You graduated in Civil Engineering from Técnico in 1993. Why did you choose this area?
I have always liked math, science and technology, particularly the possibility they gave me to build and create new things. So choosing civil engineering was a very natural step. I was also attracted by the prestige, quality and rigor of IST’s education.
For some years you worked for the Suez Group, before doing a MBA at Harvard and focusing on finance and management. Why this change of course?
At the time I thought that it was interesting to add the economic and management dimension to my engineering profile. I think they are two complementary areas, and for me, as for so many engineers, it was a logical sequence in my career. On the other hand, I believe in the importance of switching between education and professional experience. There are times in our lives in which we study, times in which we work and then times in which we study again.
How did the training at Técnico contribute to your career? Do you feel that you had the necessary foundations to “venture” into other areas?
The training at Técnico gave me very solid foundations, particularly in analytical methods and work habits. This preparation has been essential throughout my career and in the different areas to which I have devoted myself.
In recent years you have held various political positions and you are currently the European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation. How do you feel you can contribute to the future of Europe in this area?
The portfolio of research, science and innovation is crucial for growth and job creation in Europe. Sustainable progress in Europe, based on the increase of productivity and the well-being of citizens, needs to be firmly grounded on research and science, which leads to innovation. Such innovation can be the creation of a new product, a new process or a new way of managing things. Europe is a world power in science and research. But we must be more efficient in transforming that knowledge into new products and services. In the last few months I have worked hard on the Juncker Plan, which aims to increase European investment in sectors with a strong R&D component. This plan is one of the cornerstones of the strategy of creating an economy built on knowledge, in which science and innovation are essential. I am optimistic that this path will be trod, and one of my main missions is precisely to create favourable conditions for that to happen. When I finished my degree at Técnico in the early 1990s, most of my colleagues did not feel the ambition to create a company. Today, when I visit IST, I get a completely different picture – I see a new generation of young scientists and researchers, dynamic and talented, strongly oriented towards business creation.
What is the importance of somehow “giving back” to the institutions you were a part of (such as through the Alumni Association, etc.)?
It is essential. It allows us to show our appreciation and gratitude for the training we received and to help the institution continue training new students in the best possible conditions. I therefore believe that the alumni should feel a responsibility for the institution that trained them. And they should reflect on how they can contribute to make it better and better.