Challenges of the financial industry with María Irene Gavilan


Making the Best of Challenges with María Irene Gavilán

Today at N5 CIZ he meets Maria Irene Gavilán, CEO of Banco Atlas. Discover her life from the beginning, as a young mother who refused to leave her professional life behind, until she became the CEO of a bank with a strong presence in Paraguay, together with Julián Colombo, CEO of N5.

How can you use challenges to empower yourself in professional life? How to achieve a good work environment so that work does not feel like work? What would you recommend to a young woman who one day wants to get to where she is?

Here are the key points and most valuable lessons from the interview. Even so, we recommend that you watch the full video so as not to miss the valuable lessons that María has to contribute.

The Beginnings of María

Maria Gavilán was born in Asunción, Paraguay. Since she was a girl she was a hyperactive girl. She did not realize then of the hard times that ran. The country was in the midst of a dictatorship, and his father was from the opposition.

Maria grew up with strong family values. He married at 18 and ended up having his first daughter at 20. He worked since he was young, but still found the time to study Systems Engineering.

Later in her career, Maria would end up working for a bank in Paraguay along with other adults and young adults close to her age range. She tells how her boss was a despot “in a good way.” He was meticulous, and he solved absolutely all the errors to get things right from the beginning.

This was the case until the financial crisis came, and the first bank intervened was his.

Maria would end up leaving her bank and going with a partner to a credit card processor. There he worked for a time, learning sales in the technology area, until he ended up going to a Brazilian bank.

Nothing More Exciting than a Good Challenge

When he went to work at the Brazilian bank, he did so with a deadline already set. Her partner, who had invited her, presented her with the challenge they were facing. They had to develop a credit card system in 9 months – or they would both be left out.

A major challenge? Yes, but as Maria recounts, she loves challenges. For her, if there is no challenge to overcome, things get too boring, and there is nothing as motivating as a good challenge.

For the next 8 months, she and her team would work tirelessly until the product was ready. It was then that the opportunity arose to go for a tender, presented by a client of another bank.

She and her boss would end up winning the bid. Maria considers that this was the turning point in her bank. After this, they went from having 1,200 clients to around 15,000.

Challenges are an important part of business life. That is why one of the main objectives of CEOs is to prepare for the new challenges that await them.

 La Importancia del Clima Laboral

Maria tells of the incredible experience she had working for that bank. The place had an excellent work environment, with recurring group activities such as talent shows for which they even hired dance consultants and others. There was a prize for the highest positions, so that participants were encouraged to do their best.

For Maria, the environment greatly changed her experience with the bank. It was a place where it was even a pleasure to work and where she genuinely had a good time. Even the CEO of that bank joined the sketches they made for the contest.

The experience was so good that she didn’t even mind working on weekends, because, as she mentions, working there was a pleasure.

On the Transition to CEO

As Julián comments at one point, you are not born ready to be CEO. Many times you don’t even expect it. Depending on the situation, it can be anticipated, or one can be warned in advance, but it is always a surprise.

In Maria’s case, it meant a company change. It was a fairly lengthy process in which she was not entirely convinced, at least initially. She had been sought out to be the successor to someone who had had a huge positive impact on their bank. It was a great challenge.

However, she felt incredibly honored to have been considered for such an important role. It was a huge opportunity that might even have paralyzed other people, but not her.

How Does a CEO Manage His Agenda?

Late in the interview, one of the points Julian makes is that a CEO has the power to choose his or her agenda. You can choose to do what you want and set priorities, but you are always aware of a sense of responsibility for the things you put aside. It is not always easy to know what to prioritize and what not.

Maria agrees with this and comments on how she experiences this with the meetings. She is often in business, product, technology, and organizational development meetings, which she enjoys immensely as they bring a new lease of life to the company and move a little further from the conventional.
Still, the responsibility deserves that you are also often found in meetings that you do not enjoy at all, but in which you participate because you know they are important and should be prioritized. This is the main case of the meetings in which different indicators or audits are monitored for legal matters, which for her are tedious but necessary.

Mary’s Council for Professional Girls

At one point Julian asks Maria about what she would recommend to an 18-year-old girl who would like to one day reach the position of CEO of a company. To this, María responds by placing an important emphasis on professional training when it comes to standing out.,

As María comments, everything that is associated with training ends up helping you as a person independent of the position held. Not only formal training, but also on a day-to-day basis. It is about loving what you do, preparing, studying every day and enriching yourself from the environment.

There is no career to become a CEO. The things you learn in a formal system may be related to what you do, but they are not what helps you stand out. Passion, on the other hand, can take you further than you might imagine at first.

Without a doubt, we can establish a relationship between this recommendation and the advice that María Laura Palacios leaves in her interview regarding the importance of motivation.

How to Prepare a Good Presentation

One topic that comes up during the interview is about the preparation required for professional presentations. Julian asks María about how she prepares a presentation and what her methods are, and to this she responds that it is vital to study the environment and know the audience perfectly.

It is important to prepare ahead of time, both mentally and in terms of resources for the presentation. It is not something that can be improvised, mainly because these types of presentations at a professional level usually demand accurate data.

To this Julian contributes with something that Winston Churchill said about how he could improvise a three-hour speech, but he had to prepare a ten-minute speech to the smallest detail.

Where is Maria in Ten Years?

At the end of the interview, Julian asks María how she projects in ten years. She responds that she would like to undertake something of her own – a project of her own. In fact, in this regard, she says that she is already beginning to prepare something in the field of innovation for a couple of years.

She comments that she looks super active in the future. “I don’t look retired at all,” she says with a smile. “On the contrary, I’m dying.”


Without a doubt, María is a capable woman who has managed to find her place in the industry and rise to the position of CEO, which is the dream for many. On behalf of N5, we wish you luck in your future endeavors and challenges, but we know you clearly don’t need it.

These are the main points of the interview to keep in mind:

  • There are people who shy away from challenges, but many times they can bring out the best in us. Never turn down a good challenge.
  • Often times having a good work environment can motivate employees in a way that other things rarely can. Everyone is surprised by the transition to a senior position like CEO. However, if you keep one eye open you can see clues.
  • A CEO’s agenda is full of things that may or may not be challenging. However, it is important to give importance to all of them, no matter how tedious they seem.
  • Passion will take you far in your career. It is always good to have training, but it is also necessary to know how to learn from the environment.
  • Many times a good presentation can be the difference between winning a client or never hearing from him again, so the best thing you can do is take your time to prepare something really good.

Editorial: Marcelo Frette

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