“I see the IEN as being a connector.” Interview with Guayente Sanmartín, an IEN Foundation Trustee
Guayente Sanmartín, vice president and worldwide general manager of HP’s Wide Format Printing business, is one of the latest additions to the Institute of North American Studies Foundation’s Board of Trustees. We wanted to talk to her about her personal and professional experience in the USA.
When you ask her about it, the first thing she talks about is her family and her feeling of belonging. She considers that the expression that defines her, primarily, is family belonging. She also likes to define herself as being enthusiastic about innovation. She loves to follow innovation processes, and this passion has surely led her to become an executive business achiever. Throughout her professional career, she has been in different HP organizations, functions and businesses, and held the position of Worldwide Vice President and General Manager. As a product business leader, she is happy to deliver solutions and products to customers, focus on people and generate talent. She holds a managerial role in a sector where women are still the exception. This position and her empathy have forged her commitment to supporting women, and she defines herself as a believer in women.
You have been living in the USA for work for five years: first in California and then in Houston, and you have also been in Singapore. You consider that people should move around the world, so I understand that your experience has been very positive.
Us Europeans tend to think that we are trees with deep roots that cannot be moved, and we doubt whether we would be able to plant that tree in another place. It is true that trees are planted with very little soil, but they can take root anywhere with a little fertilizer and water.
It is great to feel proud of where we are from, but knowing that we are able to set ourselves up anywhere will give us a great deal of security as individuals.
We really like the United States in particular for both family and work. You are constantly facing challenges and inputs that make you grow as a family, as a person and on a professional level. You always have the option to learn, to change and to meet people who think and live in a very different way to you. You arrive in Palo Alto and, what with the sun beating down, the bluer than blue sky and people’s energy and happiness, you feel like you can do anything. You feel like everything is possible.
The surroundings help.
They help you to believe and to receive input. Everything is very expensive, but you have access to many free activities to learn. There is no end of opportunities and groups of people to do things and set up businesses with. Everything is invigorating. We loved that. On a personal level, the public education system was also a good fit for our daughter. It is very open, collaborative, project-based education with a very broad vision of the world and highly vocational teaching staff. I also have to say that, although I studied in Spain, I do not feel like I have missed out by not studying in the US. The skills and knowledge you acquire at Spanish universities are just as good as at American universities. But the USA gives you personal strength to set yourself challenges from primary school. They educate you to believe that you can always go further.
What shocked me about the working environment was that professional profiles are very specific. People want to know exactly what their responsibilities are, what tasks they have to do and what they have to hand in to do a decent job. I do not know if there is a cultural reason for it, but workplaces are very clearly defined. Nowhere else in the world — and I have lived in Singapore managing the whole of Asia — have I had to define the tasks in a workplace so specifically as in the United States. Maybe it is linked to the fact that people can be fired freely and they want to know what they will be evaluated on.
I highly recommend spending time in the States. It nourishes you so much that it makes you grow as a person, as a family and as a professional.
You explain it with contagious enthusiasm. I understand that this feeling is what is making you join the Institute of North American Studies as a trustee when you return.
It is one of the reasons, yes. Those of us who are in certain positions, like me, have a responsibility: not just to our company, but also to the community we are in. HP has great values and wants to have a positive impact on our community. It is better if the community benefits from these options that the United Sates is offering. Know what is on offer and whether you want to go there or not.
Another of the reasons is the challenge. It was proposed that I join the Board of Trustees at a time of transition for the IEN, a process of change that will ultimately return the organization to its roots. My experience and connection with the United States could help to build these bridges of cultural connection between the United States and Catalonia. That is the challenge that attracted me the most.
The IEN has an important value which is its history, and the qualitative weight that accompanies it. Until now, when people thought about the IEN, they thought of a well-known American English school with a long history. In this new stage, the IEN is currently working in three interconnected spheres: a program of academic activities, a program of cultural activities and a link between people and institutions. What do you think we will see at the IEN in the future?
When I think about it, the word “connector” comes to mind: a connection between cultures, someone who helps raise awareness of culture in the broadest sense of the word. Having knowledge allows us to go there to study, to work and to live, and to be able to understand what is happening in the political world. I see the transformation on the path: “education for connection”.