Miguel Lemos, 41, entered Universidade Portucalense to study Economics in 2000, because he had “the dream of managing companies”. Throughout his academic life, he was President of the Students’ Association and a member of the Porto Academic Federation. Today he is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Águas de Gaia.
Comunica UPT: What skills did the course give you that were fundamental to the professional challenges you have taken on?
It gave me the academic skills and, fundamentally, a very practical attitude, which is, in fact, the hallmark of Portucalense. This practical component, which is part of the University’s DNA, makes all the difference because it prepares us for the challenges of the labour market.
How did you experience those academic years?
Very intensely! I believe that when we join Portucalense, we fall in love with this University, and the fact that I was an association leader strengthened that bond even more. We spent our days at the university, most of the day at the Students’ Association preparing the various initiatives we organised; it was almost a job, and it was a lot of fun. The academic parties were also fun, with Festas da Garagem leading the way, of course! Furthermore, it was at Portucalense, or in the wider academic context, that I made most of my best friends, who still remain today.
After graduation, how did your career progress?
My first job was in 1998, before I went to university, as a guide in a pavilion at Expo 98; perhaps the most fun I’ve had and one that gave me a lot of experience, especially in terms of dealing with different people and cultures. My professional career already includes many different experiences – deputy and later head of office in the Civil Government of Porto, deputy to a councillor in Gaia City Council, and roles in the private sector, having worked in the commercial department of a technology company and in a bank, as well as being an entrepreneur.
A moment in your professional life that was decisive and why?
Being Chairman of Águas de Gaia was the most decisive, but also the proudest moment, since it was the opportunity to put into practice some ideas that I believe are transformative and disruptive for the company. I also see as extremely important the invitation to join the European Association of Public Water Operators; I am currently the only Portuguese member of this organisation, which represents 68 management entities that provide water and sanitation services to more than 70 million citizens in Europe.
You are currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of Águas de Gaia. In this context, what are your main challenges?
Being Chairman of the Board of Directors of Águas de Gaia is a huge challenge. It’s a company with a huge impact on the lives of citizens and the municipality itself. It’s a fairly big company, both in budgetary terms and in terms of the number of employees, with around 380 people. Our challenges include investing in the modernisation of the company, its digitalisation, improving customer services, and an ambitious global plan to reduce water losses, which has already resulted in a historic low, allowing us to join the list of municipalities with the lowest water losses in the public supply network. The management of the municipality’s entire seafront and its beaches, all of which have been awarded the Blue Flag, is also something of great importance, along with the process of internationalisation and international cooperation that we have been developing. Our ambition is to become an increasingly sustainable, modern, and efficient company.
You returned to Universidade Portucalense to take up the Master’s programme in International Relations. What led you to make this decision?
I wanted to “go back to school” and strengthen my academic skills, and I was torn between a master’s degree in management or in another scientific field. I thought the Master’s in International Relations and Diplomacy had everything to do with me and fulfilled another side of my personality that I was currently developing! The choice was therefore influenced, on the one hand, by my long-standing taste and interest in these subjects and, on the other, because it coincided with my attendance at the National Defence Course at the National Defence Institute, which further increased my desire to deepen my knowledge of International Relations. I also thought, and I was right, that the two courses could be complementary, one contributing to the other and vice versa.
How do Economics and International Relations intersect?
In an increasingly global world, the crossover between the two sciences is evident. Economic phenomena are increasingly influenced by geopolitics and vice versa. In fact, energy and natural resources have always been part of the chessboard of world geopolitics, of issues of sovereignty and the hegemony of states, as can be seen today in the context of the war in Europe. If we move to realm of companies, nowadays it’s also increasingly important to have a global vision of the market and business. Thus, I have no doubt about the benefit of bringing the two areas together.
A manager is a diplomat and a visionary of the world?
No doubt about it! We live in an increasingly global and competitive world, and this means that diplomacy is no longer the exclusive preserve of governments, as a mechanism for representing the foreign policy of states, but other actors and other concepts are becoming more relevant, such as para-diplomacy and economic diplomacy. Furthermore, just like a diplomat, a manager also has to define strategies, negotiate, reconcile wills, influence practices, and make decisions. That’s why a large part of a manager’s job is effectively “diplomatic work” and today a manager also has to be disruptive and have the ability to anticipate the future and, therefore, be a visionary.
Do you have daily routines you cannot do without? If so, what are they?
I do! Watching the front pages of the newspapers late into the night, while looking at the next day’s diary and mentally trying to organise it. In the morning, I look at the news and then, in the office, I analyse some performance indicators relating to the previous day’s activity and, from then on, the diary and mobile phone take on a life of their own (laughs).
On a personal level, I have a few routines that I try not to give up, which are walking “Maggie”, my dog, reading a book, even if it’s just “half a dozen” pages before I go to sleep, and, “religiously”, on Saturday mornings, taking my son swimming.
What advice do you have for final-year students to succeed in the labour market?
My advice is to always work with a lot of passion and be creative, to focus on the essentials and define objectives and priorities. As you fulfil the objectives you set, you should redefine them and your priorities. In terms of projects, we must always consider their feasibility, which is why planning is fundamental. Better a smaller project carried out than a larger one that is unfeasible. Another piece of advice I dare to give is to work as a team; collaborative decisions are usually more assertive decisions. Furthermore, and returning to the “diplomat profile of the manager”, in leadership positions I much prefer to involve others in the construction of ideas rather than imposing my will alone.
Hobbies: Travelling, friendship being my favourite place to be!
A book: “The Name of a Bullfighter” by Luís Sepúlveda and “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates.
A piece of music: From Nirvana to Mozart, my taste in music is broad and depends on the moment. These days I listen to a lot of classical music, but one of the songs I like best is “Black” by Pearl Jam.
An app: WhatsApp.
A movie: “Hotel Rwanda”.
A show: “The Girl from Oslo”.
Life motto: To be passionate in everything I do.
The place in Porto that inspires you the most: All those overlooking the River Douro! I’m also very inspired by the sea, but it would have to be on the beaches of Gaia.
The person who inspires you most and why: Nelson Mandela, for the way he dedicated his life to freedom and human rights. In business, Steve Jobs is an inspiration for his vision and resilience. In the diplomatic field, Jonathan Powell, diplomat and politician, known as “the mercenary of peace”, due to the various conflict mediation processes he has been involved in.