Carlos Mateos Duran makes his adventurous spirit the building blocks of his career

The Juwi EMEA FD’s ability to easily connect with different types of people has turned out to be an asset.

Born and raised in Madrid, Spain, Carlos Mateos Duran first sprouted his wings when he opted for boarding school as a boy. “I wanted to be in an environment where I could be surrounded by activity and my peers,” he says, adding that leaving home as a youngster fostered an early sense of independence and he matured quite quickly.

Naturally good at maths as well as being fast and competitive, he chose a career in finance because he had an aptitude for it, but also because his dad had a background in accounting and tax.

He went on to get a business administration degree specialising in accounting and auditing, cut his teeth at PWC Madrid in audit and accounting and in 2010, joined Abengoa Solar as a financial consolidation analyst.

A pivotal time
In 2010, Abengoa Solar decided to establish a footprint in South Africa and Carlos was given the assignment of setting up the local administration and finance structure.

He recalls being thrown in at the deep end:

“This was a critical point in my career; it was scary, just venturing into the unknown. It was my first international post and work-wise, I was not sure what to expect, even with support from Spain.”

When he first moved to South Africa, he had a good grasp of English, but it wasn’t conversational, so he really made it a point to learn the culture, especially through friendships with local people. “At work, I had to deal with senior lenders in English. Telephonic conversations were especially difficult because there were no visual cues. Many times, I would have to ask for clarification, and follow up with emails to confirm that I had heard right.”

Excelling in multi-cultural environments is a plus for any ambitious professional and Carlos says in his journey, being able to easily connect with different types of people has turned out to be an asset. “I am able to adapt to new environments, which has also helped advance my career.”

Through grit and determination, he managed to pull off the assignment of establishing a presence in South Africa, managing a portfolio of concentrated solar power projects in excess of $1 billion USD. He left the company in solid shape four and a half years later, with over 100 employees and a 10-person finance team.

Leadership style
After a few positions abroad, he returned to South Africa in 2019 as the CFO at ‎Juwi Renewable Energies. He has since become EMEA FD.

Carlos describes his leadership style as one that is not formal or overbearing. “I tend to be very organised and methodical, therefore I am usually ahead of the curve and can anticipate issues. This helps me drive my team towards goals in a more relaxed manner. If I weren’t that organised maybe I would have to be micromanaging, but being organised allows me to run things in a less rushed manner.”

He believes that as a leader, it’s important to strive for alignment between the organisation’s goals, personal goals and the team’s goals in order to pull in the same direction as a collective. He also thinks that leading by example is important. “When I have to roll up my sleeves, I do that, and I hope that helps my team members see me as a colleague who despite the hierarchy, sees that I am willing to work as hard as they do and I’m there to support,” he explains.

Carlos has cultivated his technical expertise, having been in the field for a long time, but he thinks what really sets him apart is the way he is wired. “I am a very consistent person and a perfectionist, which are pluses in a finance career,” he says. “I think it helps to be very organised, which is critical, especially in an international environment where you interact with so many different peers. I have my checks and double checks to make sure that what I’m doing is right.”

Working through Covid-19
“I really like engaging, having face to face conversations and connecting with people, both about things at work but also just in their lives.” says Carlos. So, when Covid-19 restrictions came into play, he says he made an extra effort to close the gap that was created by social distancing.

He admits that while connecting comes easy to him, he had to make more of an effort to understand the personal circumstances of those he works with. “I have been part of international teams working remotely for years now, so reporting from other countries isn’t new for me. That previous experience proved to be very valuable when we shifted to working from home.”

Business-wise, the company was lucky to be building three large projects, “but the problem was that those projects were in the middle of construction when the hard lockdown hit, and it was five to six weeks until measures were eased, and our projects stopped altogether. So we got to the point where we had to demobilise our teams from the site.”

Carlos explains that there are provisions in the contract that allow them to get an extension in the event of an unprecedented occurrence like the pandemic, “but we had to get the extensions approved and the uncertainty of that was hugely stressful.”

Looking forward
Now more than a year after the first hard lockdown, he says, the team managed to complete the projects, and closed with good financials, “so we are happy to have put that behind us. What we did prove during hard lockdown, was that our business can continue. Covid-19 has been here for a year, but things are moving forward. It has been an incredibly challenging time, but we need to look into the future and accept that business is going to be run differently from now.”

As part of Juwi’s management team, Carlos is actively engaging with all employees, to understand their experience with remote working, and to implement a long-term solution where everyone is accommodated.

“We are also looking at how to adapt our processes and tools, to set ourselves up for success for now, but also looking at what should stay in the long term,” he says.

Outside of work
The Covid-19 pandemic has allowed Carlos to spend a lot of time with family, which has been invaluable. His second daughter was born during the hard lockdown, and with a three-year-old and one-year-old at home, he admits some days have been challenging. “But there are definitely more upsides than downsides.

“With a second child, it’s easier to manage because you have experience. There is more opportunity to get distracted at home, but having a coffee break with the family now and then has been a great escape.”

When he’s not hanging out with his family, he says he is enjoying a newly found hobby of trail running. He recently joined a running club and enjoys hitting the trail with friends and blowing off some steam. “I like the physical benefits, I like to be fit, and mentally it’s a great boost. I used to be a casual runner to keep healthy, but the trail running is more enjoyable because of the gorgeous surroundings and being out in the elements.”

He has also picked up golf, which he finds mentally demanding, and says playfully, “My goal is to beat my in-laws, who beat me badly in our last game.”