- Born in: Barcelona
- Age: 45 years
- Number of employees managed: 7,800 between Spain and Portugal
- Business Milestone: Although coming from one of the youngest Ikeas (14 years ago today, 2010), he will lead one of the most important departments worldwide.
It breaks with all forms of senior leadership. With jeans and a jacket, the uniform of this directive is far from what one imagines for the deputy general manager of Ikea, but when Montserrat Maresh brags about something, it is of amazing naturalness and simplicity. And it is, as he repeatedly emphasizes, “the aggressive and committed leader is no longer fashionable. That’s a thing of the past.” Montserrat has been with Ikea for 12 years and is still as enthusiastic as the first day: “Working for this company is a great opportunity, every day is a different project and that leaves me with the illusion of the first I love what I do, if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to continue.” She started out as Marketing Director and returned in 2007 after spending three years in the US running the business in Philadelphia , returned to Spain as assistant to the general manager of Ikea Ibérica, the German Peter Betzel.
ENTREPRENEUR. Because when a Spanish CEO?
MontserratMaresh. I’m in, ha ha ha… No, seriously. When they asked me what I was aiming for in the company, I told them CEO. Without cover. So they told me that in order to get to that position, you had to run a store first, and I agreed to go to the United States. I then returned to Spain in my current position and will be moving to Sweden in March to lead the communications and marketing department on a global scale. All of these phases are stages of a career plan that is supposed to lead me to management. The positions of General Manager and Store Manager are filled by the people who have been with the company the longest, as they must be very committed to the Ikea philosophy.
EMP. What role does Ikea Ibérica play within the group?
mm In terms of sales volume, we are the sixth of the 37 countries where Ikea is present and our sales represent just over 6% of the group’s total turnover.
EMP. And what are the medium and long-term goals?
mm We currently have 11 branches in Spain, 13 in the Iberian Peninsula and two more will open next spring: one in La Coruña and one in Jerez. Our goal is to reach 30 or 40 branches in the next 10 or 15 years. Regarding the qualitative objective, the goal is to continue to be the leading company in the furniture and decoration sector, both in terms of market share and in the minds of customers. What we want is that people who live in the cities where we are present think that the best place to buy furniture at an affordable price for everyone is Ikea.
EMP. The price is one of the trademarks that makes the difference at Ikea.
mm As a general philosophy, we always ask, why does this have to be expensive? We’re trying to lower the cost of things to pass that price economy onto customers. If nobody will see this table from below, then why paint it from below? All materials of the production process are used and this allows us to lower prices. Since opening we have reduced prices by 30%. But in addition, this cost saving carries over to everything: to the shifts, to the superfluous expenses.
EMP. At Ikea, selection is very much based on values… is that a utopia?
mm Good idea, difficult to explain. This means that we can teach people many things, but here you either share some values or you will not feel comfortable. A lot of work is done in collaboration, by consensus. Formal power is worth very little, what matters is informal power. Everything is done in working groups and in each of them you are worth what you say or do, not who you are. Often they tell me to shut up in meetings because there are people who know more than me. You must provide the value.
EMP. Is the direction also based on values?
mm Leadership must be based on values. We carry out annual assessments in which executives are analyzed and management and leadership issues are measured. And you don’t always like the results. Sometimes we find that in a coordinator position there is someone who has a more specialized profile than an executive. And at first he gets the opportunity to improve his leadership skills together with him, but if it doesn’t work out, then the option to continue as a specialist, but without coordination functions.
EMP. You once said that anyone who works at Ikea can become president.
mm One of the rules they gave me when I was in the United States is that you can’t recruit anyone who can’t be president of the company. He had to choose him without thinking about the position he should take at that moment, but analyzing five years in advance what projection that person could have. And I carry that over to the rest of the people. For Ikea the candidate is not just a resource, he is a person who we train and offer a career plan to develop and who will end up being an ambassador for the company. This makes it very difficult to get into Ikea at certain levels. For example, we will never hire a store manager from outside Ikea because the culture issue is very strong, which is why we believe it is better to give opportunities to the people who grow with us than to look for them from the outside .
EMP. And how is talent recognized and managed in a corporation as large and diverse as Ikea?
mm It is very difficult. In the world we are 123,000 employees and in Spain and Portugal 7,800. It’s a very difficult task. We have a pretty good plan for review management and performance evaluation. All employees must have clear goals, a performance appraisal and a development interview. Based on what we have seen, we analyze which aspects of the worker we will work on and propose a development plan for which the worker is responsible.
EMP. But at the executive level, to choose your team, go to the template or drag someone you already know.
mm We’re pretty objective and we have a system called Open Ikea that puts all the job vacancies that are around the world on the intranet and absolutely anyone can apply for those jobs without having to tell their boss.