During his interview at the Strategy Fest, Carlos Trad shared how his experience in three very different industries have shaped the way he plans and executes strategy. He introduces the difference of talking about strategy as a noun, or strategy as a verb, and how we need to think about strategy as an ongoing thing, and not just as a “thing” we do every quarter.
Carlos Trad is the Director of Global Business Strategy, Planning, and Analytics at Google - focused on the Ads business. Prior to this role, Carlos was a Partner at The Boston Consulting Group, where he spent ~8 years working with Consumer Goods companies and PE funds on a variety of topics, and notably helping them navigate the transition towards digital across their businesses. Carlos is originally from Argentina where he spent 10+ years working in the world of fine wines and traveling the world representing Wines of Argentina as one of its Board of Director members. Carlos holds an MBA from The Wharton School of Business with focus on Finance and General Management.
Lucas Goransky: Thank you, Kareem, thank you, Sarah, for that warm welcome, I'm here chatting with Mr Carlos Tad, who's in California. Mr Carlos, how are you?
Carlos Trad: I guess I'm great, thanks. Very excited to be here. Thanks for inviting me. You said I'm in California, so a few hours ahead or behind. I never know.
Lucas Goransky: Behind me. We live in the future here in Australia. So we always know what's going to happen. It's a great thing. It's a great day coming your way. Carlos, I would like to kind of first ask you or. Well, the first thing that I want to know is who is Carlos Trodd? There's a lot of people watching here today that don't know who you are. So who's going to start in just a few sentences?
Carlos Trad: Sure. Carlos is an Argentinian, born and raised in Argentina in a small town called Mendoza. A wine-growing Area that's very dear to me. That's where all my family still lives. But I've been lucky and very fortunate to live in many countries and on different continents. I live in the United States and Europe. And most recently, I am part of Google, where I lead global business strategy for the company.
Lucas Goransky: You said that you lived all around, so I am going to double click into that and ask you. You lived in Argentina for a while, then you lived in Europe as well. What was your career like? What was your career path? How did you end up in Google?
Carlos Trad: So I like to joke that I lived three different lives. So I started in the wine business in my hometown. I was doing wine selling for four large wineries and I was doing exports for them and I did that for about 10 years. Eventually, I moved to the United States where I did my master's degree. And that's when I joined Strategy Consulting. I joined BCG out of New York. And during that time, I got to live in London. Before that, I got to live in Switzerland. And eventually, I decided it was time for me to go back to an industry outside of the consulting world. And but I had already done wine as much as I love it. I didn't want to go back there, not at this point in time. And I thought why not going to technology and about a year and a half ago when I moved to California with my family to join Google,
Lucas Goransky: So: the wine industry, consulting, giant tech company, I'm guessing there's a lot of different ways to see strategy and think about strategy. So one of the main reasons that brings us to the Strategy Fest and one of the things that we want to do here is we want to try to make strategy available for everyone, to democratize strategy, but for us to even democratize or to start democratizing that word or the concept, we need to know what strategy is. So what is Strategy for you? The first time that we talked, you said there was a nuance between strategy as a noun and strategy as a verb. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Carlos Trad: Sure, sure. Yeah. So, look, I find that people have different definitions of strategy and they're probably all right in some way and they're probably all wrong in some ways. So is my definition. To me, strategy is just an approach. You choose not to solve a problem or to address an opportunity and strategy. When I say it could be a noun or it could be a verb, I think we're talking. From early, very early on in your education system, that strategy is the things that you do, that you start and you finish and you put on the bookshelf, and that's when I say that strategy could be considered a noun. People talk about strategy and I think it's probably a correct definition in some cases, but it's not really applicable. That's not how we live it. So I'd like to think of strategy in a much more expansive way. I'd like to think of it as a verb. It's something that you do at some point. You do different parts of it. At some point, you're trying to identify what exactly we're trying to solve. What exactly is the opportunity in some other cases you're trying to define who identify the tradeoffs or the different scenarios of making a different certain decision and some other similar points? Most of the time, you're actually executing on something you've already agreed on. That is the path you're going to use, the approach you might use to solve that problem or to address that opportunity. So that's what I say. That strategy is a verb. It's something you never stop doing. Now, we tend to think that when we're doing execution, we're not doing strategy. But that's not true. We're always doing strategy. We may be executing our strategy and we may not be necessarily developing from scratch. But at the same time, it's still strategy. And I think I found that for me, it's been a very useful way to think of strategy that when you think of it expansively in that way, you can bring people along in the process. You can tell them wherein the process you are. You can have them participate. You can have them collaborate. You can have them, you know, contribute in different ways. You can also push them away when you think that this is something I got but is much broader. And also everyone wants to be involved in strategy. And I have never met anyone that tells me I don't want the strategy, every one a viable strategy and that that definition allows you to bring people in rather than push them out.
