2015 Best EMBA: Sebastian Cerezo Montañez

 Sebastian Cerezo Montañez

Sebastian Cerezo Montañez


The University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

How is this for a resume? After spending a handful of years in investment banking, Sebastian Cerezo Montañez helped found the leading independent M&A house in Spain. In addition, he has served as CEO for two different companies. And he hasn’t even turned 40 yet! Originally from Madrid, Cerezo Montañez enrolled at Booth after determining his decision-making skills had become “very local, outdated and lacked a systematic structure.” At Booth, he graduated in the top five percent of his class and was selected to be the closing speaker for the London graduation ceremony.

Age: 39

Location: Madrid (Spain)

Family Members: Wife (Miriam) and two children (Beatriz and Sebastian)

Undergraduate School: Universidad Pontificia de Comillas, ICADE (Madrid)

Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor in Law; Bachelor in Business Administration

Where are you currently working? CEO of Oneworld Packaging, a recently-established company involved in the manufacturing and commercialization of pulp trays for the catering industry.

What are your long-term professional goals? My long-term goal is finding the right place to develop my leadership skills. As I mentioned in my closing ceremony speech, I truly believe Booth is a school of leaders, this world needs leaders capable of driving changes and that’s why we all have to take a decisive leadership role. In my case, whether it is in a large company, in a start-up venture or in politics, which I am seriously considering, is yet to be seen.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I felt my learning curve was on the decline and the way I approached my business decisions was very local, outdated and lacked a systematic structure.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…most probably doing the same things, the same way. I would have missed the opportunity to know myself better, to develop untapped parts of me and meet the exceptional people I have met. I would not be the person I am now.”

Favorite Courses: I particularly enjoyed the Negotiations course, primarily due to the techniques we learned and the role-play format of the classes. Financial Strategy and Macroeconomics were also two of my favorite courses, because of the subject and the quality of the professors.

Which academic or professional achievements are you most proud of? From an academic standpoint, the achievement I am most proud of is, undoubtedly, having completed this MBA at such as prestigious school and with High Honors. Additionally, as an undergraduate student, the fact that I undertook two quite demanding degrees (Law and Business Administration) at the same time meant a lot to me, since I had to leave my hometown and pursue these very selective studies in Madrid.

From a professional point of view, there are two achievements I am particularly proud of:

  • The first one is when, at the age of 26 and after two years with Salomon, I left a promising career at one of the most prominent bulge-bracket Investment Banks and founded my own advisory firm together with five other partners. The new venture, named 360 Corporate Finance, eventually became the leading independent M&A house in Spain, being praised by the financial community and by industry publications such as Thomson Financial.
  • The second one is that, after eight years with 360, I was offered the opportunity to become the CEO of my former company, Fred. Olsen, S.A., the leading ferry operator in the Canary Islands. At the age of 33, and with the challenging prospect of leading a €100m company, I did not hesitate. I took the firm in 2010 and was responsible for navigating the company through the worst crisis in its own history and that of Spain. After an in-depth turnaround, radical professionalization and complete change of cultural mindset, I left the company with its best results ever, despite economic turmoil and skyrocketing fuel prices.

Who would you most want to thank for your success (and why)? I would like to first thank my parents for providing me with the economic resources to pursue my studies and encouraging me to strive in my career. Also to my wife, for supporting me on every decision I have taken, for following me wherever my career has lead me and for giving me the home stability required to succeed. Lastly, I would like to thank one of my former partners at 360 Corporate Finance, who I still consider my best friend, for advising me on which route to take for developing my full potential.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? I chose Chicago Booth because I wanted to get the approach to business from a renowned American institution which could also offer me the international exposure I was longing for. Further, although I could only follow the Executive format for work reasons, I did want to obtain the same degree as a full time MBA and not a “softened” executive version. Of all the programs I analyzed, Booth was the only tier-1 school offering a three-campus experience, a full-time degree and the “authentic” version, as it is not part of any joint venture or alliance with other schools.

What did you enjoy most about the executive MBA program? I did really enjoy the interaction with students from the three campuses (Chicago, London and Singapore). Being exposed to so many different cultures was quite a rewarding experience. Over and above, I enjoyed the study weeks, the case discussions, the camaraderie and the collaborating spirit in each of every class, all of which were significantly intellectually enhancing to me.

