Jordi Torres (BBA ‘99): “Through AI, we can make voice interaction between humans and machines possible”
Jordi Torres is the Global Managing Director at Verbio, a global supplier of conversational artificial intelligence (AI) at the forefront of AI automation. His experience, skills and capacity to excel have enabled him to leap from positions in a wide range of industries, including healthcare and AI, to his current job. Jordi contributes to the Esade Alumni community by mentoring other alumni and guiding them with his experience.
The age of AI is upon us
What career moves have brought you to your current position?
That’s a very good question, and one that everyone should ask themselves. Looking back helps us understand ourselves better. Like everything else in life, we reach a certain point by following paths through doors that we open and close. Our future is defined along the way by the choices we make. My current position, where I manage teams and resources on multiple continents competing in a demanding industry – AI applied to voice technologies – of course requires specific knowledge and skills. In my case, there are certain experiences and jobs that have clearly helped me reach this position.
Years of experience in consulting and as an entrepreneur were essential to consolidate the strategic and generic vision that my current position at Verbio requires. Consulting encompasses analytical skills, a global vision of problems, and the accumulation of knowledge in various areas and industries. Entrepreneurship helps to build skills such as resilience, team management, application of different forms of emotional, empathetic and facilitative leadership, and, very importantly, the ability to manage and optimise resources. These have been key areas of knowledge and experience in my current position at Verbio.
But beyond my knowledge and skills, I strongly believe that attitude is what makes the difference. Your attitude towards challenges, risks, the unexpected. My career has been built on achievements and successes, but also on mistakes and failures. Your attitude towards these mistakes and failures – which are inevitable in anyone’s life – is what makes the difference. Admit the mistake, do some introspection and gain a deeper understanding of the reasons for it. Don’t try to erase their existence. Really learning from your mistakes is difficult, hard and painful, but it’s process that ultimately elevates a person – a professional – to another level. I believe that my experience, my skills and, most importantly, my capacity for self-improvement and learning are what have allowed me to jump from one position to another in industries as diverse as healthcare and AI, before finally reaching the job I hold today at Verbio.
“Beyond my knowledge and skills, I strongly believe that attitude is what makes the difference. Your attitude towards challenges, risks, the unexpected”
-How can AI revolutionise business concepts?
AI is playing an increasingly important role in business and society. The age of AI is upon us, and it will change the way most businesses, industries, societies and humankind operate. AI will be so omnipresent that it will bring about dramatic changes in sectors such as transport, manufacturing, healthcare and retail. Almost every industry imaginable will be impacted. The technology behind AI is a set of algorithms that analyses data and makes decisions, predictions or classifications much more quickly and efficiently than human intelligence can. Many organisations are therefore starting to deploy AI across different applications and use cases, with the goal of lowering operational costs, increasing productivity, increasing revenue or improving the customer experience.
At Verbio, we apply AI to develop speech technologies. In a nutshell, we use AI to enable voice interaction between a human and a machine. We use our technologies to transform voice (audio) into text, so that the machine is able to understand what the user is saying. And we convert text into a synthetic voice, so that the machine is able to speak. From there, the dialogue, via voice, between human and machine becomes a reality. This technology also allows us to use a person’s voice as a unique identification fingerprint. As with fingerprints or facial prints, by using AI the machine can recognise a human by the sound of their voice alone.
“The age of AI is upon us, and it will change the way most businesses, industries, societies and humankind operate”
As an example of how AI can revolutionise businesses and organisations, this technology is capable of fielding most phone calls at a customer service call centre, improving the customer experience (reducing queues and waiting times or extending opening hours), and reducing service costs through automation.
AI and machine learning can free up human customer service agents from routine tasks, while also providing customers with self-service channels to access information and submit queries when necessary. At the end of the day, companies that do not adopt AI will simply be left behind.
-Before Verbio, you worked as a strategy consultant for global firms such as McKinsey and Deutsche Bank, as well as in management positions at DDB. What lessons did you learn from managing international teams?
Managing international teams involves many challenges. Some of them are obvious, such as language barriers and time-zone differences between regions. But the biggest stumbling block, in my experience, is the difficulty of generating engagement among people and building the trust and close relationships that teamwork requires. You have to achieve a certain degree of emotional connection among your team members. This connection comes more naturally when you share office space, a culture or a language.
Reducing social distance is the main management challenge when it comes to leading global teams. Building successful teams is already difficult enough when everyone is from the same place and they share the same office space. But when team members come from different countries and backgrounds and work in different regions, communication can quickly deteriorate, which can lead to a lack of fluidity and, therefore, inefficiency. It is therefore important to find frequent, routine points of contact, as if everyone were in the same office, to avoid a sense of isolation. It is also important to give the team visibility with regard to the impact they have on the company’s overall objectives, in order to generate a sense of ownership and purpose.
-You have also been an entrepreneur in various industries, including healthcare, retail and consulting. How do you feel about your experience as an entrepreneur?
It has been one of my greatest learning experiences. As an entrepreneur, I have experienced the greatest satisfactions, and also the bitterest moments. You have to know how to enjoy those satisfactions and learn from the bad moments. All this makes you a more well-rounded and better prepared professional. I have to admit that there are few experiences as satisfying as seeing something you have conceived become a reality and a success. I have found no greater professional satisfaction than that.
Enjoy sharing knowledge and experience
-You have experience as an international mentor. Why did you decide to become a mentor?
Because I enjoy sharing knowledge and experience. I love to see how someone can grow and improve thanks to what I have shared with them. It is a part of the job that I enjoyed enormously when I was in consulting, as well. Sharing in order to build. There is also an element of trying to give something back to society through mentoring. That, too, is a motivating force. The mentor is also enriched by the exchange. It’s a two-way process: you give and you receive. You see new projects, you meet new people with different concerns and new ideas.
“Mentoring is a two-way process: you give and receive. You see new projects, you meet new people with different concerns and new ideas”
-What have you learned from your mentees?
That you must never lose your passion, your desire to improve, and that asking for advice and help is an attribute of brave, intelligent people.
-You have also been an Esade BAN investor. What distinctive features of this network would you highlight?
The main characteristic and advantage is the fact that you have a common starting point with the rest of the investors. We share a school and a network, and that facilitates the dynamics of the network, which in turn facilitates investment. I think it’s a good platform.
-What does being a part of Esade Alumni mean to you? What does the association do for you and what do you think you do for it?
It allows me to remain a part of a community. Esade was, for all of us, an important chapter in our lives; in my case, it still is today. I continue to enjoy the great friends I made at Esade, with whom I am in regular contact. We see each other often and share whenever we can. I still turn to former professors and colleagues for opinions and advice, which I value enormously. I am now also a member of the UK Chapter, where we have the opportunity to share with colleagues from different environments and backgrounds, which further enriches the experience. Maintaining and helping to maintain the Esade network… I think that’s one of the great benefits of this community.