Anna Gener Surrell
President and CEO of Savills Aguirre Newman Barcelona
1st Vice President of Associació 50a50
Trustee of the Fundació Museu Picasso
Member of the Board of Directors of the PIMEC (Patronal de la Pequeña y Mediana Empresa de Catalunya).
Member of the Executive Commission of Barcelona Global
Member of the Board of Governors of Círculo Ecuestre
Board-member of the Observatorio Mujer Empresa Economía de la Cámara de Comercio de Barcelona
Trustee of the Fundación Cares
Member of the Executive Committee of Barcelona Global
Member of the Board in Spain of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
Member of the Advisory Board of the Instituto de Salud Mental de la Abogacía – Mental Health Institute of Legal Professions (ISMA-MHILP)
I had the pleasure of interviewing Anna Gener Surrell, CEO of Savills Aguirre Newman, a powerful woman, a mother of a child, and, most importantly, one of the kindest persons we have had the pleasure to meet ever. She is highly aware on issues which are extremely important for the Mental Health Institute of Legal Professions (ISMA), such as women’s empowerment, to foster women’s talent in decision-making positions, gender equality, and mental health.
On behalf of ISMA, I would like to thank her devoted work for the organization, and her openness to be interviewed.
1. How did your passion for architecture and painting come about?
Since I was a little girl, I felt very attracted by the contemplation of beauty in general, because I noticed that it improved my mood.
We find beauty in the different forms that works of art adopt; painting, architecture, sculpture… It is universal beauty because it has been admired, generation after generation, uninterruptedly for centuries.
But fortunately, beauty is also manifested, generously and abundantly, in our daily lives: in a mosaic, in a tapestry, on the façade of a building… I love stairs; they seem to me to be a precious architectural element.
Learning to recognize the beauty around us and to enjoy it to the full should be one of our vital priorities. Beauty is not something superficial, because it impacts us psychologically and can help us feel better.
“Talking about the relevance of architecture in our lives is as essential as talking about the importance of our physical and mental well-being. Buildings speak to us, challenge us, touch us deeply because, in addition to providing us with physical protection, they also impact us from a psychological point of view” (Architecture, 21.01.18)
2. To what extent does the architecture (of a building) influence the well-being of the workers of a company?
Architecture has a profound impact on us because it is the physical framework in which we develop to rest, work, train, relax, eat, love, have fun…
It is in workspaces that we should pay more attention, as it is an environment in which we spend many hours and where situations of tension can occur.
Several studies show that an adequate design of the workspace generates physical and mental well-being, propitiating happier, more committed, more self-demanding and more productive professionals.
Some aspects that must be taken care of are thermal comfort, acoustic insulation, ergonomics and care of the olfactory sense. Water treatment and consumption, air quality control and light management are also essential. All these elements have a very powerful impact on our mood and psychological well-being.
You say “referents are powerful.”
3. Which were yours?
Indeed, referents are fundamental because they can inspire us and give us the strength to achieve our goals.
I have been fortunate to have good role models around me; my parents and many of my trainers have provided me with excellent role models. In the last decade, my great reference has been my husband, who gives me a precious point of view.
Our society should be able to generate references of professionals who not only have professional success but above all, know how to enjoy their personal, family and social life; the vital spheres that make up a balanced existence.
Shortly before I turned 40, I began to feel an enormous responsibility towards younger women. I was aware that I had to help them achieve their goals and go as far as they set out to go. It was then that I began to get involved in various organizations that work to ensure that women participate in business decision-making spheres in a balanced way with their male colleagues. Reaching these spheres of power is an important milestone because they constitute the spaces from where you can change the things you don’t like and set in motion the projects in which you believe.
You spent six years working in two of the world’s most important financial auditors. Then you went to the world of real estate consulting.
4. Why did you decide to change your professional sector?
The auditor’s job involves following a procedure that is very defined, in a way, you represent a piece within a big gear. This forces you to be extremely compliant in your obligations because if you fail, the work of others will also fail. I have very good memories of this stage because I worked surrounded by people my age with profiles similar to mine, so I felt integrated very easily. But I don’t miss the long working days I endured.
In my humble opinion, requiring your professionals to work so many hours, sustained over time, is a very archaic way of managing a company, as there is an excellent drain of talent.
When I left auditing, I joined Aguirre Newman as a real estate investment analyst, convinced that I would develop a very financial type of work, similar to what I did when I was an auditor.
However, as soon as I started working, I realized it was a job that required important business and relationship skills. The point is that I felt comfortable behind my Excel, doing analysis, but I didn’t see myself with social skills. I spent several months thinking I had the wrong job. But little by little, I gained self-confidence as I achieved goals.
After a few months, I discovered, with great joy, that I was good at commercial and relational work. At last, I was able to relax and began to enjoy my work as I had never done before.
