What follows is an interview with Miguel Ángel Uriondo. You will probably know him from previous stages as the intrepid technology and business journalist in media such as Europa Press, La Gaceta de los Negocios, Actualidad Económica or El Español, as the media entrepreneur (far from the “media tycoon”) in Sabemos or Merca2, or as the expert in corporate and institutional communication in Globalia or Adif. Now he advises and gives communication advice – the good kind – at the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda. But that’s not why we bring him to “Nota Mental”, but because of his latest book, “La píldora Serrahima”, where he shares the vision of business, marketing and customer management of Pedro Serrahima, one of the most admired managers in Spain, both by colleagues and rivals.
If you have the opportunity to sit down and chat with Miguel Ángel, you might have a very pleasant time in which you will always, always learn something. And if not, you can always enjoy this interview.
Why was this the right time for a book like “La píldora Serrahima”?
At a time of confusion, of polarisation, of assaults on town halls and capitols. At a time when we are incapable of reaching an agreement on which song to take to Eurovision without killing each other or without suspicions of cheating.
At a time when we are recovering from one of the great crises of our lives and are embellishing it with wars, inflation, volcanoes and storms, I think it is a good time for good news. And the fact that there are managers like Pedro Serrahima is good news for Spaniards. Because it means that there may be more. Which, in fact, there are. When we can’t seem to find a reason to agree, the old Pepephone and O2 have made us feel that something is different and better. This is no small thing.
Are we lacking in good business role models, and what makes Pedro a model worth looking at?
Pedro is often wrong and he tells you so, but he doesn’t lie to you. When faced with complex things, instead of thinking people are idiots, he explains them. And he can do this because he doesn’t make any decision he doesn’t believe in and because he has great confidence in people. Although he tries to explain everything in a simple way, he doesn’t think his clients are idiots. And I’m not saying that doing so doesn’t work. In fact, it works. But he refuses to play that game. And there are more managers like that, more professionals of all kinds everywhere. Pedro’s success plays into the hands of anyone who aspires to be like that.
In your conversations with Pedro, he often talks about doing “what was normal”. If the normal doesn’t seem normal, have we made the inappropriate ordinary? How have we been able to… normalise this?
We talk a lot about this question in the book. And this is the problem that Peter identified best. Companies convinced us that there were unacceptable things that were normal. And we ate it up because, let’s face it, we’ve always thought that way.
“The companies convinced us that there were unacceptable things that were normal”.
At one point in our lives, the normal thing was for the operator to “give” you the mobile phone. But that “free gift” was harder to understand than Barcelona’s wage bill. In reality, they bought cheaper from the manufacturer, charged you the mark-up and interest on the bill and made spectacular margins. Everything was normal, as was the compensation for breaking the “permanence”, the calls to try to sell you things at any time, or the madness of constantly rewarding new customers, or the most rogue ones, to the detriment of the most loyal ones, who are the ones who bring you the most value.
What should be normal in corporate communication but isn’t? And in internal communication?
What I am about to say is complicated, because it goes against the profession that feeds me. But if your company has perfect values and fulfils them, you don’t need so much communication. People will communicate for you, especially nowadays. Communication serves to underline the best things you do and to make the worst things go unnoticed. But if you do everything well, you don’t need too much communication. A curious example is Mercadona. Many people think that all the clickbait news about why people are angry about the disappearance of their favourite Hacendado product is paid for. They´re not! There are people who are really angry and they put it on the networks! Then the media rebroadcasts it because it gets them a lot of visits!
“Communication serves to highlight the best things you do and the worst things go unnoticed. But if you do everything well, you don’t need too much communication”.
That said, it’s very difficult to build a reputation from which you can do something like that. You get a very nice manager who seems to know what he’s talking about and it turns out to be Gowex. And while Pedro is a spectacular spokesperson for the things he believes in, there are others who may be equally principled and not so principled. Maybe that manager needs help explaining what he is.
Because Peter not only has principles, he knows how to explain them. He has a natural ability to communicate. He always said that he did not do any communication and very little marketing. That was a lie. He did it. Guerrilla, but he did it. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need to do it, it’s just that he is capable of programming as well as of writing his clients thrilling letters. And be careful, he had Martín Expósito as his back-up, who is a real animal of internal communication and a journalist you probably heard one day on the radio.
And what about internal? When a company says it is as transparent with its employees as it is with its clients, it is probably true. And a disaster. When Pedro says it, it’s true, so it always ends up building very special families. At the presentation of the book there were colleagues who put their lives on the line for him and rivals with whom he was playing for their quarters. Everyone in the room felt genuine admiration.