Lucas Goransky: That is a fantastic kickoff for this conversation because I will take on a lot of the things that you've been saying, but to make it more personal, to make it more available for everyone also to bring it to real life. When you think about strategy, strategy as a verb, is there any particular project that comes to mind? the most challenging one? The easiest one? The most complex one. What comes to mind?
Carlos Trad: I have a lot of examples in each one of these categories. I would say if you ask me this strategy that's stuck in my head, I think immediately of one that I did in my consulting days for a large beverage company that was in the alcohol space and wanting to get into the non-alcoholic space for a number of reasons. I mean, we all know that people drink alcohol, that we can better quality and quantity. So there were a number of drivers pushing them to enter the space that they didn't know if it made sense for them. And where exactly? I mean, the non-alcoholic space is gigantic and how to make it happen. And what I liked about the project was it was very complex and very hard. It was everything you mentioned before. But it was also a very end to end project where we got in. And at the beginning when we were trying to define with them, what is the real question you're trying to answer what are we solving for. And then from there, we did everything to work with them, of course, working with the client, everything all the way to execution. And then we stayed on to actually do execution with them for a few months, which is not something you typically see in large consulting firms. That was very refreshing. And that is great because you get to see what you put on paper where you find that you get into execution, where you say, well, we might actually acquire a company to actually deliver on the opportunity. We talked about it. And that's refreshing.
Lucas Goransky: That's very interesting and really cool. And I want to kind of go a little bit deeper into that because: why do you think they asked you guys to stay to execute? And let me tell you why I'm asking this question, because there's something about strategy where, as you were saying, you create a plan to go from point A to point B or to get something done, but then you need people to actually execute it. So they brought you on board to think about the grand plan, but then they asked you to stay longer or to stay working with them to actually make it happen. Do you think that was to actually convince their teams? Do you think it was because you had the better tools to make it happen? Why do you think that happened?
Carlos Trad: No, not really. I think it was a very specific space we were dealing with, we were experts in that space and there were certain capabilities I needed to have in order to execute on certain things. Sometimes it takes time for companies to find the right talent to deliver on those needs. And sometimes I think what you're alluding to is sometimes you have that strategy. So now you have that beautiful book that says you're going to do this and that, and then you lose momentum in that linkage between what you have and when you start doing it, so that's why we stay, we stay because you just made sense for them to not lose momentum and we had the capability to actually jumpstart that initiative. And eventually, you don't want that third party executing on the strategy because that's caught your companies. You want your own team to do it. But it might take time to actually, you know, find the right people and ensure that they have the right incentives and all those things that that was that was the only reason. But you're totally right, especially in strategy consulting, especially in big firms, there's this perception that defining or designing a strategy, it's really hard and therefore it's really hard or you don't have the right information to do it. Do you bring someone to help you do it? But then when you get to execution, that's the core of the company, that's what every company does. And therefore, why would you be paying a third party to do it for you and when you should be doing it? And and and that typically happens with big consulting firms.
Lucas Goransky: That's good. That's good. And I'm guessing that, again, from experience in different continents and different companies, you had the chance of actually executing and planning strategy in many different circumstances and environments. Do you think it's different to do strategy in Latin America, in the States or in Europe or Asia, anywhere around the world? Or do you think it's something that obviously depends on the culture of each firm and not about the culture of the country where that lies?
Carlos Trad: I think there’s a difference. But those differences are explained many times by the industry and the type of company and some other times by the country and the secrecy of the control of the market you're operating in. And that, yeah, it could be very different. And it has to do with what process you choose to do strategy. Right. And I think in North America, my experience is you have people wanting to talk in bullets. People want you to like, give me the facts first or give me the insights and then back them up. In Latin America and to some extent in Europe, especially in continental Europe, people want to be part of the development of the discussion of the conversation. Therefore, they don't want to talk in bullets, they want to have a longer narrative. They want to have a process that you can actually co-build with you. I find that many times in developed markets, in large markets like the UK or the US, especially for large companies, they tend to do much better work at really defining the scope of the problem or the opportunity, this is what we're really solving for, And that saves a ton of time at the beginning in the other and in other geographies, like that might have to do with the industry, too, but that tends to be a little bit more loose, more free fall. And that's also in the way they like to solve problems more. One is more direct, more seductive from general to specific. On the other, it tends to be more inductive. You find the fact that you try to back it up. And so it could be very different. They could be very different depending on the geography.
Lucas Goransky: Super, super interesting. And it's a good pathway into the second trigger question that invited me to have this conversation with you, which is teams. How do you discuss strategy with teams? Who is allowed to do strategy in your team? How do you get teams involved in the strategy? So maybe let’s start with the first one, which is how do you manage strategy with your teams?
