Innovation, the driving force behind corporate growth and transformation
The presidential box at the Santiago Bernabéu stadium was the venue for the 11th ESADE Alumni Annual Conference held in Madrid on March 20th with innovation as the main theme. Alumni and faculty gathered to listen to several talks and particularly François Nuyts, vice-president of Amazon and country manager of Spain and Italy.
The president of ESADE Alumni, Maite Barrera (Lic&MBA 98), welcomed everyone and thanked the event sponsors, SEAT and Caixabank, for their support. She introduced the conference theme, innovation, by quoting a Chinese proverb, “When stormy winds blow, some people build walls and others build windmills. She emphasised the risk of not innovating and commented on how some big companies had collapsed whilst others had survived. She cited the example of Amazon, when Bezos launched an on-line bookshop in 1997 based on a three-point corporate philosophy: customers first, innovation and a long-term outlook. “And in today’s ever changing world, I would bank on one thing, the customer. If you put the customer first, innovation follows because there’s no other way, said Maite Barrera.
The ESADE Alumni president then talked about people, her personal experience as an ESADE student, her work experience and her enterprise. She talked about efforts and luck, and gave the names of people she had met along the way, people who had helped her and believed in her. “In my experience, I think it’s very important not to be alone in your professional career. I would like ESADE Alumni to be your partner, your travel companion. It’s our duty to be your point of reference. This means that we must be able to provide value for each of you. We must innovate and you’ll have to help us with these tasks, said Maite.
Barrera ended her speech by outlining the size of the ESADE Alumni community, the largest alumni organisation in Europe with more than 18,000 members, 70 international chapters and a network of business angels; and also Alumni Social Ventures, with more than 350 volunteers who have given entities in the third sector 1,500 hours of consultancy during this academic year.
The highpoint of the conference when François Nuyts, vice president of Amazon and country manager de Amazon.es and Amazon.it, was interviewed by the ESADE Alumni board member Josep Salvatella (EMBA 04). He began by outlining some of the secrets of Amazon, one of the world’s biggest companies which did not even exist 30 years ago. It landed in Spain in 2011 and now has more than 125 million products on sale – a figure steadily climbing.
François Nuyts graduated in international business and corporate finance from the ESLSCA Business School, Paris, and holds an MBA from the Graduate School of Business, Babson College, Boston. Before joining Amazon in 2005, he worked for Leo Burnett, Kellogg’s and Accenture. Once on the payroll of the e-commerce giant, he worked in France as the executive director of entertainment and media, and he has been the head of Amazon’s on-line retail business in Spain since its launch in 2011.
Nuyts and Salvatella discussed several aspects of innovation, the main theme of the conference, beginning with how a company as big as Amazon manages to maintain its characteristic spaces of autonomy and freedom. Nuyts talked about Amazon’s innovative mindset and how any employee with a good idea can access the resources to implement it. “When someone suggests an innovation, we don’t start by asking what process must be implemented or what its profit and loss ratio will be, but about the value it will give consumers. That’s what matters most.
He also talked about brick-and-mortar stores and the opening of the first Amazon Go store. Nuyts described it as an amazing experience. “You go to the shop, pick up your items and walk out. That’s all. Then you get a message with the details of your purchase. We intend to carry on innovating in this direction because right now we only have one Amazon Go store.
As regards where the business is going and its future model, Nuyts explained that above all, Amazon focuses completely on their consumers’ needs. “This is why we don’t concentrate on just one business model. On the one hand we sell our own products on our on-line platform. Then there’s the market place model where we also sell products from other large or small stores on the same platform. Finally, there’s our recent buyout of the Whole Foods chain which has catapulted us into the traditional shopping sector.
Nuyts and Salvatella also talked about the constant search for customer satisfaction, the way their new products are moving (Prime and Prime Now, Kindle, etc); robotics and A.I. including Alexa, the voice-controlled, multi-task assistant; and Amazon’s contributions to the world of publishing, having started out as an on-line library.
Josep Salvatella’s last question was about the importance of the Spanish market for Amazon and their plans for growth. Nuyts said that Spain was an extremely important market for the company. “We launched Amazon Spain just seven years ago, a very short space of time in the history of any company. What I am proudest of so far is the quality of our team in Spain. It’s a brilliant team. He said that in the future, the company would carry on focussing on the consumer, looking for competitive prices and innovating their purchase and delivery processes.
Eugenia Bieto (Lic&MBA 73/PhD 08), ESADE managing director, brought the talks to an end by highlighting the qualities of the ESADE Alumni community, a great, global, professional network. “ESADE’s prestige is due to the impact its alumni have on companies and society because of how they work and interact with other people, said Bieto. She also emphasised ESADE’s social engagement and preparation of responsible leaders.
The ESADE managing director also spoke about one of the challenges to be dealt with: gender inequality in companies. “It’s true that a shift is already under way, a shift that’s irreversible I’m glad to say. I’m talking about the unstoppable power of women and their obvious determination to win back the space and responsibility they deserve, said Bieto. She encouraged all women to implement their personal and career project. “Don’t be afraid. Fight for your dreams. You are extremely well prepared.
Eugenia Bieto wound up her speech by saying that “ESADE means two things: innovation and social leadership. Studying at ESADE is a unique, different and transformative experience.
The event ended with a short speech by Carlos Jean about his idea of innovation. “I regard innovation as passion with a goal, he declared and told the audience about a project he was able to implement thanks to the internet – Plan B – which showed that “the internet isn’t full of pirates, it’s full of talent. He then invited the audience to take part in a variety of dynamics accompanied by music, images and percussion.
The event ended with its traditional cocktail, an opportunity for participants to relax and share their impressions about the conference.