Perseverance, constant learning, and curiosity brought Steve Suarez, Global Head of Innovation, Global Functions at HSBC, where he is today — leading innovation units at one of the world’s top banks.
The only European bank in the global top 10, to be exact.
How does Steve Suarez spot ideas that have the potential to bring positive change and impact to the organization? What motivates him to always push the boundaries of innovation and go beyond conventional inventions and methods? What’s his source of inspiration? This is what he shared with us.
In the Disruption Insights series, we discover inspirations and insights from global innovators who shape how we live and do things today. True innovation doesn’t happen as an overnight breakthrough — it’s an ongoing process of constant trial and error done by teams and organizations who strive to solve real human problems. Steve is one of the people who push those ideas forward, making things possible.
💼 Corporate innovation
How do you choose one idea out of one hundred?
We analyze different ideas and try to understand which ones are viable, realistic, and would add the most value to the company. We’re a decentralized organization, so I don’t make the decisions.
Instead, I guide the innovation leads within their areas of responsibility, and it’s their role to manage and prioritize their resources. We don’t have unlimited resources, so they have to be very disciplined in deciding on what they will do, what they will innovate, and what they will not innovate. The decision behind which innovation projects to pursue is just as critical as what not to pursue.
To facilitate these processes, we have a workflow that helps us analyze ideas and ask the right questions.
We use techniques like design thinking and make sure that we are trying to solve the right problem, versus solving a perceived problem. It helps people structure their thoughts and see how they can plan projects.
How do your innovation leads convince you to back innovative ideas?
We provide the support and infrastructure for innovation leads to test their ideas and prove them as Proofs of Concept (PoCs). We look for viability and scalability as drivers and I am really motivated by how enthusiastic they are about the outcomes of their tests. Their excitement excites me and encourages me to pay attention and say, “All right, let me understand this and let me see what exactly you are excited about.”
We aim to make innovation as frictionless and as costless as possible.
One thing you’d change about your work
I’d like to improve the coordination and information flow between people and create a space to share ideas. In a large organization, it can be difficult to get an unobstructed view of what has already been created. Better communication can help us reduce duplication, enable us to work faster and reduce expenses.
💪🏼 Innovation mindset
One personality trait that helps you at your daily job
Perseverance. Once I’ve got something in my mind, I’m just driven and I go for it, there's nothing that's going to stop me. I'm very persistent, I don't take “no” for an answer very easily.
What drives you at work?
When I see that I'm having an impact on people. I get energized when my coworkers feel their lives change, the projects we're working on get them excited and encourage them to learn. It’s really satisfying to hear from people later in their careers that our mutual project or my work had an impact on their professional journey or encouraged them to improve certain aspects of their lives.
Your dream profession when you were 20
I wanted to be an entrepreneur and have my own business. At that time, I didn’t know what the company would do . I just knew I wanted to get out there and create something.
The biggest milestone in your career path
Moving out of my home country, experiencing different cultures, languages, and challenging myself. Also, continuous education — attending Stanford University and becoming an alumnus of MIT also mark important milestones in my career.
The biggest accomplishment in your career path
Starting from zero early on in innovation with no direction, no money, and no input from anybody and getting where we are today. Also, as a result of buy-in from the HSBC leadership, going from a side-of-desk activity to leading global innovation functions in a full-time role.
💡 Inspiration corner
Biggest source of daily inspiration
I get inspired by our innovation leads and what they create. We give them the tools and the environment to work on innovation, and the ideas they come back with really energize me because I get to see how determined and motivated they are.
Books that inspire you
- “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
- “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” by Stephen Covey
- “Medici Effect” by Frans Johansson
- “The Virgin Way” by Richard Branson
- “Presence” by Amy Cuddy
- “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” by Angela Duckworth
Blogs and magazines you follow
- MIT Sloan Magazine
- Fast Company
- Flipboard app - I use it to browse news from certain categories I selected
Podcasts you listen to
- a16z Podcast
- How it Works podcast
Movies that inspire you
- “Shawshank Redemption”
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