Adolfo Diaz Valdez (H.15)
Working for Argentina
Buenos Aires. Adolfo embodies the new generation coming to power, the one of the millennials, the one that needs to fix the mistakes of the past and who will have to deal with the fantastic changes happening in today’s world. Adolfo became aware of his responsibilities progressively and even if he was not born with the idea of working in the public sector, he decided to use his skills and energy for his country.
Read full transcript…
HU: Hi Adolfo, thank for for welcoming us in the magnificent offices of the Buenos Aires city council. Let’s start with our little Chinese portrait. So, if you were a color?
A: I would be green.
HU: An animal?
A: A dolphin, because they are friendly and they swim around the world. What they do is pretty cool.
HU: A meal?
HU: A song?
A: There is a song by INXS called The Stairs. It’s my favorite song so I think I would be that one.
HU: A movie?
HU: A sin?
A: I think I could eat chocolate until I die so gluttony, for sure.
HU: An object?
A: I would be a bike, because it is always outside and it can move around.
HU: A sport or a game?
A: I like swimming very much.
HU: A book?
A: There is a book called Modelo Para Armar, written by Cortazar, an Argentinian writer. I think I would be that book.
HU: I you were a (super)hero?
A: I would be Batman, because he is a normal guy but he uses all his resources to try to help people.
“At the beginning of my career I thought that I was going to be a banker all my life.”
HU: Now, can you sum up your professional background in 30 seconds?
A: I studied business economics in Buenos Aires at the University di Tella. Right after that I got a scholarship and I took a Master in finance. After that I worked 2 years in investment banking for Lazard Latin America, but I got bored because I didn’t like what I was doing and I wanted to be inside the companies so I moved to management consulting and I worked there for 5 years, with Integration.
I used to like it very much but at some point, I wanted to have a higher impact on social and environmental sides and I got really interested in sustainability. That’s why I went to HEC, for a Master in Sustainable Development. I came back from Paris last September and I am now Strategic Planning Director for the city of Buenos Aires.
HU: Ah fun! We did an internship at Lazard last year, you are the first “Lazard alumni” we meet.
A: Really? How did you guys like it?
HU: Well, it was a tough experience!
A: (laughs) I was mostly working on project finance but I was also doing some M&A. Lazard acquired a local boutique in Argentina and from there started opening branches in Latin America. We had some local M&A stuff, but also some financing projects coming from Europe or the US. It was pretty cool because I worked with the New york office, with Venezuela. It was fun. But it was a lot of work too. (laughs)
HU: Have you coped with a difficult choice in your professional life and what did you learn from it?
A: What was difficult for me were these two moments when I decided to change jobs. At the beginning of my career I thought that I was going to be a banker all my life. That’s why I decided to study finance and to go to Lazard. When I realized I didn’t like it, it was a shock because I was supposed to be doing that for the next 30-40 years. Leaving banking to move to consulting was the first hard choice I made during my career.
The second one was when I left consulting to start working in public administration, because it was completely unexpected for me a few years before.
What I learnt from those choices is that you need to follow your passion and what makes you happy.
HU: What makes you happy to go to work every morning?
A: The possibility we have here to change the life of the people who live in the city or come to the city of Buenos Aires. That helps me to wake up early and to stay late at the office. It also keeps me awake at night in my bed, thinking about the things I should be doing to solve a problem. It keeps me thinking all day long, because I am living in the place I am trying to improve.
HU: Can you explain us what you guys are doing here? Is it the city hall?
A: It’s the government of the city of Buenos Aires. It used to be the municipality but the city is so big that it is like the government of a province. In Argentina you have 25 provinces + the city of Buenos Aires. Provinces have a governor, we have a Mayor, but it’s the same idea.
HU: What are the main projects the government of Buenos Aires is working on now?
A: Many but I can talk about some of them.
There are projects related to urbanizing slums. There are still many huge slums in the city of Buenos Aires. We think that the people living in those slums don’t have decent lives and that they are not able to develop. There are 2 large projects aiming at urbanizing the two largest slums. This means lots of social work, basic infrastructure in order to provide access to basic utilities for these people, building roads, changing the building where they live…. We want those slums to become proper neighborhoods.
Another project is to build a big highway connecting the southern part to the northern part of the province of Buenos Aires. Today it takes you 3 hours to go from the south to the north but with this highway it should take you around 45 minutes.
Transport is a big challenge for our city too. We are developing a very specific sort of transport called Metro-Bus. It’s like a fast lane for buses and it’s working really well. We also plan to expand the subway line.
Finally we are building lots of new schools.
There are a lot of things happening and we are really thrilled because the next 4 years are going to be exciting!
“My generation believes that if you want things to get better, you need to get into it. Otherwise you cannot complain. Many of my friends did like me and came to work for the public administration.”
HU: Very concretely, what does your job consist in, as Strategic Planning Director?