What is your most memorable moment from business school? It was probably when I was asked by my peers to address the closing ceremony speech in London. I do believe it was a very special moment, and I think I encapsulated everybody’s feelings and what the program meant to all of us. I felt emotionally connected to the audience and, at the end of the speech, I got a standing ovation from my colleagues and the faculty, including Booth’s Dean.

Fun fact about yourself: When I was ten years old, I strongly wanted to become a bullfighter, and built a very compelling case before my father, even included a “primitive” SWOT analysis and pros and cons arguments. After a 15-minute presentation from y side, my father kindly “persuaded” me not to continue that route.

Favorite book: Werther, by Goethe. It is the story of a man who falls desperately in love with his best friend’s wife and commits suicide in the end. I first read it when I had my first heartbreak and have read it four more times since then.

Favorite movie: I have several. The Godfather saga, Star Wars trilogy and Wall Street by Oliver Stone. Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock and Ordet by Carl Th. Dreyer are masterpieces.

Favorite musical performer: Depeche Mode, U2 and The Cure. And of course Maria Callas, the diva of the divas.

Favorite television show: Game of Thrones. I am really addicted to it!!

Favorite vacation spot: Almuñécar, a small town in Granada (Spain). I have gone there for more than 30 years, as most of my childhood memories are linked to that place.

What are your hobbies? I love spending time with my family and playing with my two little kids. I like running and viewing soccer (I am a strong supporter of Real Madrid). I love wine tasting and reading, particularly history of Ancient Rome and the two World Wars. I regard myself as a music maniac, as I love any kind of music genre, from flamenco and opera to techno and pop.

What made Sebastian such an invaluable addition to the class of 2015 for your executive MBA program?

“Even before becoming a student in our program it was clear to me that Sebastian was the kind of Executive MBA student with which every program would love to fill their classrooms.  He possessed strong academic credentials and had a rapid professional trajectory that any admissions committee would view favourably. So I was particularly pleased to see Sebastian matriculate into our program in June 2013. As could have been predicted, he did extremely well in what is considered one of the most rigorous Executive MBA programs in the market. And I suppose if he had done nothing else except get good grades I would have a reason to be happy.  However, beyond the classroom I saw him form the relationships with his peers that can sometimes prove elusive in a program that adds so many demands on individuals already living very full lives.

At the beginning of the program I stand up in front of the new group of students and urge them to build a reputation for adding value to the group. It takes a lot of effort to achieve that, but Sebastian took me up on that challenge and seldom did I ever see him not surrounded by classmates.  That’s why it was so pleasing to see his classmates select Sebastian as their closing ceremony speaker.  He was the classmate they felt could best capture the experience at the culminating point in the program.  And what a joy it was to listen to his comments and see the ovation he received. In all my years of doing this, I’ve never heard our dean come up to me afterwards and ask me to track down a copy of the student speaker’s comments for his files.   

I suppose if the story ended there it would feel pretty satisfying, but it doesn’t. What perhaps I most admire about Sebastian is that he overcame a tremendous amount of personal upheaval in his life including an urgent medical situation with a toddler followed by a job change and relocation. Individually these issues would put a kink in any Executive MBA student’s progress in the program let alone them all coming at once. But not for Sebastian, which told me something about the kind of person he is.  In spite of very dark days for Sebastian and his family he demonstrated an exceptional amount of courage, confidence and tenacity as he faced the issues confronting him outside of school while continuing to make positive contributions to the Executive MBA group. He was an inspiration to many of his classmates and I’m sure contributed to their decision to want to hear from him “one last time” at their closing dinner.   

As the program administrator, I always hold the hope that our graduates experience nothing but success in the years ahead, but at the same time I know many will face bumps in the road ahead and it’s going to be how they face those that will be the more defining moments of their lives – i.e., the kind of colleague they will be, the kind of husband and father they will be, the kind of boss they will be, the kind of member of our community they will be, etc. With Sebastian I already have a very good view on the answers to those questions.  That’s why in the years ahead , as we track the Class of 2015, I’m quite confident that Sebastian will be in the forefront on all of life’s important dimensions and will be someone we will continue to point to with Booth pride.”

– Glenn Sykes, Associate Dean – Executive MBA Program

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