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In discussing his new role on the Allianz board of management, Iván de la Sota has a refined, reserved and cautious manner, whether speaking in fluent German, English or Spanish. However, the importance of this role in the development of the group as Chief Business Transformation Officer is very clear in his mind. He finds that humbling, but it is also invigorating: “Transitioning a global group into the digital world without losing our established strengths, which are admired by many, goes beyond anything that I have accomplished so far”. Every aspect of Allianz will be affected. “To ensure that the transition is successful, I will first and foremost be relying on close collaboration with my colleagues on the board of management, in our subsidiaries around the world – with the whole of Allianz”.
De la Sota knows what he’s talking about. He knows Allianz and its people very well, having previously served as CEO of the highly innovative and successful unit in Spain, and then as head of the Latin America region. He talks about his skilled, dedicated and loyal team with enthusiasm and gratitude. Schooled in German, before studying business administration in Augsburg and completing an MBA London, the Spaniard has spent his entire working life at Allianz, “a company that I have always associated with competence, fairness and a healthy ambition, right from my first interview with two board members at the Munich headquarters”. Now, in this time of great change, some of the company’s other strengths come into play, such as a willingness to take a collaborative approach of a kind that was yet to be seen when he joined the company in 1991, or a determination to build on current successes in the traditional business in pursuing a fundamental modernization. “For some time now, we have been working to make the Allianz Group more than simply the sum of its parts, and this process is now being streamlined and accelerated significantly”.
The clients’ world is also seeing rapid change – a great many already rely mostly on digital platforms. De la Sota: “We must not allow ourselves to become complacent due to the success that we are currently enjoying in traditional business.” At Allianz, we all need to recognize the client as our real boss. “Business is boosted significantly when we all evaluate our work from the client’s perspective, and we also gain a clear view of the tasks still ahead of us.” Analytical observation has become second nature to de la Sota himself. He knows what is going on in the world and how Allianz needs to position itself in order to stay at the forefront.
Iván de la Sota enjoys discussing an issue and getting to the bottom of the matter – with his colleagues and teams, but also with his friends, whom he considers important sparring partners. “You need to look at an issue from every angle to work out what it’s all about and find the best solution.” He says this is not the same as obsession, which can often destroy businesses. That’s why he places such great importance on discussion and feedback. And not just after failures, which “there certainly have been during my career, though I can’t remember them at this exact moment” (he laughs), but after successes too (such as the turnaround that he recently orchestrated in Brazil).
There is something natural and authentic about de la Sota – you can immediately believe it when he says that we could learn something from the Spanish about pragmatism, dynamism and flexibility, for example. However, he also explains how often his father, who does not speak German, drummed into him that Germans make things “that work”. His father’s favorite example: In Germany, you don’t see neon signs with half the light bulbs missing. What more can Iván say?
His eyes light up when he talks about how proud his children are of their father – and vice versa, of course. “When I speak with the two eldest about this latest development they know exactly how much this move onto the board of management of Allianz SE means to me”. After so many years at Allianz, he sees it as a great gift now to be able to apply his experience in sales, business development and especially difficult transformation processes on a global scale. “But I also recognize the responsibility involved.” His golf game, in which he already honed his performance as a young man, is something he will probably only be able to get back to later – but no doubt, when the time comes, he will be just as thoughtful and disciplined and will see the same excellent results that he has achieved throughout his career at Allianz.
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