A: We help ministers define their work plan for the ministries. We define their strategy, what they want to achieve in the next 4 years. Based on that, we define specific targets for each year. Finally, we define concrete projects and the budgets all the ministries are going to use.
Then, my colleagues and I follow up on the implementation of these projects and on the results of these projects. We are a control panel of the Mayor of the city.
HU: What’s your typical working day?
A: We are participating in meeting with the ministers two days a week. They present the status of their projects and their work plans to the Governor and the Chief of Staff. During the week, we help them preparing this information, which allows us to do a proper follow-up on the work they are doing and to solve their issues.
The usual problems we are facing are problems with suppliers, internal miscommunication when different requests are being contradictory. A big part of my job actually consists in helping different parts of the Government of Buenos Aires to solve these problems.
Finally, I try to keep time to work on specific analysis.
Let me give you an example. Today started with a big meeting gathering all the different ministries and secretaries in the southern part of the city. Then we came here and I worked for 2 hours on an analysis we are doing on the city at night, because we are working on this too. Then I attended a meeting concerning the communication plan for the whole city and I just got of another meeting concerning the different sport clubs in the city. It changes a lot but it’s really fun.
“After 12 years of basically disappearing from the world, Argentina needs to get back on track, because being cast away had a very negative impact on our society”
HU: Did you also get involved in the public sector because of the recent political changes in Argentina? Why did you come to the public sector?
A: When I was at HEC, I did on thesis on trying to understand how sustainability was integrated in the strategy of the largest companies in Argentina. The results were not really convincing and I was thinking that we needed the government to make things happen in terms of sustainability. And I really wanted to make things happen.
At the exact same time things were changing in Argentina. After 12 years being ruled by the same party, more precisely by the same family, with lots of problems of corruption and a very complicated situation for the country, we entered in a new era.
We now have a new president, a new Governor for the province of Buenos Aires as well as a new Mayor for the city of Buenos Aires. I felt it was the good moment to start working for the public administration. I felt ready to use my skills, or at least my hard work, to make things better.
Our parents’ generation didn’t participate in public administration because politics had not a good reputation; it was told to be full of robbers. My generation believes that if you want things to get better, you need to get into it. Otherwise you cannot complain. Many of my friends did like me and came to work for the public administration.
HU: We are facing a similar context in France, now, with young people being really tired of politics and wanting things to change.
A: The millennials are changing the world.
HU: New, let’s talk about Buenos Aires but in a different way: where do you hang out on Sunday afternoons?
A: Sometimes I go to the weekend house of my in-laws, outside of Buenos Aires. We usually have a barbecue and we enjoy the garden. When we stay in Buenos Aires on Sundays, I like to go for a run around the lakes of Palermo, an area of the city where there are many parks. Then we usually have dinner with my parents or my wife’s parents and after dinner we meet with some friends. Basically, I do anything to avoid the Sunday depression! (laughs)
HU: Sunday’s depression is terrible.
A: It is! (laughs)
HU: Have you always lived in Buenos Aires?
A: Yes. I used to travel a lot when I was a consultant and I went to Rio, Sao Paulo and Chile many times but my home has always been in Buenos Aires, except for that year I spent at HEC.
HU: If you had only 24 hours left in Buenos Aires before leaving it for ever, what would you do?
A: I would walk around Recoleta by taking the Elber Avenue. The I would take the 9th of July Avenue because it’s huge and full of streets, I really like it. I would follow it until I reach the pyramid that is in the middle of it, we call it the “Obelisco” and it’s on Plaza de la Republica. Obelisco is like the city center of Buenos Aires and it’s a symbol and one of the landmarks of the city. There starts an Avenue called Corrientes, which is full of theaters and places to eat pizza. I would eat a pizza there. Many people go there on Saturday or Friday night so I would walk around Corrientes Avenue, probably take a look at Plaza de Mayo, where the city was founded. The neighborhood around it is the oldest part of the city and I would seat for a coffee and a croissant in an old coffee place. From there I would try to come back and go to Palermo and have a run in Libertad Avenue. Finally, I would just walk around the city with no specific goal, just looking at the people, the noise they make. People here are always talking, shouting and laughing. I think I would like to see this one last time before leaving the city forever.
HU: Perfect transition to the next question, which is: what do you like about people from Buenos Aires?
A: I like the noise! On the other side it’s probably one of the things I hate the most as well, because sometimes it is really disrespectful, but people are really life-full if I may say. There are always laughing or complaining, speaking or shouting at each other but you see life happening in the city and in the street.
I also like that people from the city of Buenos Aires are really proud of coming from Buenos Aires.
HU: What makes you proud?
A: I think we have a great city. It’s a beautiful city. If you take a look at it in terms of design, urban planning and architecture, you have lots of things that are just amazing and if you have this strange combination with the Latin American culture that brings these lively people in the streets. It’s a unique spectacle, even in Latin America, where people are most of the time in cars or behind fences. The nightlife is very intense too, so things are happening all the time in this city.
