Blanca Juti has more than 20 years of experience working with global businesses in a variety of senior commercial, communication and marketing roles. This includes 14 years in the USA, Mexico and Finland.
She is like a warm wind from the south-west, in power to change her directions as quickly as weather changes, sharing her sunshine and warmth with everyone she gets in touch with. Indeed, the businesswoman Blanca Juti’s (52) Mexican sunshine rays have enlightened many people’s lives, business companies, and places, wherever she has chosen to go.
– I am a millennial at heart, I admire that generation, she says and smiles.
Blanca, the extraverted, positive, and adventurous woman from Mexico City, who left her home country at the age of 15, has indeed been very unusual for her generation. Fearlessly, she has proved that there is no time to lose, there are opportunities to seek and new things to learn. Always. No matter what diploma you hold (or not hold). Blanca, who is an educated anthropologist, remembers so clearly how her family was crying out in horror, saying she ‘will never get a job’ with that degree. She smiles at the memory. As stubborn as she is, she proved them wrong – reaching some of the highest positions in well-known global companies such as Nokia, Rovio (‘Angry Birds’ creators), Fazer and Heineken while moving around Europe, North-America and Latin-America.
– But Finland is the root of everything, she says when we meet in Helsinki. Although she lives in Amsterdam, where she has served as the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer in Heineken during the past four years, every summer she is spending her time here with her Finnish husband and their two kids.
The couple met while studying at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom during the 90s and decided quickly they were meant to be. They were.
Blanca is a game-changer, a top businesswoman and she thinks everyone can become one. In this interview, she tells how she became one herself.
Eva: I would like to hear about your story. What kind of a childhood did you have in Mexico?
Blanca Juti: I was born in Mexico City in 1968 which was actually the year of the Olympics in Mexico and those were very promising years. During my childhood, there was a lot of optimism. The economy was growing and the country was getting stronger and people felt progress was happening. Most of my childhood we spent in this city and my parents were quite modern in many ways. Also, as I have three siblings at more or less the same age, we were very close to each other. We lived a quiet disciplined but also creative life. Our mother was very much into education, so we learned languages, we did a lot of swimming, and were constantly learning new things. We also played a lot. It was a beautiful, beautiful childhood.
That is interesting! So how many languages do you speak?
I speak five well: Spanish, French, Italian, Finnish and English. I used to be almost fluent in Norwegian and now I simply understand quite a bit of Norwegian, Swedish and a bit of Dutch too. The first foreign language I learned was English when I was seven, my brother and I were put on a plane and we were sent on our own to California where we were received by two hippies with long hair and we went to a summer camp. We had never been without our parents before and here we were for two months. We learned English immediately because there was no other way to communicate! This is how I learned French as well for instance.
I have always been very stubborn and when I told them the 20th time that I wanted to stay in the UK, my mother who knows how to challenge me, she said ‘Fine. If you get into Oxford or Cambridge, we can talk about it’.Blanca Juti
Then, you moved to the United Kingdom quite early. First, you attended the Upper Secondary School at Atlantic College in Wales, then completed your education in Anthropology and Philosophy at the University in Cambridge. You stayed in the UK for a long time …
When I moved at the age of 15, it was not supposed to be permanent, the whole point was that it was provisional. My parents raised all of us up with the intention that we would serve our country. They always told us that we should have a life of service and we should give back. But when I came to the UK to Atlantic College, a school where you have kids from all over the world, it really shaped me. When I finished school, I felt that I wanted to continue near my friends and I begged my parents if I could stay in England and they said ‘no’ many times because of course, they could not afford it as they had four children. But I have always been very stubborn and when I told them the 20th time that I wanted to stay in the UK, my mother who knows how to challenge me, she said ‘Fine. If you get into Oxford or Cambridge, we can talk about it’.
Okay, so what did you do?
I applied to Cambridge and I got in. My mom cried the day she heard because she thought it would not happen, but it did haha. So my first degree is within Social Anthropology and then I did a degree in a Master of Philosophy – in History. After that, I did a Ph.D. in Literature. So, I have studied Anthropology, History and Literature.
