*At the time of this interview, Jorge was the SVP, Head of North America Operations for DigitasLBI
You spent your pre-MBA career at the Boston Consulting Group, leaving after four years to earn your MBA at MIT. What prompted you to pursue your MBA at that point?
My first years in consulting were an incredible learning experience. I acquired a great foundation in problem-solving, and I saw how a wide variety of industries operate: from airlines, to consumer goods, to media and telecommunications. In my native Spain, I was truly privileged to get this kind of training.
After business school you returned to BCG. What was your experience like in BCG’s New York office after spending your first four years with the firm in Madrid?
It was an incredible experience. BCG is truly a global firm and you find incredibly smart and humble individuals in every office, so from that perspective, there was no change. I was very excited at the opportunity of having such a high level of responsibility in a new environment.
What were you looking to get out of your consulting experience the second time around?
After my time at BCG Madrid, I had nailed down the nuts and bolts of consulting, especially what we can call “hard skills”: problem-solving, analysis, writing presentations, etc. This second time around, I wanted to focus more on the “soft side”, in particular, I wanted to manage teams and develop my leadership skills. I became a Project Leader and for the first time I was responsible for a team, and overall, for the quality of our work. I no longer had everything under control, and I had to learn how to drive and influence my team members. It was exactly the experience I wanted to get.
Within consulting, how did you make your way into the Technology, Media & Entertainment Practice?
BCG had given me the opportunity to work on almost every industry. At first, I loved the diversity and diving into something new every few months. Over time, I developed a preference. Still in Spain, I had the chance to work on a major transformation plan for the Spanish National Television and Radio. And I got the media bug. During my MBA, I interned at MTV in Strategy and Operations, and worked on an acquisition project. By the time I got back to BCG, I still thought consulting was the ideal platform to develop my skills, but I knew eventually I wanted to apply them to the industry I liked the most. And that was Media & Entertainment. In particular, I found the digital transformation of media companies to be an extremely interesting topic: high uncertainty, great disruption, emergence of new competitors, need for business model innovation. All in all, a very tough environment! That’s exactly what I was looking for.
At what point did you decide to pursue opportunities outside the firm?
I was a second year Project Leader and I had already acquired a great deal of management and leadership experience. At the same time, I was approaching the point in the consulting trajectory where you need to make a decision: Do you want to be a partner or not? If you do, it’s all about building your platform for promotion and senior support system. I evaluated what I wanted to do and clearly saw two things: first, I wanted to work at the intersection of media and technology. Second, I wanted to have both a strategy and an execution role. I did not want to be an adviser any more.
How did the opportunity at AOL come about?
My former boss at MTV recommended me for the AOL job. I met the team, and I saw tremendous fit and opportunity. The company had some great assets and a good cash position. At the same time, it needed dramatic transformation. It wasn’t particularly large from an employee standpoint. My role was to build and lead a strategy and operations team working on the AOL turnaround, very close to the top leaders. I thought it was an incredible opportunity. Also, I love underdogs, and I felt AOL was an underdog at the time.
You joined AOL after nearly eight years with BCG. What was the transition like from management consulting to industry given your extensive consulting background? Were there any surprises or challenges?
When you have been at BCG your entire professional career, you always have some fear of the “real world.” But overall I would say BCG really prepared me well. I was a very quick learner, focused on impact, and able to prioritize – all of this can directly be traced to consulting.
You have worked in many different work environments during your post-consulting career, with 3.5 years under the leadership of Tim Armstrong at AOL and Huffington Post, nearly a year in a high-risk high-reward start-up environment at Fusion, and in the post-merger environment of DigitasLBi. Having worked under a variety of CEOs, what do you find most compelling in a leader?
This is an incredibly hard question. I have been lucky to work with incredible leaders and learn from them. If I had to sum up what makes a great CEO in my opinion, it is two things.
How did you come to know what the best leadership style is for you?
I have a few principles that I believe in, that I have tested and I think work. First, I believe in inspiring by setting up a clear, exciting vision upfront. Second, I believe in frequent communication. I spend time with my teams and very openly talk about what leadership style they prefer, our goals and expectations. Lastly, every leader must develop their team and make it better. So I deliberately spend time thinking about how to accomplish that.
As you know, there has been a lot of discussion recently on the composition of the advertising workforce. How do you see DigitasLBi highlighting diversity as a priority and how do you address these issues within your own role?
The face of our industry does not reflect the consumer marketplace we serve. And that fundamentally means we are not doing our best. This has been and is a huge priority for DigitasLBi and, recognizing the road behind and the distance ahead, we have made tangible commitments to address it. For example, we have gender parity goals for senior leadership. We make sure there are diversity candidates in every recruiting process. We have mentoring programs for diversity groups. We have investments and key alliances with partners to foster the diversity agenda. And a commitment from our leadership to have individual performance metrics tethered to the agency’s diversity goals.
On the topic of the advertising industry, digital and mobile are taking a sizable share of companies’ advertising budgets. How is your company embracing the shift to digital and how are you preparing for that in your own role?
Our heritage as an agency is primarily digital, so the budget shift plays in our favor. I would say that rather than the channel issue, what we see in consumers is a fundamental behavior change in what relates to interacting with brands, and in particular advertising. Ads are not enough to win consumers: nine out of ten people skip them and ad blocking is rising and will become prevalent. Marketers need to create meaningful narratives and targeted experiences that entertain or provide tangible value to their audiences. As an agency, that’s where we are going. Take the best storytelling, data, and technology and blend it into something (not an ad) that people want to talk about.
Looking back on your experiences over the five years since you left the Boston Consulting Group, how has your consulting experience shaped your career since leaving the firm? Could you have arrived to the same point without it?
My BCG experience has definitely shaped my career. The way I approach problems and a large subset of my ‘toolkit’ were acquired during my time at the firm. So it will always be part of who I am.