Why Sergio Mendoza gave his boss another chance.

In this interview Sergio reveals the source of his inspirations, the lessons he has learned, what drives him and all the things that make him an outstanding leader.

The world of big data in commercial retailing is hard to navigate for supermarkets and large retailers, but Sergio Mendoza Corominas and his big data analytics team is making it a lot easier.
Over the course of the last decade Sergio’s distinguished style of leadership in Revenue Management and Business Strategy helped LATAM Airlines Group become a domestic and international force to reckon with.
Now, Sergio is bringing his love for deriving insights from large data sets and his passion for innovation to disrupt the world of retail with Inzpiral.

We caught up with the humble Mr. Mendoza recently to talk about what drives him, his inspirations, his challenges, the lessons he has learned and the style of work that sets him apart as a leader.

Location: Santiago, Chile.
Recent gigs: Co-founder and Executive Director of Inzpiral. Formerly Sr. VP Commercial Platforms and Best Practices at LATAM Airlines Group.
Apps/ Software you cannot live without: Google, Linkedin, Excel, Whatsapp, Twitter, Powerpoint, Blogger, Waze…
Random fact (editor’s pick): Sergio is also a Doctor of Philosophy in Theoretical Particle Physics.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I do not consider myself an extrovert, not at least regarding oral communication.
I used to be pretty shy in my youth and had a hard time establishing a conversation with unknowns or presenting in front of audiences. I was a real nerd!

Deliberately forcing myself into the “no comfort zone”, like teaching and presenting in conferences — and not only in my native language -, helped me a lot in improving my oral communication skills.

In the beginning it was a terrible effort, but with time and hard practice it got easier, even enjoyable.

Anyway, I consider myself more of an extrovert regarding written communication. I enjoy it and it makes me feel more comfortable. I wish I had more time to write and blog my ideas or to research and comment on other people’s ideas. I wish I had the time to write a book…

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

It’s a tough question… I remember two transcendental advices in my life:

My father once told me during a vocational crisis that I was facing as an undergraduate student: “When you build a family you will suddenly be faced to the most important purpose in your life and you will forget your vocational doubts…” He was absolutely right!

Several years ago I got appointed a new boss that I terribly disliked, so I resigned.
Then, one of the owners of the company told me: “Please give him a chance, just for six months…”
It started out terribly. On the first day I told my new boss all the things that I disliked about him, without anesthesia; He was shocked, he probably couldn’t sleep for a week!
However, the guy made a big effort to improve our relationship and I did as well. After a few months we were working together amazingly well, so I decided to stay at the company. I learned a lot from him, he taught me skills that have been very important in my career ever after; we even ended up being good friends.

“Giving my new boss a chance” was the best advice I’ve got in years and clearly the biggest lesson of humility I’ve received in my career.

What is the biggest challenge you faced in your career/ work life?

In my early career years I was passionate about research. At the time I thought there was nothing else in the world but research that I could passionately and happily work on. However, at some point, and very sadly for me, continuing a research career in the US resulted incompatible with my family priorities.

“When I took the decision to leave a research career in the US for a management career back in my home country, Chile, I faced the hardest challenge in my work life, the biggest “pivot point” in my career so far.”

I landed as a manager in the corporate world in Chile, quite scared and insecure of my knowledge and capabilities for such a different challenge.

Maybe for that same reason I put a lot of effort and focus trying to improve my limited skills as a manager and as a leader.

I suffered quite a bit for a while being in such a “no comfort zone”, but I never gave up.

Amazingly for me, this big challenge motivated me to continue working with passion, even though at the beginning management was not what made me happy.
After a couple of years my big efforts started producing results. I got promoted, I built a reputation in every field I worked as an executive and I was even able to shape my job to make space for research.

But, the most important:

I really learned to enjoy my work as an executive and a team leader.

Today I am “career pivoting” again:

I just left my 13+ years in the airline industry for entrepreneurship, a dream that I was planning and shaping since several years ago… This decision point also had trade-offs, and I know it will be very hard in the beginning, but…

“I’ve learned in life that leaving the “comfort zone” is what keeps us healthy and energetic, motivated and alive.” — Sergio.

I would love to see Bill Brunger answer these same questions.

What’s the biggest challenge facing Revenue Management (the industry) today?

The biggest challenge today for Revenue Management (as well as for many other commercial disciplines) may be the suddenly increased customer empowerment.

Customers are savvier and more informed than ever, more connected than ever, more sensitive than ever… Revenue Management cannot be executed in the same manner it was 10 years ago.

We cannot do Revenue Management today without transparently demonstrating the value we add to consumers when we charge a higher price; it’s not just about adding value to the business anymore; it’s not just about getting the customer surplus anymore.

What qualities make a successful career in Revenue Management?

Of course analytics, prolixity and rigor are minimum requirements.

But creativity, proactivity, teamwork, leadership potential and communication skills are the differentiators and probably the best predictors of future success.

What excites you most about where this industry (RM) is heading…?

What’s most exciting about where revenue management is heading to is that it’s unpredictable.

The mobile revolution, social networks, big data technology, cloud computing, etc, have pushed the horizon of Revenue Management and its potential for innovation so far that I do not see it anymore…

What inspires you to be a better person or do better work?

The fact that I can make a difference, that I can produce a positive change in my workplace, in my company, in my country, in the world.

In fact, anybody can make a difference in the world, today more than ever!

“I, making a difference depends just on myself, today more than ever; I can’t blame anybody else for my incompetence and laziness.”
I am inspired by seeing other people fight for their ideals, for their dreams.

I get really energized and inspired when I see people with apparent disadvantages achieving apparently impossible goals.

What’s the toughest question you have ever been asked?

It’s very hard to remember…maybe this one!

My kids ask me very hard questions: I get scared when they start because I never know where they’ll end…

“What sets great leaders apart?” is an interview series brought to you by GapJumpers. We ask experts, doers and thought leaders to share their experiences, vision, learnings and more. Every other week we’ll feature a new guest and the tips, and tricks that keep them going in their career. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Kedar or add your comments alongside. Further more, if you’d like to stay updated on more stories about leaders in Revenue Management, follow the collection.

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