I have always moved to the areas that have interested me, I have never stopped at one thing. Now, I really do respect specialists. I really think that if you are a professional ballerina or as my nephew, a hockey player, you need to specialise. But I have been a very generalist type of person. And it has suited me.Blanca Juti
Why did you choose this education?
That is a good question because no one in my family is an anthropologist. I have just always been interested in people and culture. I remember my parents were quite afraid: ‘What are you going to work as with this kind of degree?’, they said, and the famous words of my younger brother were: ‘You will never get a job with this degree, it is not very marketable’. But I always just studied what I wanted and the advantage of England is that you can do that. And that is a constant in my life. I have always moved to the areas that have interested me, I have never stopped at one thing. Now, I really do respect specialists. I really think that if you are a professional ballerina or as my nephew, a hockey player, you need to specialise. But I have been a very generalist type of person. And it has suited me.
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Your life is indeed full of extraordinary people. During your student time, you have met peers from all over the world – some of them are still your friends, right?
That is right. One of my friends is Luke Harding, the investigative reporter, and writer. He wrote for instance the book of Edward Snowden which became a movie (You can see it on Netflix). I have friends who are lawyers, doctors or teachers, or cancer scientists. It is very fascinating, they come from everywhere and we are still keeping contact. On my 50th birthday last year, for example, what we settled on, was that I had a party just for my Atlantic College-friends. The idea was no presents, but money for a scholarship so someone would go to the school we went to. We have only seen each other every 10th year at school anniversaries, yet I gathered them all in Amsterdam!
Blanca says she feels she is one of the millennials:
You also met the love of your life at the University of Cambridge who happened to be a Finnish man. Was it a hard decision to move to Finland?
Well, the advantage of being young is that you do not understand the risk or difficulty. You know, we were young and in love, so we decided – let us get married! I was 22 when we decided that. Of course, both of our parents were probably shocked, but as I said, my parents know me and how stubborn I am. So yeah …. They just supported it. But I can imagine it now, looking back, that it must have been hard for them. When my parents died, one of my very close friends from Atlantic College told me that the day before my wedding, my father told her he was equal parts petrified and happy. He was very afraid to lose his daughter to Finland so to say. But we always remained very close, so it was nothing to fear. However, my husband and I are very different people. If we were single and met today at our age, I wonder if we would feel our differences are too far to bridge. Yet, I cannot imagine life without him. He is my rock. I am glad we met when we were young and followed our feelings and did not question.
Blanca with her husband:
But then, I said to myself that I am here out of choice. And when I understood that it was a choice, everything got easier. I did not have the weight on my shoulders that this is forever. […] That has been my philosophy of life ever since.Blanca Juti
I can imagine you were very exhausted coming to Finland, a new country once again?
Listen, I was 23 and I was the most exotic person Helsinki had ever seen and I am not even exaggerating. Once, I looked up in the registry to see how many foreigners existed when I came to Finland. It was 0.05 percent and that included people from neighbouring countries, like Swedes, Norwegians. I remember getting in a taxi and the taxi driver asked me if I was the Mexican girl. Now, I made a very stupid miscalculation as an anthropologist when coming here. I thought that the jump from England to Finland would be easy because it is Europe. In reality, England is more similar to Mexico in several things; England is also a class society, it is an urban society, it is a traditional society. Finland is more rural, many people of my age were the first generation in the capital not the twentieth. Finland is also a classless society and very homogeneous. The climate was in addition very harsh here. Yet, I learned something then that has been precious ever since; One day, when I was walking through some of the Helsinki-streets, I was crying and I was saying to myself that ‘One day I will be buried in this country so far from my people. What am I doing here?!’, you know, I was really questioning my situation. But then, I said to myself that I am here out of choice. And when I understood that it was a choice, everything got easier. I did not have the weight on my shoulders that this is forever. Since then, I have lived in Finland three times. It has been great every time, but it has always been my choice to come back. That has been my philosophy of life ever since, wherever I live and whatever I do. That lens makes you appreciate what you love and not pay too much attention to anything you don’t.
I was 23 and I was the most exotic person Helsinki had ever seen and I am not even exaggerating. […] I remember getting in a taxi and the taxi driver asked me if I was “the Mexican girl” in the capital.Blanca Juti
You started your career in the Mexican Embassy in Helsinki before you stepped into a world of marketing, sales and technology. What makes you seek new opportunities in completely different spheres all the time?