Carlos Trad: That's a big question! If we go back to my definition of strategy as something expansive and you're always doing some type of strategy, it means that whenever you have a given problem that you are trying to solve, you need to define what's the best path in order to deliver on that problem in that sense. In my team today, we're always doing strategy. And now some strategies might be shorter-term because you have a very clear, specific problem. You need an answer by Friday and someone is going to execute on that. In some other case, you're looking at, I think what you're referring to, which is bigger, strategic things. What will the future bring and how do we work towards that future as well? So I want to talk about that. I think that's what's in people's minds as a big, sophisticated strategy, and in that case, who gets to do that strategy? I think there are two types of stakeholders, one of them is the ones driving the definitions and that's a team, that's a team with certain capabilities, that's a team with the capability of managing the stakeholders of conflict resolution. That's a team that actually can anticipate what will happen, given that at a certain point it's a team that has analytical capabilities to crunch data and to deliver insights from that. It's a team that is able to ask the third or fourth-degree question about what are we really, really solving for and what do we really want to get to. That is a team that drives a solution. Now, that team cannot work in isolation and cannot solve the world by itself. So you want to design the process from what is the definition of the problem all the way to what do we need to actually go after the solution we identify. You want to define that process in a way that's transparent, that's clear, that simple, that's really plain English for everyone without the buzzwords and the jargon that people hate about strategy, because that's what allows other stakeholders to get into the process, that that's what allows you to actually bring them in and say, hey, this third question is where I want your opinion. This is what I want you to help us identify a solution. This is the frame we're going to use and help us fill out this frame. That process is what allows everyone to come in and intervene. Otherwise, it becomes this esoteric, you know, White Tower, where you are just doing something that nobody really understands what you're doing. And then you come out at the end of it and say, aha, here's a solution. And then nobody, nobody buys it. And that's when you have the strategy that ends up in the bookshelf and that people refer to as a beautiful book but that nobody, nobody can execute on.
Lucas Goransky: That's super interesting. And that's exactly what I was trying to know is more that longer-term or biggest strategy, not the way that you identify problems and execute. I believe that that is strategy. Let's call it strategy within strategy. But how do you keep it alive then? What is your way of keeping strategy alive, of keeping strategy dynamic and not to fall into this idea of just a book that is then in the bookshelf and we decided on, you know, at the beginning of the quarter. And then we just review at the end of the quarter. What is the way that you can encourage your team or that you encourage the rest of your team to keep it alive?
Carlos Trad: Yeah, it's a good question and actually not a lot of people ask themselves that. They think that strategy is something you do every five years and then you set the north and then you work towards that north no matter what. And it shouldn't be that way. I think if you go back to this high-level approach I was referring to, that he defined what the problem is, what the opportunities, what we're really going to go after and trying to solve. The second chunk is about what are the scenarios? What are what do you play? How do you want to trade-offs you're making? What are the pros and cons? What do you have to believe for this to be true? And so on. And the third tank is about execution. So when you ask me how do we keep strategy alive, if you start at the end, assuming that you have a line on the way to solve something or to address something and you're already walking towards it, you keep it alive by being very close to that execution and making sure that you're tracking progress and you have the right milestones that you have visibility for senior leadership on that. These are the things that we said we're going to happen. They're happening or these are the things we thought we were. They're going to happen. They're not happening with the markets because of business dynamics and so on. So that's one very clear way, how you keep it alive and how do you ensure that those initiatives actually have the long term effect that you were setting out to do. On the other two pieces and the problem definition, scenario development, it really depends on what you're addressing and the complexity of the industry of the problem or whatever it is, how frequently to go back and revisit your assumptions. So if you take as an example, COVID. And you were a company setting out to do grocery delivery and you started with your path and then suddenly covid hit and it accelerated everything regarding grocery delivery. And you are running out of space in your house of your capacity or your teams to deliver. So you probably want to go back and say, well, before we had the problem, how do we win the space that's slowly growing? And now we have a very different problem. How do we keep up with demand? And even if it's not profitable to do so, because the long term pays off. In those cases, you do want to go back and revisit what you solving for, and that's how you keep it alive. But when you think of big strategy. If it's a really big strategy. The True North should not change that much that frequently, but the components of the pillars that make up for the solution might evolve. So there's an element of we're not changing what we do every time, but we are changing the different pieces. And that may require some revisiting every now and that.
Lucas Goransky: That's super, super interesting, and you brought COVID up, right? And I want to go back to you and your experience. I think you were already at Google when this started, how it affected you guys and how it affected your strategy in this big way. And also in the day to day way of operating and executing things. Do you think it was obviously an advantage for you to have your experience and your background in strategic consulting?
