When Marcela Laguzzi first saw a hydroelectric power station as an eleven-year-old girl, it left quite an impression on her; it made the land fertile and provided Buenos Aires with renewable electricity! The social impact of your deeds, that’s what’s important.
How unplugged is your career?
“Born and raised in Argentina, I realized at a young age that I needed to go abroad in order to acquire the best knowledge and a broader perspective on business. Therefore, armed with a degree in hydraulic engineering, I left at the age of 28 and spent three years working in a country known for its water management expertise: the Netherlands. I worked on innovative water projects in many countries through top institutes such as Deltares. I wanted to make a contribution to society, to work towards a higher goal, to leave behind my footprint. I was always most inspired by my missions abroad; you contribute in-depth knowledge and gain life lessons in return. Business is put into proportion in other countries, particularly in the developing world. You look for practical, flexible solutions to small and big problems. The people in those countries often have no choice but to improvise and take a creative approach to every challenge. They are able-bodied and resilient. And I suppose I am, too, to a certain degree. The more challenges there are, the closer I am to myself and the people. For example, on a mission to Morocco, I spent days training engineers despite my poor command of the French language. These people were so happy with my help that they accepted me into their family networks. And they kept inviting me back! In that way I have had some beautiful experiences and made some great contacts in my career.
As the Head of Flood Protection and Water Management for the Province of South-Holland, the current focus of my desire to innovate is on themes that transcend the province itself. Climate change and the fact that we want to keep building in the Netherlands confronts us with numerous dilemmas. How can we protect the Netherlands from water for the next 100 years?”
Can you improvise well as a leader?
“Water is an excellent metaphor for how I see myself; water needs to flow. I’m a go-getter, always looking for openings and opportunities. The more space and the more ‘unplugged’ I am, the more creative I become. I don’t want to run the risk of losing myself in a role. When I became a manager years ago, I had to get used to the fact that people saw me differently. Suddenly everything I said carried weight. I became less spontaneous. I didn’t like that, as my enthusiasm was one of my strengths. But I have since found the right balance. In the public sector culture, there is a strong focus on control. In such an environment it remains a challenge to create enough scope within the rules of good management in order to enable our partners, my people and myself to operate more creatively and more efficiently. This requires trust in one another. And trust isn’t possible without good agreements and a good relationship. Using a top-down approach to influence people is old-fashioned; it’s important to influence one another on the basis of equality. I invest in relationships and use humor. I think it’s important to be on speaking terms with everyone, even if an assignment isn’t successful the first time.”
How do you stay on the ball?
“I’m not afraid to take on new challenges. My mottos is ‘honrar la vida’ – honor life. To me that means: don’t stay on the sidelines, but jump in and participate. Singing and dancing through the corridors; work and pleasure go hand in hand. I want to set that example for my own team too. I take risks, give people the opportunity to prove themselves in something new and take the time for reflection. My program at De Baak left me with a valuable network. And now that the program has finished, we still make company visits to each other twice a year. We accomplish a lot together and help each other. In my life I have come to the conclusion that leaving behind a footprint is about the little things.”
Anja de Boer, Senior Program Director (email@example.com)