"Everything We Do Must be Treated with Equal Importance"

The President of AYESA in the Global Leadership Series


José Luis Manzanares

Civil engineer José Luis Manzanares Japón started AYESA when he was 25. It was 1966 and he couldn’t have imagined that the company he founded would go on to become one of Europe’s premier engineering firms. Today it employs 3,000 people and operates in 38 countries.

On October 25 Manzanares, who since 1975 has held the Chair of Structural Engineering at the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura in Seville, shared some of his experiences with participants in the EMBA program in Madrid. "I get very excited by whatever life throws at me," he told a session in the Global Leadership Series.

He recalled his early years at AYESA, a company that began in civil engineering. It took six months to get its first project, the dam at Cancho del Fresno (Cáceres), off the ground. The company didn’t make any money at all in its first year. He described the firm’s first decade as "heroic", but then the company began to make a name for itself.

Business milestones

In the mid-1970s Manzanares was awarded the Chair and this helped the business to take off. In 1986 AYESA experienced its first "miracle" – the Universal Expo in Seville. The next milestone was when his two children, José Luis and Arancha, joined the business.

This "fresh blood" proved fundamental to the company’s success as, little by little, it began to diversify. As well as building infrastructures such as dams and bridges, AYESA added IT, freeways and high-speed rail to its operations. In 2001 it started to expand abroad. "My son said we needed to expand internationally because civil engineering work was limited and the business model was wearing thin," he said.

AYESA opened offices abroad and began further diversification. As well as architecture and civil engineering projects, it began working in industrial engineering, technology, consulting, aeronautics and smart solutions, but always maintaining the same DNA. "We have always been guided by a passion for doing something new," Manzanares said. Diversification and internationalization, making its own luck, staying ahead of the game and a continuous learning process are the company’s guiding principles.

He talked about his company’s sense of responsibility to the world and to society and "the moral obligation to be there for people who have nothing. Everything we do must be treated with equal importance." In this respect, Manzanares emphasized the importance of his employees’ well-being. "The individual is paramount and more important than the interests of the business," he said. "We want our people to feel part of a family."

He also highlighted the need for standards at work because "it’s not worth doing if you’re not the best. For us, when it comes to doing business, it’s not a case of anything goes. We have a strict ethical code that involves a series of rules that we always follow."