A conversation with Carlos Jaramillo, Academic and Finance Center Director at IESA


Carlos Jaramillo is the Academic and Finance Center Director of IESA, the most internationally recognized school of management in Venezuela, founded in 1965 and with a 10-year presence in Panama. Jaramillo is an engineer from Simón Bolívar University in Caracas (1982), has an MBA, with a concentration in Finance from IESA (1984) and a Ph.D. in Administration from the University of Connecticut, USA (1994).

In this interview, the researcher and academic reflects on the value of a business school in the Panamanian context, tells us about IESA operations at the City of Knowledge and highlights the importance of committing to sustainable development, especially for the new leaders that are trained in their classrooms.

IESA arrived in Panama more than 10 years ago, why was the country chosen as a point to expand the academic offer of the University?

We have always thought Panama is “the door” of Central America and after having made our analysis of the region, we concluded Panama is a place with great opportunity and potentiality.

The decision to establish the University in the City of Knowledge campus was, in a way, a fortunate coincidence. We found that it has everything: not only is it very akin to us in terms of objectives, but it also offers us many benefits in terms of physical space, technology, visas: a community of organizations with which we link to.  

I doubt there are many locations in Latin America with so many attractions for a business school or for any organization working in the field of knowledge development.

Lessons from the past years?

The decision to come here was good, yet we found that processes are somewhat slow. The fact that our countries have so many things in common, such as language and idiosyncrasy, does not mean that establishing a school Panama is the same as doing it in another region of the same country, as we did in Venezuela. Along the way, we have had to learn the specificities of Panama as a country.

How would you define the added value that IESA brings to the local academic offer and if I had to highlight something of it, what would it be?

We are a business school with four international accreditations and offer a very up-to-date curriculum. I believe that one of the things that we contribute to the educational community in Panama is that our management curriculum is of the state of the art of business schools. In addition, we have a lot of experience in the public sector. Although our master’s programs are oriented, to a large extent, towards the private sector, we have extensive expertise in issues relevant to the management of public affairs that people in the private business area should understand. In Panama, we offered two versions of very successful public academic management programs, with which we made an important contribution at the local level: in being able to design a good curriculum for career officers. Our plans next year include evaluating offering these programs once more.

What type of training is the local market asking for?

In general, in our experience, the Panamanian public is very interested in subjects that help organizations to have internal harmony: such as teamwork skills, coaching, etc. Contrary to what we originally thought, Panama being a banking hub, we believed that there would be a lot of demand of financial issues linked to banking, but that has not necessarily been the case. Our clients from that sector, rather than looking for conventional academic programs in traditional finance, tend to look for training in how to create high-performance teams, teams that are well integrated, that can better handle uncertainty and think more strategically, that can think outside the box.

Is this one of the specificities of the Panamanian market that you mentioned before?

We’ve identified two large “blocks” of demand. A very specialized one, by which one usually understands Master’s in marketing, finance, organizational development, finance, etc.; however, we have found that large companies demand academic programs very similar to those Panamanians look for. Organizations today are concerned about getting people to work harmoniously and make the different departments establish bridges to better understand each other and facilitate changes. In the end, this surely impacts competitiveness. Whatever makes internal communication flow better, ends up benefiting the whole organization in many ways.

What is the ideal portrait of an IESA graduate in Panama?

For me, the ideal graduate is a person who understands “the great dilemmas,” who is able to seek help within the organization to get answer to these dilemmas. We do not believe so much in specialists -although they are needed, I think we need more people capable of getting things moving within the organization and able to look for solutions. On this occasion you are visiting Panama to give a conference on the role of sustainable management as an important factor to attract investment.

What role do you think business schools play in fostering social change by forming the leaders of the future?

Business schools can greatly influence a better understanding of corporate governance issues. In that sense, the curriculum of business schools has been evolving quite ab it. For example, when I did my MBA, schools were very focused on transmitting to graduates skills in very specific subjects: strategy, marketing, finances, etc. However, nowadays we realize that business school graduates must understand much more than what corporate governance does and what impact it has, particularly regarding shareholders.

The world is transforming the way it invests: as long as we have large blocks of “passive” investors, there must be someone who looks after the interests of these investors. In that sense, students are called to better understand these great dilemmas. Today, much more than 30 or 40 years ago, we are more aware that a company’s employees are empowered, whether they realize or not. This empowerment puts the employee in a position to exert a great impact with his or her decisions. The great challenge is to ensure a culture company constantly reinforces good behavior, not only in theory but also in practice.

What does this mean in terms of academic training?

Rather than just include sustainability or issues of corporate governance as a subject of the school’s curriculum, we must understand that these issues are cross-cutting, that they have to appear everywhere and be part of the daily discussion. As business schools, this requires us to learn to teach these subjects better. This also means that teachers can no longer work in “silos”. If you are very good at math or accounting, you cannot just stay there. Teachers must now make many more connections to demonstrate how their basic disciplines are parts of a whole. Finally, we are beginning to understand how to try to form employees that can successfully handle these soft issues, so that they can be part of a resilient culture, in terms of values.  All of this goes beyond just having ethical codes and principles but doing anything with them.

What impact does IESA want to have in Panama?

Our goal is to become a relevant local actor. In that sense, we are very focused on creating academic content much more adjusted to local issues. Logistics, for example. Panama is a great logistics operator and our idea is to develop specific academic subjects for that sector. Also, the process of financial sophistication of the Panamanian population: since Panama has a dollarized economy, the economic conditions are much more stable than in other countries of the region, and we are very interested in the financial behavior patterns of Panamanians. For instance: what strategy will local banks implement to adapt to international products that are already functioning elsewhere?

In light of all this, what can we expect from IESA in the coming years?

You can expect we will become “more Panamanian.”

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