Profile with Maria Eizaguirre

Maria Eizaguirre (Spain & Linacre, 1994) is the Director of Marketing and Insights for IE University in Madrid. She was previously on the Consumer Insights & Strategy team at Kraft Foods and has worked as Strategic Planner for Young&Rubicam.  She holds a DPhil in Anthropology from the University of Oxford and an MSc and BA in Anthropology from Durham University. María was the first Spaniard to be awarded the Rhodes Scholarship.  She lives in Madrid with her family.

Rhodes Project: What is your favorite thing to do in Madrid?

Maria Eizaguirre: I love to go to a district called “La Latina.” It’s full of little tapas places. It’s typical to go on a Sunday afternoon at around 2pm, and you “do tapas” until about 5, changing from one place to another. We call it “latineando.” So you’ll have a beer at once place and have a little tapa and then go to another place and have another, or you can stay in the same place and have a bigger meal. It’s very Spanish, and I love it.

Rhodes Project: When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Maria Eizaguirre: I knew I would like to do something with people. And I was always fascinated by English and England, but I never knew exactly. I just wanted to be surrounded by people.

Rhodes Project: What does an average day for you look like?

Maria Eizaguirre: I’m a slow riser. I like to take my time and have my tea and breakfast. I get to work at around 9 and work until lunch. I have lunch with colleagues, and then I go back to work and work until the early evening. I tend to go home at about seven thirty, and I get my dog and go for a walk for about 40 minutes. Then I bathe my children, at which time it’s very late for an English person, but not very late for a Spaniard. Then I have supper with them and put them to bed. I listen to them, hug them, and then lie on the sofa completely dead at about 11 o’clock at night.

Rhodes Project: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Maria Eizaguirre: I worked for a long time in fast-moving consumer goods, and now I’m working in the education sector. So I learned everything in a context, and I’ve had to be able to apply those concepts to a completely different setting. And this is very challenging. The place I’m working now challenges me constantly to think very differently. The other challenging thing is that it’s a very Spanish context, and I come from a multinational and an English way of doing things. So it is also challenging to work in a “Spanish” way. It’s very much about relationships, having coffee, building trust. It’s challenging when you compare it to objectives, being rational, and moving forward with your work like you do in a multinational company. I manage it, but it’s a different way of doing business.

Rhodes Project: In what ways are able to apply your work in anthropology in understanding consumer behavior?

Maria Eizaguirre: I always say I’ve worked as an anthropologist all my life. You put the consumer in the center of every equation and you work on consumer-centric marketing strategies, which is exactly what you do in anthropology  all relations between consumer and the brand take place in this truly anthropological climate. A lot of anthropology and the way of doing anthropology are the tools that we use in market research as well. So I think it fits in every possible way – in the tools you use and in the framework you apply for analysis.

Rhodes Project: What prompted your career change into the education sector?

Maria Eizaguirre: I felt I was a slave to a multinational clock. I ceased being in control of my life. I spent hours on the telephone, travelling, and it got to a point when I didn’t have any time to sit back and think whether that was the right thing. One of the few things I’ve been very clear about with myself from the beginning was that I wanted to live in Madrid, because Madrid is my home. So I was moving very fast in the direction of Zurich, Chicago, or London, and whenever I had time to sit back, which wasn’t very often, I thought I was going too fast to a place I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. And on top of that, it meant little time spent with my family, with Madrid, and with myself.

Rhodes Project: What is something you've experience that has surprised you about consumer behaviour?

Maria Eizaguirre: I was working with a processed cheese brand in Spain. The brand that I was leading was a very, very local brand sold only in Spain, but unknown in the rest of Europe and bound to be de-prioritised by the company unless it could be sold under the umbrella of a bigger (British) brand. So I had to do some focus groups, presenting something that was more international and more in line with Kraft and with a changed logo. And I presented it to individuals in the focus group, and they didn’t like it. All the verbal and nonverbal signs were amazing. They were getting quite worried about the change, a woman actually cried because she connected so profoundly with the brand since her mother had given it to her when she was a girl and she was feeding it to her own children. It really showed me just how much people can get attached to brands and symbols. To this woman it was her heritage. So I guess my most amazing learning is how important it is to find true insight that touches people so deeply that they are able to be moved to the point where they cry.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman looking to start a career in business?

Maria Eizaguirre: Don’t rush things. Be proactive, show initiative. You should play by the rules, but always give your own twist to things. Have your own point of view, but be sensible in the way you propose things. Try to read situations carefully. Never plan too much, but adjust your expectations. Don’t try and show off too early – it’s better to go slowly and sensibly than to rush things and be arrogant.

Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to devote to any one issue, global or local, what would it be and why?

Maria Eizaguirre: I’ve been giving money to an NGO called Aldeas Infantiles for 15 years now. They create homes for orphans or people with very difficult family situations, with parents in jail or otherwise abandoned children. I think children should have a family and a place to call home. I think they should be raised with love, because if they are loved, then they are serene. And if they are serene, then they learn. And if they learn, they think. And if everyone thought a bit more, I think the world would be a bit better. 

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