INCAE's master's degrees develop leaders

Erika Bernal: "At INCAE we are dedicated to developing leaders, developing talent and that has always been my thing"

May 19 2023
Maria Fernanda Vargas Cordova

To understand what makes INCAE different, it is not only necessary to know its students and the academic quality of our faculty, but also to know the leaders who are at the helm of the number one business school in Latin America from different areas, who breathe and cultivate INCAE's culture and purpose in their teams.

We talked with Mrs. Erika Bernal, Administrative and Financial Director of INCAE Business School, who is also an independent member of Boards of Directors and a consultant on leadership, talent development and strategic marketing. 

Her almost 30-year experience in the pharmaceutical industry, where she held different leadership positions, until she became the first woman in Latin America to assume the position of President and General Manager of the Bayer group in Central America and the Caribbean, left her one of the most great learnings: You don't need to be an expert in every subject, you need to know how to lead talented people and ensure high-performance teams. 

In her office, with a captivating view of the Costa Rica campus, she welcomed us to invite us to learn more about her and what makes her believe in INCAE's mission and translate it into her daily work.

How would you define your personal purpose and how does it align with INCAE's mission?

Since I joined INCAE, I have felt very identified because I am convinced that the value of any company or institution lies in its people, they are its most important resource. So working with people, developing their talents, their abilities, developing leaders, has always been my thing. Arriving at INCAE and seeing that here we transform lives is verifying that we are aligned in what I am most passionate about.

Why are inclusion and diversity key in leadership? 

That is another topic that has fascinated me at INCAE. We have a great cultural, gender, intergenerational diversity; for me it is quite enriching to understand how to deal with different generations, that we have them represented here in all their expression. The most important thing is the inclusion part, to guarantee that diversity of thought is what makes us have more accurate results in the current changes and challenging situations that we have to face.

How do you put yourself into action in an INCAE class?

Starting with our students, which is our focus, what we do at INCAE is to train those leaders with the capacity to manage these changes that are increasingly accelerated and it is very important that they see the relevance of inclusion. 

How does Incae help professionals to empower themselves?

It is part of leadership development, what I have seen, and that is why I commented that INCAE's purpose has been what has attracted me the most: working on people development, which translates into that life transformation. All students tell us: that they have a before and an after. So that transformation that they experience within the campus, they can put into practice because they are convinced of what they are learning and of what must be implemented with clear, practical ideas, not only from knowledge, but also from the human part.

After your experience in different industries, what motivates you to be part of INCAE's purpose?

There have been many years of experience and confirm that I am in the right place for all those years. Because when one is working in sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry in the private sector, as I worked, what I have been able to confirm is that many times we are working for results, for sales figures, for objectives, but at the end of the day, you have to work with and in people. Because when these people are motivated, when they are passionate about what they do, they bring out their best version, as I say, and that best version leads to the best result. But, what happens, that many times, with all that pressure we are so focused on the result, that we forget about people and it is very common to see this behavior in some leaders.

And as I mentioned, if one as a leader focuses on people, on getting that best version, on developing their leadership, then the results are given by themselves and that is more sustainable for good performance, what I also call teams. high performance

You were the first Latina woman to take over as CEO and General Manager of the Bayer group in Central America and the Caribbean. What challenges did you encounter in terms of leadership and what did you learn from this role?

It was a very nice stage, I thought it was going to be the most challenging in the sense of experience, I think this is the first thing I can share, one specializes in certain areas, I studied marketing, all my life my passion was marketing. I entered the pharmaceutical industry because I also found there a way to do good for patients, that was what motivated me and also part of my purpose; and when the opportunity arose to move to a CEO position, it was a position where I was unaware of some areas, such as legal, human resources, I was also in charge of production plants, different areas that one does not know, I realized that One is in that position not because of technical knowledge, which is something that INCAE is very clear about: knowledge and experience are very important, but also that leadership skills are becoming increasingly important. 

In the end it is not how much one knows, it is the ability one has to lead diverse people so that they can form high performance teams and that was the most enriching learning for me, that I did not have to be the expert, but that I had to ensure Have the best on the team. I can share that it was the professional stage that I enjoyed the most, despite this uncertain and challenging situation at first, the secret is to have teams that have that talent in their areas, that each one is an expert, that is diverse, and that one as a leader achieves that inclusiveness.

What skills do you consider to be key for those who want to assume this type of leadership role today? 

There are many, but there is one that would seem the simplest of all, but it is the most difficult to apply and it is listening, because many times, and especially when there are already leadership positions in which there is extensive knowledge, listening is very difficult. work and then active listening costs even more. Another very important thing is teamwork, collaboration, if you don't have these high-performance teams, the results are not achieved. There is also decision-making, especially in our countries, we have an aversion to risk, so it is hard to take charge of the decisions. And last but not least, resilience, because with so many changes, how not to fall into that paralysis of fear, which does not allow us to face these changes in the best way and identify opportunities.

How does INCAE work so that professionals can develop them?

The value that we have at INCAE is our teachers, I believe that we have the best teachers. Let's also look at our deans who, in addition to their responsibility in the academic area, are also putting leadership into practice with the teams in our mission and impact areas, leading INCAE with strategy and ensuring its successful implementation.

That value that we have, that knowledge, is what our students also take with them, which they can also put into practice seeing how it works, inspired to bring learning to implementation.

What makes an INCAE professional make a difference in the labor market?

The INCAE brand has been very strong for many years, so having the Incaísta seal comes with a point in favor and we also see it in everything that has to do with the rapid placement achieved by our department of Career Services, we have extraordinary results and that is our best business card: the time in which our graduates manage to find themselves in good companies, good positions with better salaries.

What is INCAE leaving you as a professional and as a person?

INCAE represents great satisfaction for me and it has been for me one of the best stages of my life, it motivates me that we go beyond achieving results, given the high level of commitment that the teams at INCAE have, that passion for what they do, That pride of belonging. Something that caught my attention from the beginning is the sense of belonging, and that I share, we all feel like members of the great INCAE family, and that is a source of great pride. 

Subscribe to our blog