In this edition of Laureate Leadership Perspectives, I had the opportunity to speak with Ricardo Berckemeyer, Laureate’s Chief Operating Officer and CEO of Latin America. Ricardo is someone that nearly everyone in our network knows and respects for his exemplary leadership, and he is approaching 15 years spent with the company, during which he has been instrumental to growing our reach in Latin America and on the frontlines of establishing best practices across the network. In our conversation, we dive into his leadership journey and style, his thoughts on the direction our network will take in years to come, and the ways he has seen our Here for Good spirit in action around the world.
Esther Benjamin: Take us back to when you first joined Laureate. What drew you to the company and what roles have you taken on since you joined?
Ricardo Berckemeyer: I never dreamed that I would end up in education. Until I joined Laureate, my career had been in financial services and the insurance industry. I heard about Laureate from a former colleague who was working at the company at the time, and he invited me to review the company’s business model, because they were really thinking about their needs for growth and how they would achieve scale. I immediately saw the opportunity there was in the industry and how there was a large gap between the demand for quality higher education and the supply available in the market. This piqued my curiosity, and I got the confirmation I needed that this was a worthy place to work when I saw the immense social aspect of the work, as Laureate wanted to work in countries where expanding access to education could help emerging middle classes and economies. When I joined in 2002, I led our operations and business development in Latin America, then became CEO of the Andean region from 2011 to 2012, and finally, from 2012 to March of 2017, was CEO of Latin America.
EB: And what kind of progress have you seen us make in closing that gap and expanding access to high-quality educational opportunities?
RB: In the countries where we work, Laureate is a catalyst for change in education. In all of these places, we have contributed to expanding access, energizing the sector and waking up our competitors so that they work to provide even better options to students. I am convinced that in every country we have a presence, we are a spark that leads to growth and expanded access for the middle class and emerging middle class.
EB: In your new role as COO, we’ve seen the organization take on a new leadership structure. What are the benefits of this structure and what direction do you expect the company to go in the years to come?
RB: First off, I am humbled by the opportunity and support I’ve already received in this role. It is a huge responsibility, and I look forward to continuing to deliver on our three main pillars: growing the academic reputation of our institutions, delivering high-quality outcomes for our students, and building value for the shareholders who invest in us.
With this new structure, we are really taking the time to get the organization right, to think through how we organize ourselves so we can achieve the future goals we have. We have assembled teams that know the company and culture and have the vision and drive to execute the plans we have to continue our growth trajectory. We are focusing on initiatives that will move the needle – things like the Learning & Innovation Office under Paula Singer that will focus on academic compliance, innovation, hybridity, and online. We have also consolidated a group under Juan José Hurtado to work on Global Operations Coordination and Best Practices to ensure we maintain consistency in our strategy, execution, category management, and transformation initiatives.
There are still so many opportunities to build the company in years to come, but we have to prioritize. Right now, we are focusing on those initiatives which will lead to realizing our future goals. We need to think creatively and out of the box. We have been successful in categories like Health Sciences, and will continue to succeed there, but we also need to think about how we move further into in-demand areas like engineering, IT, and other technologies. And we also need to focus on how we differentiate in areas that will always be mainstays at our institutions, like business and psychology, and how we offer curriculum and opportunities that allow us to stand out. We also know that hybridity and online are here to stay, and we must lead the way in showing that learning outcomes for students who use these methods are on par or even better than students in completely face-to-face programs.
EB: Shifting to our Here for Good mission, how have you seen Here for Good present in our network during your time with the organization?
RB: I have seen the Here for Good mission clearly many, many times. For me, what comes to mind is all the graduation ceremonies I have attended. My niece attended Universidad Peruana de Ciencias Aplicadas (UPC), and I attended her graduation ceremony. I saw how the graduating class there represented the incredible diversity of Peru, geographically, ethnically, and economically. From students whose families could pay for everything on their own to those who needed scholarships but had the talent and drive to get their degree. I was able to see what it means to families who sacrifice so much to see one of their children graduate for the first time ever. It was the same when I attended one of Walden’s ceremonies in Minneapolis and saw the diversity and excitement of their graduates. Those moments are the reason we do what we do.
EB: As you reflect back on these 15 years with Laureate, stands out to you and what feeling do you have about your work with us?
RB: I am so humbled by the opportunity I’ve had to work within this company and with my colleagues at Laureate over the past 15 years. First off, I have always felt rewarded by the work that we do. Challenges always come in one way or another, but the Here for Good mission behind what we do has always kept me going. I have always been surrounded by talented, smart, energetic, hard-working teams that also make the work fun. People often call us “resilient” in the areas we work, and I think that is because we truly believe in what we are doing and know it has great value for societies. That makes the work more than just work. I feel very excited for the future and motivated to deliver on the plans we have to continue to build this company and deliver high-quality outcomes worldwide.
Thank you so much to Ricardo for his time and insights – and for 15 years of incredible service to our company and mission!