Veronica Acurio, Area Vice President of 3M’s Greater China Health Care Business, has spent three decades climbing the ranks in the multinational conglomerate. Her journey has brought her from Peru to the U.S. and now Taiwan, a place she has developed a deep admiration for.
In this month’s Executive Suite interview, Acurio speaks with Taiwan Business TOPICS Deputy Editor Jeremy Olivier about her inspiration for going into business, her strengths as a leader, and why she’s stayed with 3M for so many years.
What got you interested in a career in business? At what point in your life did you make that decision?
I think it partly came from my upbringing. From an early age, my father inculcated me and my siblings with a strong sense of creativity. He would sit down with us on Sundays and would invent stories and have us help him come up with the ending. From then on, I have always had a passion for building things, but I knew I didn’t want to be an architect. I wanted to create businesses.
My decision to go into business actually happened very early on, back when I was just 14 years old. By age 16, I was already studying at a very unique university in Peru. In order to graduate from that school, I had to build a business from scratch with a couple of partners – my two best friends. We established a company that produced clothes for career women. This was back in the 1990s when women were just starting to break the glass ceiling and get put in leadership roles.
Your career has brought you to three different continents. Have you always had an interest in the international side of business?
Honestly, not initially. But I was given the opportunity very early on in my career to take on roles that were not normally filled by someone as young as I was. By my early 30s, I was already in the highest role possible for a local employee at 3M Peru. So, when I was offered the chance to go work in the U.S., I had to really consider if it was the right move. In the end, I accepted the offer, and from there my career at 3M blossomed.
I started to see that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you could create value anywhere. Transition to global roles was a special experience for me. I’m now the type of person that likes to learn and get a sense of the best practices from other places. I come with a very open mind and try to find what makes each market special.
You’ve been with 3M’s health care division for 30 years now. What drew you to the company? What has kept you there for most of your career?
If you look at the span of my career, I have worn many hats. When I started at 3M, I was working in finance. A year and a half later, the company transitioned me to a new role as Healthcare Country Business Leader for Peru. I wasn’t sure that I would like this change at first, but it opened so many new doors to me.
There are generally a few reasons why people change employers. One is that your boss’ management style doesn’t work for you. Another is an unhealthy or uncomfortable work environment. Sometimes, the role you’re in is just not right for you; it doesn’t allow you to be who you are.
That’s why I’ve stayed with 3M for this long. I have been offered new and exciting opportunities so consistently since I started. I have seen the great leadership and values of those within the company. Also, I am allowed to be myself – to be authentic – in every role I’ve had at 3M.
3M has been active in producing much-needed PPE to confront the global COVID-19 crisis. What role has the company’s Greater China Health Care Business had in this effort?
As you can imagine, there is a growing need for personal protective equipment now for people across the world. In our case, we need to prioritize healthcare workers in our supply of this essential PPE. And in both Taiwan and China, we have worked closely with the governments to make sure that the products that we are shipping them are going first to hospitals and healthcare facilities. We are also coordinating with our vendors to make sure that we can locate products to be distributed to this priority segment.
What are the main characteristics of the healthcare market in Taiwan? How does it differ from that of other locations where you’ve worked?
I’ve worked hard since coming to Taiwan to learn about the local environment by visiting customers and making observations. I’m impressed about many things in Taiwan, but the healthcare system is probably at the top of my list. The level of quality and value I have witnessed in Taiwan paired with the low cost of care is something I don’t think you could find in many other countries in the world.
What I’ve found from the decades working in the healthcare side of 3M is that the way that health insurance systems are set up drives clinician and patient behaviors. And I believe that Taiwan is in a unique position in that it is sitting on this gold mine of data collected through the NHI. When you think about the future of healthcare, it will be more and more tied to data, which will drive better value-based care. It will also be more and more driven by innovative technologies like artificial intelligence. Of course, laws will need to be liberalized to make the most of the data.
Would you say you have a particular style as a manager? What do see as your main strengths? Is there any area where you’d like to improve?
I think about this question a lot, and I would say that first and foremost I am not a manager that believes leadership is about a job title or my position in the company’s hierarchy. Rather, I believe in building relationships based on trust with subordinates and colleagues to achieve outcomes. I think this is the way that you drive change within an organization.
That desire to challenge the status quo, I think, is one of my strengths as a manager as well. I have always carried with me that sense of creativity my father helped to cultivate. I find inspiration from seeing what other companies and industries are doing and love getting new ideas from my team.
I believe my other strength is a combination of authenticity and transparency. I like to be genuine because I think that it provides the foundation for trust.
Lastly, I have the courage to make important decisions and take risks when needed. Having courage also means speaking up, saying the things that need to be said to create positive change in an organization.
Of course, they say your biggest strengths can also become your greatest weaknesses. I think that my sensibilities have sometimes led me to take positions on certain issues too quickly. So, I think I could probably work on not over-utilizing my strengths.
What are the major pluses and minuses of leading an expat life? Are any of these particular to Taiwan?
Being an expat has given me the opportunity to explore new things that have made me stronger – and not just me, but my family, too. It’s opened my children’s eyes to new possibilities, allowed them to meet people that can be important for them and their future.
It also offers an opportunity to come to a new place and start from scratch. Although this kind of change is not easy, there are many benefits to doing it, like making great new friends and learning to adapt to a whole new environment.
Over the past two years I’ve been in Taiwan, I have come to admire so many things about this place. I look out my window at the number of businesses I see in the streets. There is this great entrepreneurial spirit here. I am so impressed with all of the Taiwanese business leaders that I’ve met that have been so successful, yet manage to stay very humble. It has made me realize that Taiwan is a very unique place.
If you had one piece of advice for young professionals in your industry, what would it be?
You have to love what you do. Make sure that whatever career you decide on connects well with what is in your heart. If you’re authentic and have a passion for the things you love doing, success will come naturally.
What is your favorite way to unwind after a long week at work?
Lately, because of the COVID-19 situation, a long week of work might be seven totally full days, so unwinding has definitely become important for me.
For me, spending time with my family, talking with them – even if it’s just for an hour a day – is really important. I also brought a little dog over from the U.S. I like to go walking with him and taking in the city life as we stroll. That is how I disconnect for a little bit.