Well, I think there are two things to it. One is personal inclination; I am just a curious person. When I am interested in something, I learn it and I go there. But the other one is a necessity. If you think about it, when I came here it was the early 90s. Finland was in a terrible recession. The worst recession since the war. The country had not yet joined the EU, and there were very few foreigners. It was hard to find a job, so, I had to think about what I could do. The first thing I was thinking was that I know a lot about my culture, so I went to the Foreign Ministry in Mexico one Christmas and told them that I am just sitting in Finland and that I could help them. So they said: “Okay, we hire you. We can make you a cultural attaché in Finland, but we do not have a budget, so you have to do the activities however you find”. It was a fantastic opportunity. By working collaboratively with Finns, we were able to build bridges between the two countries. We hosted in Finland and Scandivania the biggest Frida Kahlo exhibition to ever leave Mexico. After some years, I realized that I did not want to become a diplomat for the rest of my life because when you are a diplomat you get told where to go. It is not your choice. I also felt that diplomacy’s role was changing and I was afraid of not doing something meaningful. I have found that in business, I am able to have an impact by addressing sustainability, human rights, and governance.
What did you do to get to the next level?
I had to be a little bit ingenious because there I was, having a degree in anthropology and literature and I wanted to go into business, so I started a Master of Business Administration first in Helsinki and then I called to Nokia. Nokia at that time was just overtaking Motorola. I told them about my skillset and said that I could support them in communications. They told me that they actually needed somebody to manage the media in Latin America and they interviewed me. It was the early days of the cellphone. I remember after the interview I went to the parking lot, to call my husband to tell him two things: one, I got the job, and two, we were moving to Dallas, to Nokia’s Americas headquarters. I was also travelling all over Latin America. It was a very exciting period in technology because the technology was changing and it was a competition for Latin America: should it go GSM or CDMA? Nokia really wanted the world to go GSM. My role was to convince audiences through the media that GSM was the route to go. We won. After two years of that job, I felt that I learned the communications and that I wanted to learn something new.
What happened next?
Then what happened was that a job became available in investor relations at Nokia. I had never worked with investors and had no clue how to do it, but I thought that I wanted to learn this so I applied for the job and I got it! It was great! I started to work with smaller investors. It is a fascinating world, especially when you get to talk with the “big” guys, on the seller and buying side. You get so much access to information about what is happening in the world. I did that in the US and I was extremely happy, we had just bought a house, we thought that we were going to stay there and we had just, literally, hung the pictures on the walls. The next week, however, when I came to the office, my CEO told me that they wanted me back in Europe to lead investor relations from Helsinki. I remember coming home and telling my husband that we just got the house, but now we have to sell it again because we are going back.
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After that, you have managed to capture leading commercial positions in big companies such as Rovio, Fazer, Heineken. What is your advice for progressing in your career?
For me, it has always been about learning and also asking the right questions. I am not a specialist, I do not know more than my team – I usually know less than my team, because they are specialists. It is always about what value you can give and if I give value, then you grow and your team grows. That has been my formula, encouraging people to grow to their potential and adding as much value as I could.
How do you succeed in male dominated environments?
You know, I have never thought too much about it. It is probably because I always felt accepted as I was. As an individual, I have always been very grateful for the cards that I have been given in life. So I just acknowledged; this is who I am. I am a woman. I am a Latin American. I am under 1.60 m. I have a very loud personality – this is who I am and I cannot change it. I accept this and I play the cards I have been given. At the same time, I seek to build very diverse teams, where every individual is authentically themselves. And it has worked. Nothing has stopped me from thinking I cannot do the same as other people.
It takes a “village” to raise a child and I took the whole village to help me raise mine. My parents-in-law and my own parents were very important. And then I would have several babysitters. One babysitter who would hire another four, and I would give five keys, it was all working on trust. I would say to the one: ‘You are the CEO, you manage the picking-ups and whatever’.Blanca Juti
Many women also struggle to find a balance between work and family. What is most important for you; career or family?
