Our Executive Spotlight series features interviews with accomplished business leaders from around the world and puts a focus on insights, ideas and perspectives that shape organisational culture and performance across key industry sectors.”
Alejandro Gomez de la Torre, Chief Operating Officer for South America, SGS
We spoke with Alejandro Gomez de la Torre, Chief Operating Officer for South America, SGS for his views on leadership, innovation, what emerging leaders must be mindful of in order to accelerate their careers, and more.
The global business climate is demanding more of organisations and executive leaders while stretching enterprise resources to their limits. Creating a culture that encourages innovation, challenges managers and gains from the lessons of globalisation is key to improving profitability in the short-term and sustainability over the long run.
If executive leaders have learned anything from the challenging global business climate of the past four years, it is that they are called to recognise problems and to move swiftly with strategic vision and an eye toward uncovering opportunities that may also arise.
“I believe that with all of the changes we have seen in the world, the leader must have a very fast reaction when there are difficult situations,” says Alejandro Gomez de la Torre, a Peruvian national who serves as Chief Operating Officer for South America with SGS, a role he has held since 2002 and through which he influences the performance of more than 10,000 employees working in nine countries across the continent.
“Always, when there is a crisis, there are some opportunities that need to be detected by the leaders and they must react very fast and take action,” he adds. For some organisations, the future profitability and sustainability of the entire enterprise might hinge on the speed, insight and resources executives mobilise to counter such business challenges.
Those also happen to be some of the key elements to the success of his company.
SGS and globalisation
SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. With more than 70,000 employees and a network of more than 1,350 offices and laboratories around the world, SGS is a global leader in providing services that help organisations across a broad spectrum of industries improve sustainability, productivity, quality, safety, efficiency and speed to markets while reducing enterprise risks.
The pressures organisations and executive management leaders have faced during global economic crises, Gomes de la Torre observes, have also opened up many new opportunities to leverage globalisation as a force of continued development for SGS and many other global companies in recent years.
“Globalisation, for our own people, presents a very good opportunity not only to develop themselves in the country or region, but also to have the experience to work in different regions and countries around the world and prepare them with international skills that will help them with their future careers,” Gomez de la Torre observes.
“It also provides them with a chance to improve their international skills and be prepared to take on the future leadership of the company. So globalisation is giving all these kinds of opportunities,” he adds, despite the obvious challenges and obstacles that remain.
The increasing interconnectedness of national economies within the broader global economy certainly presents significant challenges – particularly for a company that works to raise standards, quality and efficiency in some very different regulatory, political and operating environments. In these ways, SGS reflects the experiences and challenges facing many employer organisations across global industry sectors.
Creating organisational agility and speed
So what must executive leaders consider as they work to create the agility and speed required to compete in this global business environment?
Gomez de la Torre suggests that leaders must continually revisit some key questions – the answers to which are imperative to connecting vision and strategy with people, resources and the markets they want to serve and grow. These include:
- What is the vision of the executive leadership and how must the organisation change every day to make it a reality?
- How does this vision integrate with the work of every employee?
- What must this vision demand of teams dedicated to innovation and renewal?
- How should this vision and the need for innovation influence lines of communication across the enterprise and at all levels of management?
Gomez de la Torre, who leads an SGS innovation team for the Americas region, says the challenge of innovating in today’s business climate and across a global enterprise must be understood in the full context of the organisation and its people.
“The push for innovation impacts how we communicate and how we motivate people all around the company to be open to give new ideas on how to improve process and our services,” he shares. “At the same time, the leadership on the top can bring all the resources to people with new ideas to develop and implement those ideas. Innovation is key to the company and it’s critical for leaders to accelerate these innovations inside the company,” Gomez de la Torre observes.
Linking leadership with team performance
In this context, he adds, it’s easy to see the very critical linkages between leadership, innovation and expansion into new markets and against new competitors.
It’s something he learned working with alongside Sergio Marchionne, the international manager widely known and respected for his turnaround of the Italian automotive group Fiat, and more recently, for managing the U.S. automotive group Chrysler from bankruptcy to profitability.
“Around 2002, I had the privilege to be part of a team working together with Sergio Marchionne as well as the CEO of SGS, and I gained a lot of knowledge of what a leader should be and concepts to improve one’s own leadership skills. Part of the culture we learned from Sergio is that there are no excuses and you always need to believe what it is important to you,” Gomez de la Torre recalls.
“To be a real leader implies to interact permanently with all of the organisation and at least to be at least connected with three levels below us to know exactly how to coach them and help them on their development,” he offers. “We got the concept that the leader always has to be looking to change things in order to be the best in class.”
In order to achieve best in class standing in any industry sector, Gomez de la Torre adds, once must know one specific measure of the quality of any manager.
“We come to know who is a really good leader in the organisation by the quality of the team they are leading. And that is key for a company with 70,000 people – how to identify leaders around the organisation,” he asserts. “The success of the team is a reflection of your own success as a leader. How well are you driving people and giving people the chance to succeed?”
Of course, the SGS COO for South America shares, another key for the leader is to earnestly and steadfastly believe what he or she is asking others to buy into and invest in with their hearts, minds and commitment to hard work. “You have to always believe in what you’re selling,” Gomez de le Torre reminds.
Connecting leadership, culture and talent
Part of what has fueled the growth of SGS globally, Gomez de la Torre says, is the company’s consistent and unwavering focus on having the best talent to pursue big opportunities and to engage meaningfully with every client partner.
“We understand more and more we need to have the right people at the right time around the world,” he confides. “That implies that we need to have a very well connected Human Resources operation in order to get the best talent every day. Last year, we recruited around 8,000 people – many of them represent the leadership and future leadership of the company.”
SGS has a deep and ongoing commitment not only to effective recruiting but also to training, development, and promotion so its people can expand the base of their professional knowledge and develop skills they can apply as they accept more leadership responsibilities.
“We have special programs for leadership in which we select people from all over the world and we have a training model that every year many people are going through. The leadership culture in SGS is key and is very strong in order to promote and develop people inside the organisation,” Gomez de la Torre says.
So what lessons can emerging leaders or so-called ‘high potential’ managers take from his experience and leadership perspectives he’s gained during his career with SGS?
“The first is passion for what you’re doing and at the same time always have fun and enjoy what you’re doing. Always do the best you can and give the best of yourself and commit to every action in which you’re in charge in the company. Always be very clear in terms of what you want in the future and be able to lead – so people will follow you to the target. You have to be a good communicator and let people follow you. And you need to always celebrate the success with your people,” Gomez de la Torre believes.
At the same time, he continues, “You need to be clear that your main asset is people and you have to treat people in the same way you would like to be treated. The future depends many times on the right or wrong decisions you took about people, so you have to conscious that any decision that you as a leader take will have consequence on the rest of the team. Always act with integrity and together you will always achieve results without any excuse.”
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