“Success is Never Just About You But About the Team”

Ignacio Izquierdo, CEO of Aviva talks to EMBA students


Ignacio Izquierdo

On June 14, Ignacio Izquierdo, CEO of Aviva in Spain, gave the final session of the EMBA Global Leadership Series of the academic year 2012-13 on IESE’s Madrid campus.
With a background in marketing and finance, Izquierdo has always emphasized the importance of professional development. “For me the most important thing is to have a varied education. I was interested in seeing different sectors and ways of managing in order to have a broader vision and make better choices in my career. Another key factor has been being able to speak English well and to get experience abroad. Without that I’m sure I’d never have assumed positions of responsibility.”

His career began in consultancy while launching a family business. “I was lucky to start out doing both at once. The consultancy let me get to know a wide range of companies and sectors, and launching my own business taught me a lot about the problems of managing a family business. They were both tremendously enriching experiences but in the end I decided to work for someone else,” he said. He told students not to be afraid of change. “It’s really important not to get stuck in a job that you already know well and it’s important to take on challenges that at first might seem like a backward step but which later will help you to move forward.”

It was with this mentality that he joined the Santander Group in 1995 where he lived through some of the most intense and exciting moments of his career, taking on new challenges almost every year. He worked for a number of companies in the group in Spain, progressively acquiring responsibilities and recognition, and later moved to London to manage the bank’s assets in the United Kingdom. “I learned a lot from Santander. There were some difficult periods, such as the first few months in England, but all told it was a journey full of successes and challenges that I have gained a lot from. One of the most important things to learn is that success is never your own, it’s based on the team, and on who trusts and supports you.”

When he returned to London Izquierdo took what he says is the most important decision of his life. “I decided to leave the bank because, although there were new challenges and projects on the table, it seemed to me the right moment to get to know other cultures and other ways of working. And it was the right decision.”

He joined Aviva, the world’s sixth biggest insurance group, in 2008 as CEO in Spain and, as always, has continued to learn from this new project. “There’s much room for improvement in management in the insurance sector but the big advantage is that it has a long-term vision, which is something that our society needs,” he said.

Izquierdo recommended to the EMBA students that as leaders they should have two parallel agendas, both equally important: “the business agenda, with all the aims and figures that that implies, and the people agenda, based on  meritocracy, talent management development and communication within the company. If you don’t take care of one of these, it’s impossible for the other to work well.”