"I Believe in Management, Not in Strategy"

The CEO of DIA Speaks at the Global Leadership Series


Ricardo Currás

When an executive director of a large company like DIA declares before an auditorium that he doesn’t believe in strategy at all, he is bound to raise a few eyebrows. Yet Ricardo Currás stuck to his guns: “Strategy is a word that has become a bit stale because it confines you to a straitjacket. Today you can’t predict the impact you will have on your company’s future. I do, however, believe in direction, in the path that may be the best to take. In addition to sketching strategic plans, we need to continually remind ourselves where we are and where we are going,” he said. This was just one of the observations that the top executive of the Spanish multinational shared with EMBA students at IESE’s Madrid campus on November 15.

A mathematician by training, Currás has evolved professionally almost exclusively at DIA, where he landed in 1986 as Management Control Analyst after a brief stint at Arthur Andersen. Back then DIA was a small family company operating mainly in Madrid. Today, with 44,000 employees, the company’s food and beverage distribution takes place internationally; in France, Portugal, Brazil, Argentina and China, in addition to throughout Spain.

Currás began to wield greater influence at DIA as a result of the group’s internationalization. “When your career is on the upswing, you need to be completely dedicated to your job,” he asserted during his presentation at the Global Leadership Series.

At the same time, however, Currás admits that he has enjoyed the projects that he has taken on tremendously and that he has always attempted to convey his enthusiasm to others. “If you enjoy what you do, there is a much better chance that you will get noticed and also that you will progress professionally. Only if you really believe in what you do, can you move up. Thinking that you will have better chances simply by presenting your candidature to your superiors doesn’t tend to work,” he stated.

Continuous learning

In 2009, Currás was named Executive Director of the DIA Group, a position he assumed while he continued in his role as member of Carrefour’s Executive Committee (the merger of the two companies having taken place a few years prior). Within two years, DIA was listed in the Spanish Stock Exchange. It was a complicated and difficult period. “Not everyone was in agreement with the decision, but I can admit that I learned a lot,” he recalled.

For Currás, every day is fundamentally a chance to learn something new. “It is indispensable that each day you do things a bit better than the day before. To progress and work with enthusiasm, it is important that you question your own productivity,” he recommended.

The company’s listing on the stock exchange was a success and also a lifeline, for today DIA is growing as much in Spain as in other international markets. Currás acknowledged that there is still a margin of growth in Spain for his business, and that the opportunities that Brazil offers are more than encouraging. He also pointed out that due to their higher cost, online sales do not yet carry much weight within the food and beverage business. “This will change when online shopping becomes cheaper for the consumer. That moment has not yet arrived, though it is getting closer,” he said.

Currás predicted difficult years ahead in the food and beverage sector in Spain. He also discarded the possibility of imitating his competitors’ business model, stating, “An obsession with leadership sometimes turns you into a follower, and that is dangerous. Imitation always places you behind and on top of that, doing a worse job of it than the rest.”

Honesty and consistency

At the end of his presentation, Currás offered students a series of recommendations: “Be intellectually honest with yourselves. This is inescapable. You must be able to explain the consistency of your actions to yourselves,” he reiterated. In addition, he emphasized the importance of teamwork for any company to function well. “The team comes first. When one plus one is more than two, that means that the company is running well,” he stated.

He concluded with an appeal to loyalty to the company and its values, stating that, “Leadership is the sum of motivation and the ability to tow the line, and you can only do so if you believe in what you do.”