“HEC’s program was excellent and it was the best offer, in Europe at least. And my wife got accepted to Sciences-Po Paris at the very same time, so it was just the perfect timing.”
HU: What is Argentina’s main challenge in your opinion?
A: We are now in the middle of a transition and the main challenge we have is to make the country back up. After 12 years of basically disappearing from the world, we need to get back on track, because being cast away had a very negative impact on our society: we now have a very conflictive society, torn apart, where groups of people are fighting against others. Our priority is to solve these social issues to reunite. Once this is done, we will be able to define a new plan for our country.
HU: What would be Buenos Aires main challenge?
A: Same, we need to keep on working on the social side, so that everyone can have a decent life. It goes through urbanizing slums of course, but there are many basic things that need to be solved. We need to get out of the vicious circles we are in right now and education is the key if we want to create virtuous circles. If you don’t provide proper education, it’s going to reduce the possibility of development of your society and as a result of your country.
HU: Are you confident in the new politicians running the country? Do you think that they will get results? Can you explain what changed in Argentina?
A: I think it’s going to be a long process, but that we can do it. Since the new party was elected, four months ago, it has already been tough because we discovered that the previous government had hired a lot of people, who weren’t doing anything. They were paid to be part of the administration but they were not even coming into office. One of the first things the new government did was to expel them from their jobs but it had a very negative impact on a critical situation. It was necessary though.
Many things are done on the economic side to promote the entrepreneurial spirit, start-ups or to bring us back on the financial markets… The economy is going to start improving next year but the following semester is going to be hard.
The people who are in charge now have good management skills and a real social focus. It will bring good things but it’s going to take a while. The city of Buenos Aires, which has been governed by the party that is now running the country, is 8 years ahead of the country, so I think it’s going to take at least one full mandate for the country to get back on its feet.
HU: What is the importance of Buenos Aires in Argentina?
A: There are 3 million people living in the city of Buenos Aires but 3 other million are coming to work everyday in Buenos Aires to work and the “Greater Buenos Aires” (city + suburbs) has 13 million people. There are 40 million people living in Argentina, so one third of the city is living 50 kilometres around here. It’s huge and you have a lot of empty space as well as many unused resources in the country and I think we are going to have a bright future, because there is a huge potential to unlock.
“I can be helpful to someone coming to Argentina, or someone interested in Sustainability Development or public administration, social businesses.”
HU: Let’s talk about HEC now. First, why did you choose HEC for this master in Sustainable Development?
A: Different things happening at the same time led me to HEC. First, I really wanted to live in Paris, for at least a year. At the same time I was looking for a good place to study Sustainability, somewhere where I could use my business background to solve environmental and social problems. HEC’s program was excellent and it was the best offer, in Europe at least.
And my wife got accepted to Sciences-Po Paris at the very same time, so it was just the perfect timing.
HU: What was your favorite place on the HEC campus?
A: The lake, with the wooden tables next to it. It’s just the perfect spot for picnics and to chat with friends.
HU: What is your best memory from HEC?
A: My class. Not the classroom itself, but the people in it. We were 45 people coming from 20 different countries and it was one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had in my life, probably the most enriching one. I remember the way we used to sit in the classroom because at some point we used to sit in very specific places.
During debates, we had some interesting discussions and it was always following the same process: the professor would start by saying something, or friend of mine or I would raise its hand to ask a question and then Sven, from the Netherlands, would make a follow-up question, and then my friend from India would offer a very cynical view on how things are done in India, then another friend would take it back to Turkey, Federico would talk about Costa-Rica… It was very enriching and fun. That one of things I miss the most about HEC.
HU: Would you advise someone interested in Sustainability Development to go to HEC? Why?
A: I would, of course! I think there are things that can be improved and I have been talking to people in admissions to work on that, but I already have recommended many Argentinians to go to HEC. A friend of mine has just ben accepted in the same Master.
I think it’s great to go abroad and study there, it’s also good to dedicate yourself to a specific topic for a full year and HEC is a great place to go to, because everything is about business there. We were only a tiny fraction of the campus thinking about social and environmental impact when the rest of the people were thinking about finance or strategy, so it remained very concrete. It was always related to business models, start-ups, and people are here to use their business background in order to solve social or environmental issues. It’s a very pragmatic combination. If you want to find solutions that are working in the long term, you need those solutions to be self-sufficient to be sustainable, so you always need to take the economic aspect into consideration.
HU: For which reason would you like to be contacted by an HEC alumnus?
A: Anyone! I can be helpful to someone coming to Argentina, or someone interested in Sustainability Development or public administration, social businesses. Whatever I can help with, I would be happy to help. As you are saying, HEC United!
HU: Last question. HEC’s motto is “the more you now, the more you dare”. What would be yours?
A: I don’t have a well-phrased motto, but as long as you remain faithful to what you believe in and to the people that are around you, the rest will go smoothly.
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