5. How do you manage stress and work under pressure in your daily life?
Periodically I suffer from stress peaks, which over the years I have learned to manage, paying a lot of attention to my physical and mental health.
I practice meditation and yoga regularly. I also listen to music, read, write and live a socially active life, which helps to fill me with energy and good humor.
Mental balance is an extremely delicate state for some personalities, especially when they are subjected to chronic stress. Despite the abundance of cases, mental illness and psychological disorders are still taboo in management environments.
From the Mental Health Institute (of Legal Professionals) you are doing an extraordinary job in this sense, because you make mental illness visible and you help to find the right channels to treat it. Legal professionals are fortunate to be able to count on you.
“The best boss is not the one who gets more customers or the one who has more knowledge of the business, but the one who has more emotional intelligence and knows how to treat the people around him properly. The capacity for empathy and social interaction is an essential attribute so that the energy of the human team focuses on the objectives of the company, and is not wasted on internal misunderstandings” (Los jefes, 19.07.18).
6. What can we do to humanize companies?
Very often, business environments have been excessively focused on making profits, neglecting the value they brought to their clients and the treatment they gave to their professionals.
However, indeed successful companies have already realized that to attract the best talent, and thus get the best customers, they must look beyond the result and be governed by other values. They are those companies in which we would all like to work because we connect with them in a particular way.
To begin with, they love what they do; they have a high level of commitment to the work they do and carry it out with awareness and pleasure.
Secondly, they are companies that have made a deeper reflection and have set themselves a more complex challenge, beyond earning money; they also want to contribute to improving society.
But the essential thing about these organizations is that they take care of their human teams; they transmit values to them (ethics, professionalism, coherence, and humility), and urge them to do things in a certain way.
Taking into account the pressure and the fulfillment of the company’s objectives,
7. To what extent are you contributing to this humanization at Savills Aguirre Newman Barcelona?
Our organization operates in a highly competitive and demanding environment. I am aware that what is expected of me is to comply with the budget set by our shareholders.
However, we have always been clear that we wanted to work in a certain way; with ethics and with responsibility.
After the crisis, I realized that to be a good professional, I not only had to make sure that my company made money, but also that I had to get involved in generating a positive impact on my environment, without expecting anything in return.
For me, Barcelona’s social, economic and cultural progress is a firm commitment; for this reason, I collaborate with many associations and institutions in our city to which I dedicate time, energy and a great deal of enthusiasm.
“Just as 2017 was a disastrous year for me, 2018 is proving to be an extraordinary year” (Things you learn when you receive an award, 8.06.18).
8. Does saying publicly that something in your life, whatever it is, has gone wrong or has been a failure show weakness in a leader?
Quite the opposite; from my point of view, messianic leadership, with a strong and unquestionable figure that everyone follows, is an obsolete model.
Modern leadership is defined, firstly, by having a vision of what one wants to achieve and how to reach the goal set; and secondly, by being a close, inclusive, humble figure who recognizes mistakes and successes, who consults his decisions and seeks great consensus; he never shows his strength by imposing himself.
No essential objective can be achieved with the vision of a single person. The problems of society are so complex that they require that leaders rest on a group of people with diverse points of view, but with a specific mental connection.
I have never been afraid to show a different sensitivity or explain my failures or frustrations. I write about it often, and I publish it because I think I might be able to help someone who is in a similar situation. And the possibility that my experience might be useful to someone, I don’t know if it makes me stronger or weaker, but it certainly makes me feel infinitely better about myself.
Imagine that I want to work in your company, I show that I am a competent person and in the interview, I say: “Anna, I will do my best and work hard. But I may not be able to absorb all the work on certain occasions because I have an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
9. What would your answer be?
First of all, I would congratulate you on your courage. The sad reality is that competitive business environments, such as consulting or law, are often hard contexts, where manifesting difference (mental, physical, spiritual) is very complicated because uniform and adaptive profiles are still valued.
Although the world is changing very quickly and adopting new values, business life continues to be anchored in dynamics that undervalue diversity, in such a way that professionals avoid showing their problems, illnesses and even their emotions, for fear of being discriminated against or of being considered weak professionals.
We have to change this poor business culture. The company is a pillar of society and must contribute to spreading the right values.
Being able to communicate with your employer that you have an OCD should not penalize you; we have to work so that business environments are humanized.
10. If you had to hire the legal services of a law firm, would you take into account their diversity and well-being policy when hiring them?
Without a doubt, I would take this into account. Unfortunately, there is still a little culture in this area, but I am convinced that in a few years, diversity and well-being policies will be a fundamental requirement when hiring. We must do what we can to speed up this process and ensure that these much-needed policies are put in place as soon as possible.