Iñaki Ereño joined Bupa in 2005 and held a variety of sales and marketing leadership roles across the company’s European and Latin American operations, before being appointed group CEO in 2021.
Born in Melilla, an autonomous city of Spain in north Africa, he has a law degree from Comillas Pontifical University in Madrid, as well as an MBA from the University of Navarra’s IESE Business School in Barcelona. He also completed a postgraduate diploma in advanced management studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
Before Bupa, Ereño held senior positions at Telefónica Group and Carrefour and founded an online retail startup, Netels. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, he has become even more passionate about digitising business, making more treatments and services available online.
Here, he shares his insights into what makes a good leader, the importance of setting goals – and more.
Did you always want to be a CEO?
It wasn’t really my plan, to be honest. It just happened. My original plan was to be a sports star, but then nature did its job, I suppose, and that didn’t work out!
My first role as a CEO was in 1999. I founded a startup during the first wave of the internet called Netels. I led that for three years and then became the marketing director at Telefónica, before joining Bupa as a general manager. Here, I’ve worked across sales and marketing, learning about all the different aspects of the business. And, as I moved up, the opportunity to become CEO came along and I graciously accepted.
What do you think makes a good leader?
I think there are three common qualities. First, you need to have a lot of energy. You need to be enthusiastic about your company, your product or service, and your own work. If you show energy, then you are more likely to get the same response from your staff. You have to lead by example.
Second, I think you need to be inclusive. You need to involve people in your processes; don’t try and just decide everything on your own, without speaking to anyone. Third, you need to be results-oriented. You need to be focused, with your eyes on the prize, always reminding yourself and your team of the targets that have been set and the reason they have been set in the way they have. I think sometimes CEOs can make a mistake by not owning the target; it’s important to not to do that. If you are falling short, you need to ask yourself why and address it immediately.
What do you think your staff think of you?
I hope they think positively! One thing I truly believe is that you have to lead by example. I hope that they can see me working hard and know that I don’t like to cut corners. But hard work also needs balance. I want my staff to know that their life outside their work is also important. I want the time in work to be as productive as possible, but also comfortable and engaging, so that they enjoy doing what they do.
What do you look for when hiring, particularly among your leadership team?
One thing I’ve always tried to do is to make sure that we hire team players. But still I want them to have a winning mindset. I don’t believe in superstars, the team is the superstar. I think there are a lot of lessons that business can learn from sport and this is one of them. People have got to have a collaborative mindset and understand that they are only as strong as their weakest link.
Where we have got a gap in knowledge or skills, I am always looking to plug that. I am never arrogant enough to think there is no room for improvement. And I always think that different perspectives can offer different solutions.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
To choose your own battles. I think you have to know when to fight and when to walk away. You can’t face everything and you certainly can’t face everything alone. You have to be careful how you expend your energy because if you run out of energy, that does not look good for your staff. So you need to be smart about which battles you choose. Of course, for the ones you choose to fight, you need to make sure you win them.
I think another thing is to be happy in everything you do. If you’re not happy at work, you’re not going to be happy outside work and the other way around too. You need to have a positive attitude and think about solutions, rather than just focusing on the problems you have.
What is the biggest challenge in business right now?
I think that would have to be retention. At a time when there is so much choice available the big question for every business is: how can I make my customer more loyal to me? So, there is a big challenge for businesses to personalise their offerings, to tailor them, so people feel like when they make a choice, that choice really reflects what they want and need.
What’s the main driver of change in your business?
Particularly in the healthcare space, I think digitisation is the big force. Covid made us think very quickly about remote care delivery for our patients and remote working for our staff. We’ve got to have the technology in place to cope with this evolving demand.
I think Covid caught a lot of businesses off-guard. Now, we have to make sure that as much of our products and services can be accessed and delivered online. This is to make sure it is more convenient, but also to make sure that we are prepared if, heaven forbid, there was ever another lockdown.
What’s been your proudest achievement in your current role?
One that sticks out was to make sure that every Bupa employee, in every part of the world, has health coverage. That’s close to 100,000 people. It took the board exactly one second to sign it off, because they knew it was the right thing to do.
Which book do you think every business leader should read at least once?
There is a book, The Culture Map by Erin Mayer, which is really good. It is targeted at people with a really international mindset. I found it so accessible and interesting to learn about how business is done in different countries around the world.
What one piece of advice would you give your successor?
I would say to have fun. This is an industry that is always changing and evolving. New technologies are challenging but they are also exciting. It’s best to approach the changing landscape with a positive attitude and mindset. Enjoy the pressure, enjoy the rush, enjoy having to come up with new ideas all the time.