Turning Spain Around (Part 1)

I have been visiting Spain for many years, I was there last month to give presentations and some media interviews and naturally the subject at the forefront was the state of the Spanish economy. With one in four unemployed and its economy teetering on the edge, Spain is at the sharp end of the financial crisis. A lot of people are calling for change to government and financial institutions. But maybe what Spain needs are some game changing ideas to get it back to the powerhouse it was, which they are immensely capable of – see this week’s New York Timesmagazine story on how Spanish company Zara has become the world’s largest fashion retailer and how founder Amancio Ortega Gaona has just displaced Warren Buffett to become the world’s third richest man.

I am not game to comment on the political and economic structural fixes needed in the Spanish economy, but as a certified ‘crazy’ I am game to suggest a few crazy things Spain might do to get its mojo back.

  • Accountability
    Every country has its psychic handbrakes, and if progress is to be achieved, accountability must be part of the mix. Everyone has to be accountable. Bad practices must be eliminated. The two hour lunch. Property speculation. The underground economy. Evading taxes. Being unproductive – the mañana syndrome or the infinite tomorrow. Cease and desist. Now.
  • Embrace spiritualism
    75% of Spain professes to be Catholic but only 15% of Catholics attend church every Sunday. There is a very high correlation between happiness and spiritual engagement. Go to church!
  • Put yourself into the heart of the consumer
    Find new-world markets for new products and new Spanish brands by finding the way into the heart of the consumer worldwide. Zara have done this brilliantly – they have 5,900 stores globally, more than any other brand or company. Promote the aromas and tastes of Spain to the world and create premium export products including Spanish luxury brands designed to seduce consumers based on Spain’s incredible creative and spiritual heritage and currency.
  • Paella as the new sushi; Sherry as the new Vodka
    Have ideas about how traditional Spanish foods and beverages can be remade into a ‘world’ context by making paella the new sushi or rebranding and remixing Sherry to compete with the Vodka market.
  • Make love, not recession
    Spain’s fertility rate is lower than the EU average. Spain is stuck on 47 million people. Aim for 50 million – more Spaniards please!
  • Form the Spanish bloc in world politics
    With the growth of the language worldwide, Spanish is set to overtake English as a language for international trade. Given the near impossibility of getting Spanish regions to work together within the country, my suggestion is to go right over the top and incorporate the Spanish-speaking Americas, including California, into a Spanish bloc. A global Spanish nation. Expand Spain’s field of influence. Be the global mothership. Connect with the 500 million speakers of Spanish and grab the mantle of being Latin.
  • Pray-in
    The Sagrada Família Basilica in Barcelona is one of the most spectacular cathedrals in the world. Religion is profoundly central to Spain’s history. Make cathedrals and museums mandatory visiting by every world traveller. Create a must-attend religious event or festival drawing Catholics from around the world. Create a massive pray-in. Prayer to move economic mountains.
  • Keep saving
    Spanish are traditionally great savers. Keep the savings going no matter the amount.
  • Inspirational figures
    Identify your most inspirational players. Pick 100 people to make a difference. Show the face of Spanish achievement to the world and at home. Think Rafael Nadal, Fernando Alonso, the afore-mentioned Amancio Ortega Gaona, Javier Bardem (the bad guy in the new Bond movie Skyfall), Penelope Cruz, Santiago Calatrava and Ferran Adrià for starters.
  • Thought-leader in creativity
    Through advertising, online and international retail channels make Spain a thought-leader in creativity, taste, technical excellence and new ideas on important subjects as food and energy. Our confidence in Spain has been underlined by the injection of Argentinean creative genius Pablo del Campo into the mix; our reframed agency is called Del Campo Saatchi & Saatchi España.
  • Learn from football
    Spain won the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship with performances that had commentators calling the team perhaps the best the world has ever seen. Before the 2010 tournament Spain turnaround from “serial flops to serious favourites”. The BBC’s report at the time notes that “Spain’s current prowess owes much to the federation’s long-term commitment to a nationwide programme for the training of coaches. Not only are there more qualified coaches in Spain than in England, they are all promoting exactly the same style of football – the highly technical, possession-based game that has taken Barcelona to the summit of European football, made Spain’s youth teams the envy of the world and allowed the national side to end nearly half a century of failure in Vienna two years ago. From wobblers into winners, the message is clear: the glory has been a long time in the making.” Politicians and economists, take note.
  • Tomorrow, some thoughts for when you’re 22, Spanish and unemployed.

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Kevin Roberts

Kevin Roberts is founder of Red Rose Consulting; business leader and educator; author and speaker; adviser on marketing, creative thinking and leadership.


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