Encountering Diverse Values Leads to Creating New Value #LeadersVoices Vol. 7: CaDs
At Mercari, we promote various initiatives with the aim of providing equal opportunities and appropriate support so that anyone can demonstrate our company values, regardless of their background.
Gender equality is one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the realization of a diverse organization based on our Diversity & Inclusion Statement is deeply interwoven with the mindset behind Mercari Group’s mission, “Circulate all forms of value to unleash the potential in all people.”
In this seventh article of the series “Creating New Value: Amplifying The Voices a New Wave of Leaders,” we asked Carlos Donderis (@CaDs) about his experience growing up in Europe, an international hub of cultures, growing his career moving from country to country and organization to organization, and the importance of viewing things from diverse perspectives.
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Carlos Donderis (@CaDs)Mercari VP of Product Engineering. Carlos studied computer science at the Complutense University of Madrid. After working as a software engineer at European and Central American companies, he also worked for GMO Group and Sansan. He joined Mercari as an engineering manager in 2019, mostly managing product teams.
Meeting people of different cultures and ethnicities, opening up his mind
──To start off, can you talk about your background?
I am from a small town in the mountains, close to Madrid. A long time ago, one of the old kings of Spain decided to build a monastery in the mountains, and this small town grew around it. It’s a beautiful place.
I went back to Madrid very recently, and I saw that people and places have changed, and so has business. Madrid has become a really interesting place after the pandemic.
A breathtaking sight from San Lorenzo de El Escorial. CaDs’s hometown.
──Spain, as well as Europe at large, is home to many people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. What was your experience of interacting with such diversity?
It is when I started going to university in Madrid that I had exposure to what we now call D&I. Not only did we have students from all over the world, but also Madrid, being the capital of Spain, had quite the different population than what I was used to. That’s when I had the opportunity to enjoy the different facets of Europe. During those university years I also started traveling around Europe more often, going to France, Italy, and other countries, through which I was able to see many different people and many different ways of living. It really opened up my mind.
──You’ve worked in multiple countries as an engineer. Which job in your career left the deepest impression on you
My first job in Spain after graduation was in a consulting company as a software engineer. The company would dispatch engineers to other companies to work on big products. It was a fulfilling job in some aspects, but I never got to see the outcome of my work affecting the life of the end user there.
After a few years of working there, I got the opportunity to move to Latin America. I relocated to Panama, which is a hub in Latin America where most banks have some sort of presence. I was working in finance, building e-banking systems. I got to see the outcome of my work in the real world, and how people used my products. I realized that I really enjoy that aspect of my work.
But still, like my job in Spain, I felt that there was some distance between my work and the end user who benefited from it. During that time, I befriended a German engineer in Panama, who was an Agile guru of sorts. He was working on all sorts of different projects with different companies, not only providing the engineering work, but also evolving the product in deep cooperation with his clients. Eventually, I started working with him. Together, we listened to clients’ ideas, made suggestions, built prototypes, and shaped their products.
There I realized I really liked what we call “product engineering” in Mercari, which means engineers working together with Product to shape a service. It brings together all of the facets of the work I’ve been doing so far. Consulting, proposing solutions, building the product, and seeing how it is used by the end user.
Being drawn to Japanese culture through karate, and the culture shock he experienced in Japan
──So you’ve had experiences in various countries all over the world, but what drew you to Japan eventually?
I started practicing karate at 7 or 8 years old. I think that was my first contact with Japanese culture. Even back then I was fascinated with the culture, and how the concept of Budō is not just about fighting, but respect and discipline.
CaDs says the dojo is place of self-reflection and self-discipline
It was much, much later when I first visited Japan, in my thirties. I fell in love with Tokyo then, with the behavior of the people, the cleanliness of the streets, and the landscapes. When I returned to Spain, I decided I would come back to Japan not as a tourist, but as someone living here. I started to look for a job soon after. My initial plan was just to stay for one year, and now it has been 12. (laughs)
──You’ve been living in Japan for such a long time! I assume that initially your work life in Japan was one culture shock after another. Can you give us an anecdote?
