***We have the honor to share with you an interview made by Fortuna Magazine to one of our speakers, Andrés Freire. ***
Axialent’s CEO was chosen by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader, together with the Martín Lousteau, the Economy Minister, among 3,500 candidates. He talks about the challenges and vices corporations have and about new leadership. The “victim” attitude of many Argentinean executives.
Andrés Freire met Economy Minister Martín Lousteau at University while they were both studying Economy.
This year, they were both chosen by the World Economic Forum as Young Global Leaders. They are the only two Argentineans chosen among 3,500 candidates all around the world. In Freire’s case, his most important achievement is a vertiginous career as an entrepreneur, leader and businessman. His reputation kicks off in the dotcom era. In 1997, he founded Officenet, a company which sells office supplies for companies. They started with ten employees and an investment of U$S 7,000,000. Five years later, there were more than 700 employees all around Latin America. Then, in 2003, he co-founded Axialent, a company which “helps big corporations in the world to solve the unbalances resulting from what they say and what they do”. When having to analyze the weaknesses of big organizations he says that “the narrower the gap between what companies say and what they actually do, the more successful they will be in the long run.”
FORTUNA: Why do you think that there is a gap between what we say and what we do?
FREIRE**: Because executives think that there is a dilemma between the personal values and the organizational values. Sometimes we have the chance of being aligned with our own values or doing what the company needs. That is a lie. We show companies how these two things can be integrated. And they are realizing that the content of knowledge as regards technology is not a competitive advantage whereas generating a culture of work is.
FORTUNA**: How do you accomplish that?
FREIRE: Generally corporations pay little attention to their corporate culture. This means, for instance, how a leader company in technology can generate a task oriented culture. If they are consequent, then the people who work there should be impeccable with their commitments. If the meeting starts at one, it starts at one. To achieve that culture they want to generate, they must follow the values they want to promote.
FORTUNA: What are the big vices of corporations?
FREIRE: One is unconsciousness. People don’t know the impact it has when they do not live up to their word. For example, they preach that the best ones within the organization will be promoted but then those positions are covered with the director’s friends or those men he trusts. There is no problem in being a loyalty-built company but you don’t have to say a different thing and you have to be coherent with the messages you deliver. Our motto is “what leaders do speak so loudly that people don’t listen to what they say”. The actions of those running an organization have a multiplying effect.
FORTUNA: Is it possible to have an entrepreneur emerging from a big corporation? Should they be promoted?
FREIRE: It depends on what the company wants to generate. If you are looking for innovation, then it is a good idea. The secret of an innovative culture is to break paradigms. Entrepreneurs are generally big challengers. I think that those organizations who promote the entrepreneurial activity among their employees will have better chances of improving day by day and reinventing themselves.
FORTUNA: Your company advises big corporations such as Google, General Motors, Shell. How do you think these companies are adapting to the changes that knowledge and the insertion of China and India have brought about in the world markets?
FREIRE: I reckon that there is a huge sensation that the speed at which you have to learn is ten times faster than before. The secret for this is humility. Maybe it sounds too philosophical but it is so. The organizations are saying: “How can I get to a context of more humility to generate a better learning process and incorporate the undergoing changes that occur in the world, at such unexpected speeds?” There is a strong will to incorporate knowledge and to go back to being apprentices. There is a direct correlation between the level of commitment they have for change and the speed at which the results are finally given.
FORTUNA: You are constantly traveling around the world because your company has subsidiaries in different countries. How, in your opinion, do foreigners see the country?
F****REIRE**: Honestly, they don’t see much of it. It’s as if two Argentineans were talking about how they see Surinam or French Guyana. No matter how much it hurts, it is like this.
FORTUNA: And how do they see Latin America?
FREIRE: In the eyes of big companies – with some exceptions like Google who is opening an operations centre in Buenos Aires – Latin America means Brazil. North Americans see a bit more of Mexico, but Europeans don’t. However, everybody sees Brazil, which is incredibly booming.
FORTUNA**: Do you think that the Argentinean executives being versatile explains the result of the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor which ranks Argentina as one of the 10 countries with the most entrepreneurs?
FREIRE: We have a highly entrepreneurial culture given our Italian, Spanish and other immigrant ancestors.
But we also live in a context which leaves you unemployed every now and then. Nevertheless, if you observe the rate of effectiveness, Argentina ranks within the worst countries in the world, taking into account the quantity of projects that did not overcome their fourth year. So, there is a very high rate of entrepreneurs but with an overwhelming rate of failure. This has to do with the fact that people don’t train themselves to start up a project, they start it up out of necessity.
FORTUNA: Do you think that the present national conjuncture is good for start-up projects?
FREIRE: I think that all conjunctures are good to generate businesses, in any place.
FORTUNA: You are very optimistic…
FREIRE: I think good businesses can be done in any scenario and there are opportunities in all crises. The key issue is to assume the attitude of the protagonist and not the victim’s.
FORTUNA: Do Argentinean executives have a victim’s attitude?
FREIRE: I think that Argentina unfortunately has the counterpart of our ability to adapt to the context and being so versatile. As we are always living in changing realities, it is very easy to blame the context. Be that the political, managerial, social, educational, whatsoever. You can always find arguments to see the glass half empty.
FORTUNA: As a leader, what have been your worst miscalculations and faults?
FREIRE: My greatest fault is arrogance. I think I know something and then I realize there is a lot I need to learn.
FORTUNA Bearing all the issues in the global agenda in mind, which do you think corporations should pay more attention to?
FREIRE: Although it might sound philosophical, one of those issues is conscience. What maximizes the individual objective doesn’t maximize the collective success. There is a trend now, to pay a little more attention to global issues that are affecting us. This goes from the value of organizations to global warming, water and the integration of China and India to the consumer market.
FORTUNA: The current leader is very different from that of the middle of the XX century. What features should he have?
FREIRE: The current leader is one who is very worried about integrating the organizational values with the ones that people have. He should be focused on getting people motivated inside out, not the other way round. You have to create the best workplace to motivate and invite people to live their lives to the fullest.
FORTUNA: Being in the kitchen of the decision-making of big companies, have you found any myths broken?
FREIRE: Yes, many. One of them is the accepted wisdom that leaders of big companies are people who are extremely happy and satisfied, with money and power. But sometimes, they have the same fears as anybody else: that his boss or the shareholders will come and criticize him. On the other hand, I see a lot of kindness in organizations. I see they are trying to offer higher value services and to build things. I don’t see any evil or conspiration, as it is usually thought. Obviously, there are all sorts of people: honest, dishonest, with values and without values. But everyone wants to grow.
FORTUNA: How does it feel to share this recognition by WEF with the Economy Minister of Argentina?
FREIRE: I never imagined that I would share it with Martín (Lousteau). We went to University together.
Among other reasons, I’m being given this prize for the global impact Axialent is having in the corporate world. We have big companies from all around the world. We are a truly globalized company, the only Argentinean thing is that I am Argentinean and that I said “everything that is not consultants I want to have in Argentina.” I think our country can export grey cells.