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Q&A: Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez

What book are you currently reading?

“Playing to Win – How Strategy Really Works”; A.G. Lafley, Roger L. Martin
“Agile Competitors and Virtual Organizations: Strategies for Enriching the Customer”; Goldman, Steven
“Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win”; Willink, Jocko

How do you describe what you do?

Convincing the world: business leaders, business editors, business schools, governments, senior officers… that project management is pivotal for economic development, growth, value creation, personal improvements.…

Despite having been ignored for more than a century by leaders, academia and the business press project management is the essential ingredient for successfully implementing any (long) term strategy.

In practice, I advise senior leaders on how to prioritize their numerous strategic initiatives, how to align their teams, how to deliver their projects more successfully, how to create a culture that drives execution, and how to become more focused as an organization.

Who or what is your biggest inspiration?

In my teens I was inspired by sports, especially football players.

In my twenties I was inspired by the MBA faculty at London Business School, especially Costas Markides.

In my thirties I was inspired by entrepreneurs, ready to put everything at stake to make it work, including the owner of the night shop close to my home.

In my forties I am inspired by ….

What does success look like?

United and caring family
Find and work on your passion
Achieve self-confidence
Constant personal development
Impact on peoples’ lives
Help organizations to do better
Contribute to a better world

What is your competitive advantage?

My biggest competitive advantage is that I combine my “thinking” activities with a full time job as senior executive in one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, which allows me to see which of the ideas and concepts I develop work in reality.

No other “thinker” I know dares, or is able, to have this combination. They are academic, consultants or retired executives, whose concepts often are based on a new buzz, but which only scratch the surface and don’t bring any sustainable improvements to organizations.

Einstein used to say: “In theory, theory and practice are the same, in practice they are not”. This applies very well to management theories.

How do you keep your thinking fresh?

I look for unusual stories by listening to unusual  people.
I read but not only books, also blogs, contributions (sometimes a single comment on a post has more insights that the entire article).
I ask my partner to challenge my views.
I write to force myself to structure and simplify my thoughts.

How much time do you spend travelling?

This year, due to my role as global Chairman of the Project Management Institute, I am travelling quite a lot, almost every week I am on a plane.

In a normal year I will have two to three trips per month.

What is the secret of a great presentation?

I derived my secret formula for great presentations after having delivered hundreds of keynotes, trying new things every time, and observing the reaction of the audience.

The challenge I set to myself when I deliver a presentation is to keep 100% of the audience fully focused, without looking at their phones, for the entire session.

To do that, here are my secrets:

  1. Be authentic – share a personal story when you failed in your career
  2. Master the topic but talk in simple terms most of the time
  3. Use stories rather than frameworks or obvious examples
  4. Make sure there is a flow in your presentation with a strong

The last recommendation is to start making impact, do something unusual, say something different — you have 50 seconds to capture the audience, if you do it and your presentation has all of the above, you can keep them engaged for hours.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

Believe in your passion
Challenge common thinking
Keep learning
Understand what matters to your most important stakeholders (and learn their language).

What is your next goal?

Over recent years I have set myself a couple of BHA goals that I would like to achieve within 18/24 months.

My two last BHA goals were: a) to become Chairman of PMI and b) deliver my first TEDxTalk.

Currently I am working on:
a) Becoming part of the elite of world thinkers by being selected in the Thinkers50 in 2017
b) Publish my first blog or article with the Harvard Business Review.

Describe yourself in three words.


Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez ( is Director of the Program Management Office at GlaxoSmithKline Vaccines and chair of the Project Management Institute. He is author of The Focused Organization. He will be speaking at the Thinkers50 European Business Forum in May.