Carlos Trad: Yes and no, I would say. Look, the way it impacted us. I think it's common knowledge and public information. Certain companies and certain sectors and certain spaces were actually accelerated in their evolution due to covid. And that has to do with the ability to scale something that was already designed to be scalable. And I think that's why we were able to take advantage or leverage this new situation in order to deliver better and deliver more. that was the situation for Google in general. My work at Google is actually much further out, much longer term. We all got involved and everyone everywhere in the world got involved to think about creatively. How do we address some of the challenges we have? But my team was always keeping an eye on the long, long term and the way the impact of that was. If you think about exactly the opposite, you would expect it. Many of our big chunks and big initiatives were put on hold thinking, wait, wait, we this might change the world, this might change the questions we're asking ourselves. We might come out of this pandemic, who knows when? Who knows how? Asking yourself very different questions. And in that sense, my team was in charge of thinking about how we will win in the future, five years from now? How do we deploy our salesforce? What do we think about the market and all that stuff? We were caught by surprise, like, OK, now we need to wait and see. We need to observe before we can actually go on and rethink our strategy. And truth be told, now that we're 15 months in and vaccines are rolling out and luckily in some parts of the world, we're going back to normal and some other parts of the world where there's a little bit more delay, but we already see starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, we can ask ourselves, is our view of the future changed should we ask ourselves different questions, or do they remain similar and therefore we are solving the same problem?
Lucas Goransky: Once again, super, super interesting. There are a few last things that I want to ask you before we start wrapping this up. And one of those is alignment. You were just saying that when covid struck you when your team had to kind of take the back seat for a second, wait and wait to see if you guys were asking yourself the right questions, that you got to see how things developed. I imagine that in your team, but also in many other teams within Google or in any other organization, there were these two things, right? There were people that wanted to take action and change things and rethink things. As soon as COVID struck and others were more about: let's think. And that requires a full team. And it could be a board of directors, but it could also be a manager with a team to take that decision. How do you work around that around alignment? Is it one person that says, look, now we're going to wait? Do you think there's this idea of finding consensus within teams as well when it comes to making these decisions?
Carlos Trad: Look, there are different ways this happens in reality, and you tend to have these big questions. Asked by senior executives is because their job is to be the stewards of the future of the company and of course, to remove roadblocks in the present. But typically it's sitting there on their shoulders since those executives tend to be very busy. That's why they have strategies in their teams that are actually keeping an eye on, think of it as a radar and think of it as well, the future seems to be going a little more in that direction. Therefore, we should go and prompt the senior leader to say, hey, how do we compete and how do we win if this actually ends up happening? So I guess what I'm trying to say is that typically these big questions tend to come top-down with big prompts from strategists that are people with some long term vision. And then how you go about it, which is the other part of your question, it really varies by company and, thinking of the future and thinking about what the future will bring and how it will play out. It's not an easy exercise, it is not an easy activity to do. It takes time, it takes involving, it takes actually analyzing different propositions and as much information as you have when you talk about the future. There's some level of uncertainty that you have to fill with vision. That vision takes time to develop. And when you're asking people that are super, super busy delivering the day to day of the company, like any major leader in any company trying to make the P&L and delivering results, that there's a tradeoff you're making. I need you to take time off from your daily execution, which is still part of strategy to think about potentially a new strategy. And so you could do it from the ground up where you actually go and talk to the people near the execution, say, what are you seeing? What do you think we should answer? Or these are the views? And do we think we should elevate this for discussion or can step down with a CEO or a board of directors saying, hey, we think the future is about splitting this company? The future is about going after this new opportunity. Future is about acquiring a player in this micro sector and so on. Go and think about it and come back to me. So it comes both ways
Lucas Goransky: Awesome! So, Carlos, we are kind of running out of time here. Is there anything that you would have liked me to ask you? Is there anything else you want to share with us, with everyone here at the Fest? Something you think is that it would be interesting for them to hear.
Carlos Trad: Yeah, I believe that it is a festival, so I thought you were going to ask me, the strategy is fun and it is fun. It is. It is. It could be challenging. It could be difficult. He has many different components. It's a lot of fun. And that's why you have a lot of people doing strategy at one place at one point or the other. And it's true that it sounds more intimidating and it really is. But once you have a few components of how to think of strategy, you can just deploy them anywhere. So hopefully for your festival attendees, doing strategy is something a little more human than before, after this conversation.
Lucas Goransky: I hope it is. I hope you said it before. You said everyone wants to be involved in strategy. So I agree. And I think it is fun and it is interesting. So that kind of brings us to the end. Mr Carlos, I really, really appreciate your time. I think everyone watching is really, really enjoying this conversation, so thank you, and if people want to connect with you, they can probably hook you up on LinkedIn. Is that the best way?
Carlos Trad: That is the best way. I don't take it very often, but. Yes. Yeah, absolutely. You’ll find me on Linkedin but you won't find you on many other networks
Lucas Goransky: Thank you so, so much. Have a wonderful afternoon.