There is a Harvard Business Review, an article that appeared recently. The study says that one of the most important things you need, as a young professional woman if you are going to be married, is a supportive husband. It sounds stupid, but it is actually very true and it shouldn’t be surprising: many successful men have the strong support of a spouse. In my case, without my husband, it would have been very difficult. We have a real partnership. Both of us are equally committed as parents. We make space to let the profession of the other grow. I have always felt his support. You know, we have moved countries so many times and whenever I tell my husband, he says “of course”. Sometimes he is even the one who challenges me and says ‘why not?’. Likewise, I do my best to support him. But on the other side, I have a few pieces of advice now that I give to women:
- The first one is that somehow in women’s education we are told to be perfect. We want to be the perfect daughter, the perfect wife, the perfect sister, friend, housewife, worker, and so on. It is impossible! There is just no way you can be all of these things. Therefore, the first thing I say is that you have to get rid of the perfectionism, because it is unattainable and because it is not fun. Well, of course, you can be perfect at all these things, but only one moment at a time. So, I let go of the guilt of not being perfect simultaneously. Sometimes, I am a perfect mom, and my kids are really happy and I forget about work. I literally do. Other times, I am fully focused at work and do not regret the moments I am not at home. It is a balance. For me, it is about understanding that I can be perfect at the one thing at the time and it is okay.
- The second thing; it takes a “village” to raise a child and I took the whole village to help me raise mine. My parents-in-law and my own parents were very important and supportive. And then I would have several babysitters. One babysitter who would hire another four, and I would give five keys, it was all working on trust. I would say to the one: ‘You are the CEO, you manage the picking-ups and whatever’. I also made it fun, I said that they are not coming to clean my house but to have fun with the kids and it always worked. The neighbours were very important as well. One day my daughter broke her finger. While I was on my way home from work to see her, the neighbour who was a doctor was already helping her. So the village was always there! I encouraged my children to love other people as well and consequently they have fabulous relationships so many people that mean so much to them.
- Thirdly, I also tell young women to be self-compassionate. It goes along with the let go of the perfectionism. I mess up all the time. I do things that I am: ‘Ah, really? You said that?! Ohhh ….’ But it is okay. We should let go of perfectionism, I am not saying that one should let go of mastery. To let yourself make mistakes is the only way you can become a master. Do you see what I mean? It is important to not take oneself too seriously. This is also appliable to men, who are also threatened by stereotypes.
I think in life, you have to know when to start and when to finish things.Blanca Juti
Recently you resigned from your last position as the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer in Heineken. What are you planning to do now for a living and are you thinking of moving from Amsterdam?
I was the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of Heineken and I loved it. It was probably my favourite job to date. In that role, I led three key disciplines close to my heart: Sustainability, Communications and Public Affairs, including government relations, and multilateral bodies like the UN and dialogue with NGOs. I greatly enjoyed sustainability because as an international company you can have a serious impact on critical things like the reduction of CO2 as well as lowering plastic and water footprints and improving governance practices with regards to human rights. But as we have had a CEO succession now, it was the most natural thing to move. I think in life, you have to know when to start and when to finish things. I also felt that for this whole agenda to survive and thrive, especially the suitability agenda, it is best for the new CEO to take it under his wing. In the meantime, I am going to chill a bit as I have been working very hard for the last 4 years. I will write my next book and wait for the next thing. Moments of self-reflection are important. I always find that life guides me, so life will guide me again.
Blanca and her Heineken team:
You have indeed been an untypical representative of your generation, moving quickly and rapidly in your career ladder. I would almost say that you remind me of a stereotypical millennial. In one of your books, “Game-Changer”, you write that you adore this young generation. Why?
I do not know, I kind of feel that I am probably more of a millennial at heart – a bit of a rebel. I work very well with young people. Actually, I work well with people of all ages, but I especially like to work with young people. I am very informal, non-hierarchical. I am also very accessible, my leadership style is not about the title. It is about what you have to contribute with and I want to get things done. Somehow, I think we understand each other. For now, I am a bit unusual for people my age, but I think it will be more like this in the future.
Do you think everyone can become a game-changer?
Yes, I think every individual can be a game-changer. Some are the catalyst, the ones who drive it, and some are the ones that do it. Not everyone has to be the catalyst, but everybody has the potential to try and change things for the better.
Photo credit: Sander Stoepker, privat