“Failure is highly stigmatised, and this leads to a loss of talent” – An interview with José María Torres for El Punt Avui
In this interview for El Punt Avui, Torres explains how he devotes part of his time to promoting a second chance for entrepreneurs drowned in debt.
You were world champion in karate but then you became an entrepreneur. Is it hard to get back on your feet?
When you’re into elite sport you live in a bubble; within your world you’re well known, but when this world ends you have to start from scratch. Many athletes have a hard time because they don’t know how to adapt to the new life. I had the one taught me about martial arts, the culture of effort and perseverance. I went back to school, signed up for a business management course. I started a new life in technology.
Telecommunications have nothing to do with karate.
No, but in the end in a company the important thing is to have a good team, to know your limitations, to know how to delegate and take advantage of your talent.
When you decided to reinvent yourself, you threw all the trophies away. Did you have to be so radical?
It was a way to start over, like when I started karate at the age of 12. I started as a white belt at another stage of my life, breaking with the past.
In the business world, have you won so many awards?
Our communication platform has been recognized as the best in Europe for technological advances. This past year we were given an award that was very important to me, for social values. Companies are here to generate wealth, not to make us rich. The benefits we generate must be returned to society. It makes me very happy to be able to dedicate them to social issues.
Many entrepreneurs don’t do so well on the first attempt.
When I began to collaborate with the Pimec Foundation I knew desperate cases of people who had lost everything. To help them, we pushed for the first second-chance state law, which came out in 2015, when the first law in the United States was in 1898. We are now working on the draft European directive, not just for entrepreneurs but for the whole world. Some people lose their homes and have debts for life. These people are condemned to the black economy, to social exclusion or to living on social benefits that we all end up paying for together. The way they get out of this fish that bites its tail is to be forgiven for their debts and to be able to enter the production process again. Failure here is highly stigmatised, and this causes talent to be lost, when, in fact, all the large American multinationals we know, especially the technological ones, have emerged after previous failures. With Spanish legislation all these companies would not exist, many people would have been sunk forever and ever.
Why do businesses fail?
If we talk about the years of crisis, a third of the small companies that closed down were because of the nonpayments of the larger companies. The law says that companies have to pay within 60 days and they still pay after 500 days. There are other companies that close because the project is not good, but this does not have to be an excuse because the entrepreneur cannot develop another project. You have to work from the schools; making mistakes is normal, because if you don’t, there is no learning. When an idea fails, the project fails, but not the person, and the talent must continue to be used.
Is entrepreneurship still poorly encouraged?
We’ve been getting better and better. In Catalonia there are many organisations that do a lot in this field. More must be done with the second chance for those who fail; let them be forgiven for their debts as soon as possible.
You produced a short film,’The Runner’, to raise awareness about the need for a second chance.
It was the most awarded short film in the history of Spanish cinema. It has been seen around the world and in many business forums. This makes everyone aware of the need for indebted people to have their debt forgiven without perverting the payment culture. We’re always talking about honest people who open their doors in good faith.
Will you come back with another cultural project?
We are working on a global project on child protection that we will present at the UN. The second chance starts with the children. Creativity must be encouraged and they must be taught to lose their fear of failure. It is a song that we have written in the six official languages of the UN because it is sung by famous artists from all over the world. There is also a short film about immigrant children and a book that will bring a game, so that it can be used in schools to teach children to appreciate the culture of effort from an early age. We want UN states to devote more resources to child protection. That is why we will try to get the majority of NGOs around the world to support the project..