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7 Questions with Juan-Manuel Lopez-Zafra
7 Questions with Juan-Manuel Lopez-Zafra
Name: Juan-Manuel Lopez-Zafra
Current title: Chief Data Officer
Current organisation: Statpro 2000
My passion and background led me to found Statpro 2000 back in 2007, a boutique, very specialized consulting firm with the aim of helping organizations in the transformation of data into knowledge. I also lecture statistics and decision-making methods in CUNEF, one of the leading business schools in Spain, where I'm also in charge of the MSc in Data Science for Finance, which I helped to found 5 years ago. I earned my PhD in Universidad Complutense back in 1995, where I started my lecturing career. Proud member of Institute of Actuaries, Madrid, and author of two books, "Retorno al patrón oro '', about the gold standard, and "Alquimia. Cómo los datos see están transformando en oro'', about the increasing importance of data in business.
Look for me in the countryside more than in the heart of the city. I love skiing, fishing and hiking.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
When I started my consultancy firm 15 years ago, one of the most complicated issues I had to face was the lack of data culture. It's been a long way since then, but I still think that data literacy is still one of the most challenging tasks for a small firm.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I've a strong background in business and statistics. I'm also an actuary. I'm fluent in three languages. And, after more than 10 years as a lecturer, I raised the ability to understand the problems of my partners (my students) and translate them into possible solutions. When you mix all of these with strong honesty and ethics when approaching your partners, the path comes clear.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I wake up early in the morning, read some news, and spend some time tweeting. Meetings and readings and research before lunch, then one hour walking, and then back to my desk for more research for my partners. We used to have dinner all together at home, the really best moment of the day, and watching some series with my wife in front of the TV set before inspecting Twitter when going to bed.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Listen carefully, understand deeply, act honestly and firmly. Be ready to adapt to the changing environment, and once you're connected to your partner, be loyal.
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?
Exploratory Data Analysis, by John W. Tuckey. It's not a read-before-you-sleep book, it's a technical one on statistics, but the way Tuckey presents the insights you can get from data, and the way to explore and mine structured data helped me to understand how to approach my partners, usually afraid of numbers. Switching from complex information into easy-to-understand charts is one of the most powerful lessons I've learned. And understanding, as he states, that the data may not contain the answer had a deep impact on the approach I share with my partners.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
Listening once, listening twice. And making others understand that risky approaches are always worth the possible failure.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
Years ago, we were trying to get hired for a research project. The task was hard, forecasting the impact of autonomous cars in different markets. Our competitors were big consultancy firms, heavily experienced, financially sound, and we were quite small, as we still. Our previous experience in handling data (really big data) and the fact of being honest, "listen, we cannot compete with Goliath, but you will have the insights and the forecast in a simple and reliable way, with absolute transparency of the models" was definitive. We drove the road together, we learned together, we succeeded together.