE
Ricardo de Ramón is head of the Spanish operations of the French company Saint-Gobain, an immense multinational operating in four sectors (glass containers, production and distribution of construction materials and making innovative materials), and which has become a leader in the field of sustainable development. Ricardo de Ramón is CEO of the Saint-Gobain Group not only in Spain, but Portugal, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and is also president and chief executive of Saint-Gobain Cristalería, the leading company in the group on the Iberian peninsula, formerly known as Cristalería Española.
Operating in 64 countries with 193,000 employees and a turnover of €43,198 billion in 2012, de Ramón arrived at the company at the beginning of the 1970s to develop glass for cars. Four decades later he has become the first non-French CEO in the history of Saint-Gobain in Spain.
With a degree in physical sciences and an MBA from IESE, he has been around the world and occupied various positions within the group. Now he’s more than satisfied with the results. “It’s been extraordinary. It makes you realize that it’s worth making an extra effort. Don’t think that you’ve done it all, because it’s not true. There’s always room for improvement,” he said on November 29, speaking to EMBA students on IESE’s Madrid campus as part of the Global Leadership Series in the program.
During the session, de Ramón called for a boost to industrial activity in Spain as a base for developing the future economy. “Technology, development and progress all come through industry and I for one put my money on this sector,” he said. He also emphasized the importance of multiculturalism as an enriching value in any multinational.
In fact, he knows very well what it’s like to be an expatriate. He recalls with fondness the first time he worked in France more than 30 years ago. “In those days it was unusual to go and live outside Spain. The Spanish were afraid of the unknown but at the same time we were keen to show our fellow Europeans our strengths, abilities and dynamism.” That was the first time he moved but there were seven more moves to come.
At the end of the 1990s de Ramón went to South Korea as director general of the automotive glass business. Living in a culture that was so different from the West was difficult. “I learned to survive in difficult circumstances and this helps to make you stronger,” he said. He finished his speech reminding his audience of the importance of building exceptional teams. “In business, you’ve got to stay ahead of the rest,” he concluded.