“We’ve Made Profits Because We’ve Taken Risks”

Rafael Villaseca addresses EMBA graduates

06/05/2013 Barcelona

Executive MBA

Perfectly turned out in their gowns and mortarboards in the bright spring sunshine, on May 3 the Class of 2013 of the IESE Executive MBA Barcelona put an end to two years of hard work that have changed their lives. On the one hand, they have learned concepts that will help them to develop their careers. On the other, the experience and IESE’s humane approach to business affairs have made it clear that they have a responsibility to be aware of their impact on society.

The keynote speech was given by Rafael Villaseca (MBA '76), CEO of Gas Natural Fenosa and a member of the executive committee of the IESE Alumni Association, who looked back nostalgically at his time at the school almost 40 years ago.

“It’s inevitable that I would look back to how 37 years ago I was sitting here in a gown, in one of those first rows of seats, graduating in a similar ceremony. Nor can I help but look back over the adventures of these almost 40 years. Many things have happened, many have changed and many clearly have not.”

After congratulating graduates on the hard work of the past two years, Vilaseca discussed what are, in his view, the keys to studying at IESE. “Without any doubt we chose well by studying IESE; me 37 years ago and you now. Without what I learnt then, without some fundamentals, I would never have been able to fully develop my professional career. Ignoring from fashion and confusion, in spite of crises and bubbles, our profession can and must be based on solid and consistent foundations. This doesn’t mean that change is unnecessary, but the fundamentals of doing our job well have not changed and only need to be modified and adapted to our times.” 
Villaseca also talked about risk.  He said that for an executive “there are two factors for assessing whether we are doing the right thing: profit and risk. The first is justified by the second. We mustn’t lose sight of this: we make profits because we take and manage risks.” And he added that “it is essential to  know how to correctly manage the professional and also personal risks that life presents you with.”

The CEO of Gas Natural Fenosa said, “You must be rigorous and professional but not optimistic when it comes to taking on a challenge. In time, you will see what is the best way to move forward and devise an action plan. That is the moment for confidence and optimism! After rigorous and realistic planning, you have to go into action without hesitating, optimistically and confidently, with resolution and the desire for success. Do it professionally and intelligently, and don’t look for the easy way.”

“After the time you have spent at IESE there is one thing that you understand for sure: running companies requires intense and important work and dedication.”

IESE Dean Jordi Canals congratulated the graduates and then went on to say “Today, companies in the West are experiencing a new situation. They’re no longer the main players in economic growth, a position they held for many decades; instead they’re being held responsible for the negative effects of globalization and are unable to assist with the economic recovery. In such a context, what can a manager or business person do? Well, both of them can have an impact on other people and on the company as a whole. The question is: what kind of impact do they – do we – want to have? IESE’s mission encourages managers and business people to try and achieve a positive, profound and long-lasting impact on people, companies and society.”

Canals insisted that “only those who dream of the impossible and work towards it will be able to achieve what, a priori, seemed impossible. Managers who conduct themselves in this way, who always trust “the better angels of our nature” (as Abraham Lincoln reminded the people of the United States while the country was in the midst of a civil war), are managers with direction and purpose, managers who help others find direction in their work too. This is the kind of impact I encourage you to dream of.”

Prof. Julia Prats, Academic Director of the Executive MBA program, reminded graduates that now was the time to respond. “Now it's time to continue with your commitments to your family, job and country, but now with even more responsibility,” she said. “In this new phase in your career, there will be times when you will have to respond (which is precisely the root of the word "responsibility"), report and contribute. And there will be more pressure to do so, given that you have received a great deal and therefore a great deal will be expected of you. In this new phase, I would like to offer you two pieces of advice. The first is that you should not lose perspective. The second piece of advice is this: be passionate about whatever you do.”

José Narbón and Lluis Quintana, presidents of the Executive MBA Class of 2013, ended proceedings with a review of their time at IESE. Narbón said that the graduates were leaving “with a feeling of having accomplished something important at this stage in our lives. However, receiving the excellent human and academic training offered by the Executive MBA also presents us with a great deal of responsibility to our loved ones and society, which is currently under such stress because of the crisis and the lack of values.”
Quintana said that “the blows of adversity can be very bitter, but we can't let them come to nothing. It is up to us to fight against them, possibly much more than we imagine. But we can only change things if we first change ourselves, and the EMBA we have completed today is certainly one more step in this direction.”