Carlos Cavallé: "My First Chair at IESE Was a Stool"

25 Jul 2014

STI founder Carlos Cavallé shared this interview with IESE's magazine Seven Days, in its July 21, 2014 edition. Professor Cavallé was dean of IESE Business School for 17 years. He has been professor emeritus at IESE since 2003.

Carlos Cavallé joined IESE in 1958, the year the business school was founded. During his tenure he has been both at the helm of the school as Dean, a role he assumed for 17 years, and professor. Since 2003 he has been professor emeritus and today, at age 80, he keeps up the same momentum as on the first day he stepped through the door. Just before his departure to Rome for a Social Trends Institute meeting, he met us at his office to share some thoughts on the past, present and future of IESE.

What does it mean for you to have just turned 80 and to have dedicated 55 of those years to IESE?

During all this time at IESE, I have found many opportunities for personal development, and it is indeed something to be appreciated. That is something that was more difficult to see at the very beginning when we were just a handful of people and had almost nothing but our enthusiasm. For example, my first chair at IESE was a draftsman’s stool. From the days I sat on that stool to what IESE is today, I have been lucky enough to witness many opportunities for personal development. In particular, I have enjoyed the opportunity to establish relationships with people of great human and professional caliber both within and outside IESE and throughout the world, something I would have never predicted in those early days.

You were Dean of the school for 17 years. What do you recall as the greatest difficulties during that time?

More than difficulties, we found opportunities. During my time presiding over the Board, we were able to develop important projects like the international expansion of the school, establishing  financing possibilities, promoting research, and working towards becoming one of the best business schools in the world. I still remember the day when Business Week called to tell us that IESE had been recognized as the number one in executive education. These were without a doubt excellent opportunities. However, there were surely others that we were unable to take advantage of. 

That Board is particularly credited with internationalization. What did IESE learn during that process?

Some believe that this was the most important achievement.Yet in fact, the most fundamental achievement was the economic consolidation of the school. Without financial worries, we could envision other projects more clearly and more freely. This consolidation actually took place during a very trying time, the second oil crisis. The most important thing that happened during that time was that we learned how to think. Because in order to actually do anything, you have to think first. So we made strengthening the institution a top priority. We also prioritized consolidating training for a diverse and international student body, the transformation of IESE into an open space not of teaching but of learning, and, in establishing the humanistic and ethical foundation for business administration, always keeping the fundamental human attributes of people in mind.

Where do you get the level of energy necessary to stay this active and involved in new projects like the Social Trends Institute?

I just simply keep going, which is what a lot of people do. The important thing is not to let opportunities slip by. Specifically, I am striving to get the most out of the Social Trends Institute: bring together the most relevant intellectuals, and through interdisciplinary projects, attempt to understand the social trends that are changing the world in which we live. While there is good health and God gives us strength, we keep going. The key is to aspire to take advantage of the opportunities that life gives us.

You have said on various occasions that staying ahead has been key to IESE. Is it still a fundamental characteristic of the school?

Always. In retrospect, if we review the important things that have happened at IESE since it was founded, we can conclude that in practically all those aspects, we were the first in Spain, in Europe, and perhaps in the world. Some of these achievements may not have been earth-shattering, but they have had a fundamental importance for IESE. For example, the consolidation of the alumni association and international programs, the formation of research chairs and centers, and partner companies, etc. In making these strides, we have almost always been the first. This has very much defined IESE’s track record and in my mind it still is completely necessary.

One of IESE’s most important contributions, which has also supported the development of the school, has been viewing people and society through the Christian sense of life, one of the greatest lessons of Saint Josemaria Escrivá, the founder and inspirational force behind IESE. This Christian view is, as is well known, one of the great pillars of Western civilization. As part of the Christian view of life, we have hit on one of the principle keys, in other words, the ability that we have as people to seek out the good in others for their own well-being and not for our own ends. This expression of Christianity has a huge potential within the field of management, especially keeping in mind that since the early days of IESE, we have defined organizations as the people who actually form them. However, in the West in general and in Europe in particular, many business schools—both European and American—have not yet understood the importance of this approach. From within IESE we can and should keep working to help business schools and companies recognize this reality.