Name: Alejandro Contreras
Title: Associate Director
Alejandro is graduated architect with postgraduate degrees in international business and economic cooperation, and international certifications in sustainable buildings, energy transition and renewable energy, sustainable finance, public policy and sustainable development, and ESG (ESG) disclosure frameworks.
He has worked on sustainable development initiatives with municipal governments under UN Habitat's participatory planning and urban observatory frameworks.
As a certified consultant he carried out sustainable building projects for European corporations in the commercial and industrial sectors.
He developed energy transition and climate change policy initiatives for subnational governments in Mexico, and also participated in the implementation of Energy Efficiency Learning Networks promoted by GIZ, with companies and municipal governments. Leaded & co-authored of guideline for energy transition initiatives in Latam for GIZ.
Currently, Alejandro is Associate Director at the Climate and Resilience Hub of Willis Towers Watson, in the Decarbonization and ESG team, with special focus in Latam region.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Alejandro's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
One of the challenges has been the ability to listen to and incorporate concerns and proposals, to reconcile and agree on common objectives, between heterogeneous people and/or groups with different, and even antagonistic, interests, visions and personalities.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Surely the ability to communicate and socialize with people facilitated my acquisition of leadership skills in the different work responsibilities that I have had in 3 decades.
I could identify that one of the first leadership exercises was presiding over the College of Architects, Veracruz chapter, in which I promoted the participation and integration of former presidents as advisors to thematic committees, who provided experience and motivation to young architects; I also facilitated coordination with other organizations of professionals from historically antagonistic groups in the construction sector, under the approach of interdisciplinary collaboration.
The result of this initiative led me to preside over the Council of Business Chambers of Veracruz, an organization that integrates more than 20 business organizations (commerce, industry, transportation, construction, etc.) and whose function is to represent the interests of the private sector and propose initiatives for the development of the state. In this period, it was proposed to work in coordination with the subnational government and key municipal governments, in the development of the agenda for sustainable development. To materialize it, it was proposed to promote the creation of a public-private planning entity at the municipal level, and I was entrusted with the responsibility of integrating the creation document, which had to be authorized by the local Congress, the subnational government and the municipalities. This initiative was approved in January 2022, and I was named the first director.
As founding director, I can highlight the integration of the Participatory Council made up of 40 organizations from the business sector, the social sector, the academic sector, NGOs, unions and public representatives, whose function is to propose and approve by consensus, the sustainable development plans of the municipalities of Veracruz and Boca del Rio.
After that, I was invited to collaborate at the State University of Veracruz (UV), as director of institutional relations, to lead initiatives for sustainable development, with multilateral organizations (World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, UNESCO, UN Habitat, etc. ), to be implemented with municipal governments, SMEs, producers of key agricultural commodities such as coffee, sugar cane, among others.
In later years, UN Habitat invited me to lead some initiatives for the adaptation of methodologies for local economic development and for the implementation of urban observatories, both with participatory planning methodologies with local actors.
At the end of my collaboration at the UV, I moved to Mexico City and participated in various initiatives of the energy reform process, among which I coordinated the energy and sustainability committee of the German Chamber of Commerce, promoted the creation of the Association of Energy Management Companies, which I currently chair; With both organizations, I coordinated the implementation of the initiative of the German Cooperation Agency (GIZ) called Energy Efficiency Learning Networks with companies in the industrial, real estate, offices, commercial and municipal sectors, whose objective was to improve energy use and mitigate GHG emissions. 16 learning networks were implemented.
I currently collaborate at WTW, and coordinate the climate agenda in the LatAm region, which includes the generation of capabilities of company colleagues and the coordination of multidisciplinary teams located in different locations, for the development of projects for clients in countries in the region.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Because I work with colleagues located in Europe, North America and Asia, I start meetings from 6:30 am or 7:00 am, until 5:00 pm, between which there are spaces for the analysis and preparation of documents, and take food. At night I practice yoga, which helps to be in good physical and mental condition.
I occasionally attend face-to-face meetings (in the office, or at events and forums, in which I participate as a speaker)
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
Working with colleagues and teams in remote locations has been an exercise to remember and in my latest responsibilities, I have prepared myself with various training to improve leadership skills, to facilitate interaction and communication that allow the contributions of team members to flow, in which I have sometimes performed the role of translator of different languages and sociocultural contexts.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The biographies of Gandhi and Mandela, and the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda, defined my concept of leadership from the perspective that they are human beings and not machines, with whom ideas are built and key decisions are made to materialize them, as long as they have goals. that grant benefits without harm to others. My current work focuses on leadership of human, social and environmental principles, to generate shared value.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Practicing active listening, transmitting trust and empathy with the people you interact with, recognizing that we learn from others every day, facilitates the building of consensus towards common objectives. It is easier this way than trying to impose ideas or decisions, just for hierarchical reasons.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
Leading the local economic development initiative with UN Habitat, built under a participatory and inclusive methodology, to build consensual projects with diverse and plural social actors, has been one of the greatest professional and personal satisfactions. It was a very relevant social articulation exercise in the context of compliance with the UN Millennium Development Goals.