Saulo Spaolanse, Country President for the Andean Cluster at Schneider Electric, started his journey with the company in 2003 in his home country: Brazil. Little did he know that he would spend the following seventeen years living and working in three different continents while building a unique career. Three years ago, he went back to South America to lead one of the most important emerging markets of the region. This is his story.
Natalia Pachón: How has your career evolved since you joined Schneider Electric?
Saulo Spaolanse: It has evolved a lot. I decided to join Schneider Electric in Brazil in 2003 with the expectation of having an international career. I always wanted to live abroad and discover new places, as well as working on technology and industries.
I started on the Home and Distribution business and after 6 years, I was invited to take a country management position in Romania, Eastern Europe, which was amazing. I learned a lot about solutions, business services, projects, and how to work and operate in a culture that’s not yours. When you move to a new country, you need to reinvent yourself.
After 3 years in Romania, I was invited to go to Singapore as Country President. I stayed there for five years before taking a new role to animate our Global Country Presidents Community.
There, I discovered that what really motivates me is to make an impact on people, on the business and to contribute in building a better world. Schneider offered me everything to pursue my goals.
Two years ago, I was invited to go back to operations to take the leadership of the Andean Cluster and it’s something that I wanted because of the multi-country experience. Now, I’m here in Colombia, very happy and excited to be part of this world.
NP: 6 years in Brazil, 3 years in Romania, 5 in Singapore and the last ones in Colombia. Could you tell me what are some of your favorite moments of this very diverse career you have had?
SS: Every time I took a new role it was somehow to drive a transformation, to step up, to skill people up, and to drive growth in the business. For me, the best moments are celebrations and achievements.
When we’re able to gain market share in a certain geography, to enhance local culture or to see my colleagues or my team members growing, it’s the best.
And on the business side, I like it when we can sell something new, when we apply our EcoStruxure software and our solutions. I’m very happy when we get customer feedback telling us that were helping them be more efficient, more sustainable.
NP: What are the characteristics of a good leader?
SS: Each leader needs to find its own leadership style, but while doing so, you cannot compromise ethics, reliability, and trust.
You need to be authentic, find your inner soul and learn who you really are, which things you can do very well and which you don’t. Having a clear self-awareness and transform it into a unique management style is the key.
In my career when I was trying to fit to a global standard, I failed. I learned how to be a better leader much more by being myself. And finally, raising the bar and striving for excellence is always required to be a good leader.
“In my career when I was trying to fit to a global standard, I failed. I learned how to be a better leader much more by being myself.”
NP: You’ve been in the Andean Cluster for two years now. What would be the key elements for our audience to understand about the Cluster?
In total, we talk about an approximate of 140 million inhabitants. Spanish is our shared language, but we have a very diverse culture in each country. It’s a very volatile environment, you need to be very fast and agile to succeed here.
Schneider electric has been in the Andean Cluster for over 45 years and we have over 800 employees. We have amazing people here.
NP: What is your leadership vision for this region?
SS: To be leaders in our industry. We’re on the way to achieve it. We want to be the best company on the energy efficiency portfolio and to really help our customers to be more sustainable.
NP: South America has had an important growth in the Energy and Sustainability Services offer, as well as sustainability-related solutions and products. What is your view on sustainability?
SS: I believe that the main challenge on sustainability for South America is that we’re still an emerging market. It’s not easy because if we compare with Nordic or European regions, they are very developed in housing, economy, education, and they have more resources to invest on the planet.
In the Andean Cluster we’re working towards balancing a necessary development on human well-being while protecting our amazing natural resources and all the ecosystems we have here.
We still, as an emerging region, rely too much on extracting the resources of the planet. Therefore, we need to find a balance. That’s why I was happy to see that we won for the first time in South America the Go Green in the City contest. Two Colombian students presented a proposal to make the fishing farms much more sustainable and balanced to protect the planet here.
NP: Given the COVID-19 pandemic and the current world-wide situation, what are some of its effects on Schneider Electric’s Andean Cluster and what are some of the strategies that you foresee for 2021?
SS: 2020 was a very challenging year for the humanity. In the Andean Cluster, we talked about over 100.000 deaths in the region. We have been very affected on the human side as well as on the business side. It’s been very sad, but we always learn.
If I were to take something good from COVID-19, I’ve to mention a few things: First, we learned to do business in a much more sustainable and green way. We have been doing fully virtual customer visits and town halls.
Second, we learned that is possible to do many things from a home office set up. Cities like Bogota, Lima, and others have very heavy traffic, so saving time from that and guaranteeing access to all you need from home it’s been a huge change for us.
Before COVID, I was working almost 100% in the office or directly with customers. I would say from now on, I’ll divide it 50-50 between home office and Schneider’s headquarters. I see the same pattern in the whole organization.
Third, in the business side, we see a massive acceleration in all the digital initiatives. We are selling more virtually, and we see more openness in our solutions for our customers to become more remote.
NP: With the new-normal, how do you manage your work and life balance?
SS: I live in Bogotá, Colombia with my wife and two children. At first, it wasn’t easy because we were all suddenly at home. My kids doing online school, and my wife has her volunteer work. So, it’s been very different, but we’ve learned how to work and live together in the new set up.
In terms of my work-life balance, I’ve always been very conscious of it. When I decided to have children, I decided to be a father who is present, and that requires a lot of effort.
In the current situation, I’m working the same, even a bit more, but I’m not wasting time in commuting, so those two hours that I used to spend in traffic, I’m repurposing them to learn about new topics, spend more time with my kids and my wife, and exercise together. I love sports so I always end my day either running or cycling.
I don’t delegate my agenda; I take control of my priorities. We must balance the urgent demand of work while guaranteeing our family is well taken care of.
NP: If I asked you to choose three words to define what is it like to work at Schneider Electric, what words would you choose and why?
SS: I’ll say exciting because we never get bored, we always do something new, we are always challenged by the business.
The second one could be passionate. I love what I do, I love the company culture. I have a high degree of respect towards management because I really see they walk the talk. And I respect my boss, my peers, and my team members.
And third one, I’d say meaningful because we are committed to a greener planet. So, it’s much more exciting to work in a company that is doing something good for the planet. I’m very proud of the world that I’m leaving my children.
NP: What is coming next for you in your career?
SS: It’s a good question! I don’t know what’s next for me. In Schneider we never know and that’s the beauty of the company. If you asked me 10 years back if I imagined myself in Singapore or if I’d be in Colombia today, I would’ve answered ‘no’.
I always make my career decisions by asking myself three questions: can I make an impact in people, in business, and in society with what I do? Who is going to be my boss? And, finally, is this good for my family?
I’m a global nomad, I love living abroad. I love discovering new places, and new people. But to be honest, I don’t know what’s next! I’ll do my part and see what comes with it!