There are many cultural differences I experienced working in Japan. One was the morning assembly. At the first company I worked for here, everybody would get together in the morning, and we would each explain what we were going to do that day. You had to be there in time for the assembly, because if you were late, everyone else would notice.
Another such example was the “siesta.” When I was a member of a very small team, there was a rule that after lunch, between 2—2:15 PM, we all had to shut our computers and sleep.
──Isn’t siesta the Spanish tradition of afternoon naps?
That is so. But there are Japanese companies that implement siesta! We turned off the lights in the office, laid our heads down on our desks, and slept. It took me a while to get used to, but eventually I was able to get 15 minutes of actual sleep every time, and in fact my performance would suffer when I didn’t get my siesta! (laughs)
──So many fresh experiences! What were some of the difficulties you faced working in Japan?
The language barrier was a tough one. When I came from Spain, I could barely speak any Japanese, and most of the employees were Japanese speakers.
I had to find a way to survive. I just needed to understand what I was supposed to do, and once I did that I would do my job, and do it well. I tried multiple different methods to get over the language barrier. I would prepare what I wanted to say at the morning assembly ahead of time using machine translation. After work, I would go to Japanese school, or study at home. I tried to immerse myself in the Japanese life, choosing to spend time with Japanese colleagues and friends instead of foreigners. Thanks to this full immersion plan, I was able to have simple conversations in Japanese after one year.
CaDs soon after moving to Japan, with his colleagues at the time
Mercari has the Global Operations Team (GOT), a team specializing in translation and interpretation services, which is an incredible help for the talent hailing from overseas. Even I still benefit from GOT’s services, and I think such a team is a must for achieving an inclusive organization.
Think different and challenge the status quo
──Based on your experiences of working in multiple countries, what sort of issues do you think Japan is facing in terms of D&I?
There is room for improvement in the inclusion of women in the workplace. I’ve seen many women in VP/Director-level positions in Spain.
I can’t say the same for Japan. It seems to me that the role of women in Japanese society is a bit different than that of Europe. In many cases, the role of the mother is expected to be taking care of the family, and maybe working part-time. Of course, there are women working full-time and raising children, but my impression is that it is considered an exception and not the norm.
In Spain, it is common for both parents to work. It is strange to be not working. I grew up with my mother, who had to raise my little sister and me by herself and work full-time. Maybe that is why I feel so strongly about the inclusion of women in the workplace. My mother was my role model and a very strong presence in my life.
CaDs and the family that made him who he is
In addition, I have the impression that leadership positions in Japan are mostly held by a certain demographic. Because the decision-makers belong to the same demographic, it is difficult to see issues that our employees, users, and various other stakeholders are facing and make decisions about them. It comes down to guesswork in the end.
For example, for the question of what benefits can be provided to support working mothers, because we don’t have many people who fit that profile that are also decision-makers, we end up having to do research, or make guesses. Of course there are certain facets of every group which are only visible to people who are part of that group. I believe including the perspectives of all these diverse groups into the decision-making layer will lead to the creation of new value that will reflect positively on the product and the organization.
──What about your experience as a father working in Mercari? Is there anything you found beneficial?
The Your Choice policy (allowing members to to freely choose their working hours and where to work from) was very beneficial when my daughter was born. I was able to arrange my schedule around raising the baby and supporting my wife. When my wife starting working again, I was able to set my schedule in a way that allowed me take my child to daycare, do work, pick her up, put her to bed, and go back to work.
Other than that, I am able to take my daughter to the doctor during the day when she is sick, or spend more time with my family after I am done with the day’s work. There are many benefits to the flexibility offered in the policy, and I hope it becomes the norm one day.
CaDs and his family, enjoying the happiest place on Earth
──Finally, as a leader who has work experience in multiple countries, and a working father, how would you like to take on D&I promotion in the organization?
There are two mottos that I value in terms of promoting D&I. One is “Think different” and the other is “Challenge the status quo.”
The common idea is to not think average, but find something that is unique based on your experience and that can transform your life, the people around you, and the product you are building. I believe making use of our unique perspectives and experiences will definitely lead to a more inclusive and successful product and organization.