Could it be that we have made communication overly complex by building it defensively, with confidentiality agreements, legal issues and politically correct expressions?
Communication is a wonderful and varied toolbox. But it’s like the one I have at home. Half of the things that are in there are no longer of any use to me and get in the way when I have to do something. And they get in the way when I have to think about finding new tools.
When we launched the last huge public job offer in Adif, it was good to launch press releases or explain it to the media. But I still think that going on Ángel Martín’s Twitter feed, and convincing him that it was news he should know about, still seems to me a wonderful success. And I can’t stop thinking about how clever they were at Amazon with the advert for Vengamonjas.I still get that song every now and then. “They’ve taken the bait, they’ve given us money, they’ve saved our bacon”. And they sold something like Prime Video, which sells itself, even though it has the annoying habit of putting in series without the original version track.
In a world where everything changes, communication has to adapt and not be afraid of scorn. I’d rather be fired for failing than for not trying.
“Communication has to adapt and not be afraid of ridicule. I’d rather be fired for failing than for not trying”.
In “La píldora…”, Pedro explains that, on several occasions in his career, especially at Pepephone, he promoted measures that could have been used by customers to takeadvantage of the company without it being theirs, and they did not. Do we tend to think that customers only seek to take advantage of companies? Do we project on users an image that does not correspond to their behaviour?
My brother has spent years blackmailing Vodafone for phones. And yet Vodafone has made a lot of money from him. That relationship is toxic. He has to call every so often to try to cheat a company and the company has to pretend that they are being cheated, that this is not part of their strategy. If your marriage was like that, I wouldn’t bet on it.
Are people good or bad? This was superficially debated by Hobbes and Rousseau, and then analysed in depth in Dan Harmon’s “Community” series 🙂 Experience tells me that in general, and under normal conditions, people are pretty good as a rule, and that the percentage of bastards varies according to the victims who confront them. I’m sure that Pepephone was also highly valued by whoremongers who mistreat their wives or by far-right voters. We are good at some things and bad at others. Jeff picks up his handicapped rival but throws him to the ground when he can get his hands on Annie. People are complicated but, more often than not, when we are treated well we sometimes do the right thing.
I quote Rudyard Kipling’s If above my ability. And zero pretensions, which I discovered in a Flash comic book. But Peter fascinates me strongly because since I’ve known him I’ve had the impression that, with his many faults, he is capable of waiting and not getting tired of waiting. I believe that, being deceived, he doesn’t respond with deceit and that, being hated, he doesn’t resort to hatred. And yet he does not pretend to be good or wise.
I could hack the poem further, but this is the key. That I admire him because I would like to be like him. He is like the Nadal of business. No matter what he achieves, he will always tell you that it is thanks to the people who have supported him. And he will never break a racket.
What three communication lessons would you draw from Pedro’s conversations and experience?
The first is that there is a threshold of honesty in communication that depends solely on your behaviour as a company or as an individual. I strive to do as an individual what Pedro has done in his companies, and that gives me a certain freedom and a certain margin for people to trust me when I say certain things.
The second is that companies can talk to people as people. And that includes not talking to them for two months because you have nothing to tell them, because you assume that everything is going well. I have friends who I haven’t spoken to for years but who I would hug any day of the week. If they really need me, they know I’ll be there.
“Companies can talk to people as people”.
The third is that a letter is better than a communiqué.In the same way that a speech is better than a press release. A letter or a speech can convey emotion, it can contain truth. A press release conveys things, but having a person behind it is fundamental. Because what a person says, what is said as if it were written by a person, rings truer.
For the undecided who have not yet approached the book, what would you say to encourage them to buy it and read it?
Well, since it’s in Kindle Unlimited, if they don’t have the money, they don’t even have to buy it. They take Amazon’s trial period and go for it. I make more money if they buy it, that’s for sure.
I think it’s unfair to speak too highly of the book, because I don’t trust anyone who speaks too highly of their partner or their work. What I can assure you is that everyone agrees that it is very entertaining, something that was very important to me. “I don’t usually read much, but I drank this”. That phrase, which I’ve heard several times to refer to LPS, makes me feel very useful on several levels.
And yes, some people have told me that it has changed them a bit. I don’t think it transforms anyone, because if you’re a bastard it’s probably all Greek to you. But maybe there are good people who, after finishing it, will feel a bit more hopeful. Because hope is deceptive, but it’s the only thing that makes this short, lousy life bearable. In this small-time restaurant where the food is disgusting and the portions are so small, at least Pedro takes care of the service.