Lead through Authenticity

Jaime Kirkpatrick participates in Global Leadership Series



Adapt, take risks and learn. These were the three main ideas anchoring a talk given by Aegon’s general manager in Spain, Jaime Kirkpatrick, on March 1 on IESE’s Madrid campus.

During his presentation, which was part of IESE’s Global Leadership Series, Kirkpatrick encouraged participants in the Executive MBA to flee from conformity, to be courageous in facing risks and professional challenges and to confront leadership tasks with humility and credibility. "The inability to know how to overcome each stage of life amounts to a kind of intellectual death," he said.

Born in 1971, Kirkpatrick has been a tireless traveler since his childhood due to the fact that his father was a diplomat, "I had the great luck of living in many countries as a child, and in a way, this has influenced my life," he said. After earning a degree in industrial engineering from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and working almost two years in Germany, Kirkpatrick decided to refocus his career. He embarked on the MBA at IESE’s campus in Barcelona in 1996.

"I loved studying engineering, but when I began to work as an engineer I saw that it was not for me. It’s important to resist conformity in life, and know how to adapt to circumstances and the people around you," he said. The ability to adapt is fundamental on a personal, as well as professional, level since "only in this way can you get the best out of the people you work with, including those who have difficult personalities."

A personal project

After graduating from IESE, Kirkpatrick spent eight years in consulting. The work was fun for him, and gave him the chance to get to know clients and take part in interesting projects. "But, deep down, I was not satisfied. I wanted to have a more balanced life. On a personal level, it did not fulfill me. And on a professional level, I missed having a project that was truly mine, that I could feel was my own," he said.

At this turning point in his life, Kirkpatrick decided to get into the insurance industry and was hired by Aegon in 2004. "It was the most rewarding decision of my life. I took a risk and it wasn´t easy because I was full of uncertainty," he said. With no experience in the insurance business, he took over a brand-new business unit - life insurance. "You have to have the courage to change and take risks. At the same time, you have to know when you have ended a stage in your life. If you believe you have arrived at this moment, you should consider looking for other alternatives," he said.

He also stressed the importance of "learning to lead, above all in complicated moments." A year and a half ago, Kirkpatrick was appointed general manager of his company in Spain and he decided to implement management changes. In his opinion, leadership has two facets: intelligence and talent management.

Be credible

In his new executive role, he had to learn how to manage talent. "It’s basic to develop the human facet, be closer to the people around you, nurture interpersonal capacities," he said. He also noted two keys for carrying out this task successfully: sincerity and clarity. "You have to lead through authenticity. You should communicate continuously and always tell the truth, no matter how difficult it is. Credibility is basic. You should also know how to delegate, to know what you should dedicate your time to and what you should not," he said.

However, leadership also has a colder side, which is related to intelligence and being "able to take the right decisions."

"This is a solitary job, a difficult one, because in the end the decisions you take are yours alone. Even though you are surrounded by the best team members, when you get to a certain point, you always have the sensation of vertigo, of loneliness," he said.

In 2012, in view of the precarious situation of savings banks which were Aegon partners in projects, Kirkpatrick decided to move quickly.

"I decided to communicate how we were doing sincerely. I described the scenario as it was. For circumstances we could not control, the business was collapsing. We took cold, hard decisions. We saw that part of our sales strategy had reached its end and we needed to look for new alliances."

Finally, at the end of last year, Aegon announced an exclusive agreement with Santander that will allow the company to grow more than 30 percent in Spain. "Work, constancy and patience are necessary elements for overcoming adversity," he concluded.