Luisa delgado, a veteran c-suite executive and board member in european retail and luxury, realised early in life that being different is more, not less, and it can be used powerfully to lead change.

Ms delgado was born in grisons, switzerland, where the locals speak romansh, an ancient language spoken regularly by just 60,000 people.

Coming from a cultural minority she made a decision, encouraged by her parents who sent her to ireland to learn english when she was just 11 to become not only multilingual but to live and work in other cultures.

That early influence has led her to a 30-year career spanning nine countries and companies from us consumer goods group procter & gamble, to swedish furniture retailer ikea, german technology group sap, chief executive of safilo, the italian eyewear maker, and currently, executive chairman of schleich, one of germanys largest toy companies.

In the third stage of her career, she has become an investor in europes luxury artisan industry and an adviser to family-run firms.

Ms delgado, who is fluent in seven languages, is also representative of a new cadre of businesswomen breaking into senior roles across europe, many of whom are rewriting assumptions about successful career paths.

Ms delgado says p&g provided the trampoline for her professional life. she joined the group in portugal, before rising over 22 years to vice-president and general manager of p&g nordic.

My second defining moment was my decision to leave p&g. ikea had approached her to join as a non-executive director on its supervisory board. but p&g would not allow her to take on a board role. so she quit.

Stepping off the traditional career path was at first unsettling. still, career progression, she argues, must be seen differently from in the past. an advocate of meditation, which she took up after the birth of her daughter, she sees life as a mosaic, where the professional and the personal are in shifting balance.

She is aware her view is in marked contrast to the typically linear career where the goal is to be successful assignment after assignment. but experience has taught her that is not the way to breed superb leaders.

Her decision to gamble paid off. she took the role at ikea and for a year became head of human resources at sap and joined the executive board. she was then hired as chief executive of safilo to stage a turnround.

The third stage of her career involves a lot of variety and freedom. as well as her role at schleich, she holds various non-executive directorships and is a member of the council of venices fondazione cini, a locus of italian business power.

A year ago, ms delgado moved back to switzerland. she also spends time in portugal advising luxury craftmakers.

With data suggesting working women will be hard hit by the covid-19 crisis, ms delgado offers advice: do not be afraid to reinvent yourself so that you can bring in new angles to your business life and total life.

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