“You need to see what you have, how you plan, make your planning to implement the strategy.”
Introducing Maria Pilar Varela Sepulveda, the Brazilian-Chilean digital transformation leader with a Master's degree in Corporate Strategy and a Bachelor's degree in Economics and Accountancy.
Formerly the CDO at AgroGalaxy, a Brazilian-based retail platform working with agricultural companies, Maria’s responsibilities now encompass Digital Management and being an AI Instructor at business and consulting service DaasTaas, where she is the co-creator.
Read on to learn more about Maria’s journey through digital transformation roles, what leadership strategies have worked and her views on the impact of AI in the technology industry.
A glimpse into Maria Pilar’s career
“The last 18 years I've been in this role of developing business and channels using different strategies.” Starting off with online channels, she recalled how the internet and e-commerce forced Maria and her team to move to omni-channel strategies, resorting to digital marketing techniques.
After a while, the team started to create these strategies for different Latin American countries. “After that, I moved to another company because I understood that I should not see end-to-end strategies just for financial services.”
With a need to understand more about the industry, Maria resorted to joining Stanley Black & Decker as their Head of E-Commerce and Digital Marketing. During her time there, Maria developed the strategy for the digital marketing of all products at the company and was responsible for their e-commerce, which made up 40 percent of their sales during the pandemic.
Over the last three years, Maria has worked at AgroGalaxy, developing digital transformation as a business, P&L, integrations, digital product development, data analytics and innovation.
For some, the move from marketing to technology-based roles would be a difficult one. Maria, on the other hand, used her prior education in economics to apply herself and learn how to use the data for statistical modelling and forecasting.
Realising the potential of customer behaviour and data while working on business development for insurance companies, Maria developed a passion for creating tailor-made programs, measuring KPIs and controlling the data to measure a strategy’s effectiveness.
“I was responsible not just for implementing and supporting the business, But also I was creating all the hypotheses and now the customer journey based on data.”
AI at DaasTaas
In this day and age everyone has some form of access to AI, and Maria believes that it is going to be “all around” us in the future. Easy access to AI chatbots such as ChatGPT and OpenAI are just the starting point.
Drawing from her own observations of organisations in Brazil and across the globe, Maria argued that senior technology leaders and officials are still in talks about the implementation of digital transformation and digitalisation, figuring out what they need when it comes to “enablers and capabilities to create your roadmap.”
At the same time, AI is coming in fast, bringing in the potential to help companies with their customer services, mitigating mistakes in data and logistics and enhancing any other areas where possible. In light of this she remarked: “are we ready for that in terms of employees' capabilities and knowledge?”
Following on from this, Maria delved into the topic of AI bias. One of the key takeaways from the roundtable discussions she participated in was around the idea that the more input you give AI, the more accurate and precise the output. She asked: “What is good data?”
One of the main trends she is seeing is the relationship between AI and artificial data. The future of AI is uncertain; Maria advised technology leaders to keep an eye on AI while balancing their pessimism and optimism in regards to this area. “Follow AI up and see how it goes. Because, we need to have human control on this.”
Understand the business
“You can be passionate about what you're doing, but what you do and your passion is not more important than the company's strategy and the company's strategy is connected to the customer.”
In order to stand out in this digital world among a sea of IT professionals in the industry, Maria argued that technology leaders need to understand the business. Considered an “important connection”, she argued that more often than not it is broken. Senior management such as CIOs and CDOs are not linked to the business in their team’s eyes.
As a result, this has created silos within the organisation. This has gotten to a point where senior IT leaders are not able to understand what the customer or salespeople are asking for, and board members are not informed enough to make any investment decisions in technology.
Quoting research by Vortex Digital in 2023, she stated that 35 percent of Board members do not know how to discuss digital transformation, with 82 percent acknowledging its importance, yet not knowing how to deal with that or start the conversation.
“Just 25% of the companies in this research mentioned that digital transformation was inside of their company's strategy… so there’s a gap here that we need to fix.”
Mastering the art of resilience
“Be resilient… especially if you are a woman.”
For someone just starting out in the industry, Maria explained that trying to engage people is no easy feat. Everyone has one agenda–and there are going to be an assortment of barriers stopping you from achieving your own.
Maria’s response to these barriers? Do not give up. “We need to transform the business and try to show all the KPIs that you have in an organised way.” This is in addition to connecting with peers, with the rest of the team and other departments in order to convince them to listen to the sales team.
Not all processes are perfect, and she acknowledged that it is okay to make mistakes.
Maria acknowledges that being a woman in C-suite roles comes with additional barriers, but she encourages women to be confident, admit mistakes, and continuously learn. Additionally, she said that it is important to ask for help, both at work and at home.
“We think that we can do everything, both family and taking care of the kids and also your job but that is not true.”
She called for women to understand the significance of taking time for themselves, acknowledge successes and failures, and navigate challenges with empathy.
Ultimately, Maria advocates for women to persevere, stay passionate about their jobs, and continue transforming despite potential obstacles and resistance.
“Keep going, keep moving and keep transforming.”
Quick fire questions 🔥
- Dream job growing up? I dreamed of working in a laboratory, wearing a white coat and doing various experiments in test tubes
- What keeps you up at night? Unresolved questions or situations, not necessarily good or bad
- What excites you about the next 12 months? I believe the year 2024 will bring a series of challenges to diverse economies worldwide
- What do you do outside of work? I'm a mother of two boys and a wife, so I have a lot to do outside of work hours! I love going for walks with my three dogs early in the mornings and of course, I love traveling abroad!
- Best advice you’ve ever received? We often say in Brazil that if advice were good, it wouldn't be for free!
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