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20 May 2022

OPINION: Commitment and belief turn challenges into endless opportunities


Juvencio Maeztu, Deputy CEO and Chief Finance Officer, at Ingka Group will today speak to MBA students graduating at IESE, Barcelona. 

After praising the students’, professors, and staff commitment, Juvencio used the opportunity to talk about leadership and shared experiences from his career.

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Commitment should be celebrated. Belief drives commitment and turns massive challenges and fears into endless opportunities. Leadership is personal and about choices. The choice is to believe that you can create a better society, a better planet and that you can change the world. 
 
Three stories from my life stand out to me, I believe they have shaped me as a person and a leader. 

The importance of inclusive leadership 
Working at IKEA for over 20 years has been a privilege. I was fortunate enough to set up IKEA Retail in India. I initially felt overwhelmed by the size and the complexity of the job. I arrived in the country with my family and just two suitcases. It began as a business assignment but grew into a journey of deep gratitude and love for a country and its people and taught me the real meaning and value of inclusiveness. 
 
We were about to open the doors of our first store in Hyderabad and it was naturally an important moment. One last time I challenged my team on whether we had the right price level. You only have one opportunity in life to start with the right prices in a 1,4 billion people market! Although we had done extensive research, we decided to challenge ourselves one more time.  
 
This is when I met Anu, a special woman, living in a very humble 9m2 one-room. As a mother of two small children, she was working hard to feed her family every day. She was collecting juice brick packs that people were throwing out of the train window. She was making beautiful handbags out of these used containers and selling them for INR 100 each.  

I asked her about what a better life at home meant for her. She gave an extremely powerful answer. She told me: “I feel proud of my life. I have a home, a good base for my two children to go to school. I feel proud of my life because I know that my two children will have a better life than me.” After spending the day with Anu, we were convinced that we had to make our prices even more affordable to help the many people have a better life at home.  
We started again, challenging all the business decisions we had made and decided to have 1,000 products priced under IND 200, a bit more than EUR 2. And we again listened to thousands of people to really understand their dreams, frustrations and needs.  

I understood that my role was not only to lead a business in India. It was also to listen and to contribute to a better life at home in India. This not only made our business better, it also made me a more inclusive and better leader and I grew as a person.  
 
Never delegate the obligation and the privilege of listening and being close to your customers, co-workers and the many people. It is about the importance of inclusive leadership. 
 
The importance of a moral compass to guide your decisions 
At the end of January 2020 I had a meeting in my hotel room in Copenhagen with the head of retail, People & Culture and our CEO in China. We were discussing whether we should close our IKEA Wuhan Store due to increasing numbers of Covid virus cases. Nobody understood the massive consequences that would follow. From there, you well know the sequence of events of the pandemic.  

We have also recently seen the tragedy of the war in Ukraine. How millions of people have been left with nothing, but one suitcase filled with memories, hopes and fears. How your life can change so dramatically overnight. And how a tsunami of political, economic, and business decisions can have such wide and deep impacts on everybody’s life.  

I lead the crisis management team of a EUR 40 billion organisation and 170,000 co-workers globally. We operate in many countries across many industries, and I have confronted many dilemmas and faced big questions with no clear answers. We may not have had a map to navigate but we did have a moral compass to guide our decisions. My moral compass was our values and the IKEA vision to create a better every day for the many people.  

My reflection and advice to leaders or aspiring leaders would be: You will be challenged by climate change, pandemics, business disruptions, geopolitics, cyberattacks, social inequality and possibly many other disruptive events. All of this will test your leadership in the future. Be extremely determined to nurture deep values – within you and your organisation – that will help you when navigating in turbulent waters. It is about the importance of a moral compass to guide your decisions. 

The importance of a holistic approach to success (both/and approach) 
When I took my current role a little more than four years ago, we started a path to transform IKEA to make it more accessible, more affordable, and more sustainable. And this came with challenges. As many decisions to invest in technology and omnichannel, or to invest in climate positive were challenged by the financial consequences, the impact of unproven initiatives, the pandemic and recently the war. I was trapped in dilemmas. And dilemmas make us a victim of the situation rather than a leader in the way forward.  

This was the starting point for us to decide what success looks like. How do we evaluate a good performance? The answer was about creating value in four dimensions: better homes for customers, better lives for people and communities, a better planet for all and a better company for the long term, which keeps creating value in all dimensions. This has not only helped us find the way forward to our dilemmas but has also inspired us in our leadership.  
It is not about forgetting the past to create the future, it is not about compromising the profit and loss of the business to deliver sustainability, it is not about compromising the long-term because of short-term pressure. It is good business to be a good business. It is about integrating both purpose and profit. My advice when working with goals is to be holistic from the beginning and integrate business, finance, and purpose in everything you do, in every decision you make. It is about the importance of a holistic approach to success. 

Your life is your message. And your message is your legacy. Live your life with your example and believe that you can change the world! 

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