Ramón Martín: “Failure defines your ability to adapt”

Pablo G. Bejerano

Ramón Martín, a 1991 graduate of IE, has worked at Bosch, DHL and American Express. Now he is the Global Head of Merchant Sales and Solutions at Visa. “My job is for the Visa card to be accepted everywhere in the world.”

He has forged a professional career in many different companies. Not even American Express and Visa are alike. The first is a bank and the second is a payment method. “The only thing they have in common is that they were at a stage of radical change,” says Ramón. When he joined Bosch, they were all beginning to sell robots; when he got to DHL, Europe’s borders were opening up; at American Express he had to handle the arrival of the euro, and at Visa he has come across a technology payments sector that is in full swing, with Facebook, Amazon and other firms joining in droves.

Ramón says he has faced two basic kinds of challenges in his career. One of them is of a professional nature and has to do with defining strategy, and has always come at moments of change. “Which means making lots of decisions and making lots of mistakes.” One has to have good reflexes… and persevere. Decisions are taken through “that mix of data and what your gut tells you, that maybe something is not working now but that it’s going to work.”

The second challenge has to do with leadership and with the difficulty of negotiating internally and externally in a language that is not his mother tongue. But this also has advantages. “You can be much more direct. Everyone accepts that you don’t have to be politically correct. Besides, I can laugh at myself, at my accent,” he explains with a half smile.

In spite of everything, it’s a road full of potholes and twists –that are essential. “Failures are very important because they define your ability to adapt.” A quality that Martín values more than specialization or even experience. “The problem is not in making a mistake, but in making the same one again and again.”

And to avoid this he looks for people who will help him keep from stumbling, people with very different backgrounds from his own. He looks for people who just joined the company and are much more junior than himself. One day he will come up to them and say, “I would like you to be my mentor.” Naturally the first reaction is, “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” Well no, and Ramón says it is a tremendously enriching experience.

Apart from his work, his family, volunteer projects and running in marathons, Ramón is a governor in the World Economic Forum, where he takes on aspects related to the future of tourism. The challenge is to allow people to travel more easily. Each year approximately 70 million people enter the middle class, one of whose main interests is travelling. To facilitate the flow of tourists is to make life easier for these people.

Above all Ramón seeks a balance between his private and professional lives and his outside interests. “Your approach to success changes as your career goes forward,” he says. Any advice? “Take things calmly. Life is long and there’s time for everything.”