Business

From global CEO to entrepreneur. The challenge of starting over from scratch

At the end of November 2020, Alexia Keglevich received a call that changed her plans overnight. On the other side of the line, without much tact or good manners, they told her that she had been fired. At the time, she was serving as the global CEO of Assist Card, the company her Hungarian father had founded in 1972 and to which she had given 34 years of her life. The news meant a strong setback in his life. But it also catapulted her to explore new paths with great challenges: entrepreneurship.

When she was kicked out, things had long since changed. In 2011 Nicolás Keglevich sold his firm to the North American group Starr International and, in a few years, the firm turned from a family business to a full corporation. Her father and brother immediately disassociated themselves from Assist Card, but Alexia decided to remain firm in her profession.

However, the differences in vision between her and the new owners became more and more noticeable, until the tension culminated when she was forced to leave the company. Keglevich clarifies: she was always just another employee at the plant. Neither when her father was the owner, nor even when she was the global CEO of the company, did she have her position secured.

“Those were difficult times, with a lot of pain. But the important thing is to dust yourself off, as I say. And from the pain resurface much stronger, with the purpose clearer than ever. Understanding that what happened to me can happen to anyone, although not in the way they did, I do not share that. I trust that Justice is going to do its thing, but now it’s time to turn the page. You can get out, even better than before”, said the businesswoman, in dialogue with THE NATION.

He went through four months of mourning, until in April 2021 he wiped the last tears from his face and decided to turn all his knowledge into a new project. Despite the fact that every day she was approached by competing companies offering her a job, she rejected each one of those proposals. The goal she had in mind was clear: from now on she would own her ideas, her beliefs and her life.

At first I was very stunned. Life changed me 180 degrees, but that’s where the best of me came out. From the pain I decided to rise. I was always clear about what I like to do, my passion is helping others. I think it’s time to revolutionize the travel assistance industry. And not only the industry, but also demonstrate that other types of companies can be made, more humane, empathetic, transparent, that put the customer at the center of the scene. I want a company with a big heart and not small print. I am convinced that when one has these values, profitability comes by itself”, she was honest.

When the desire to undertake overcame sadness, the first thing she did was pick up the phone and contact her network of providers to find out if the health professionals supported her on this new path. “Everyone said: ‘Of course, you are the benchmark in the industry, we are with you.’ Once that was solved, I started working on what would be disruptive for this company,” he said.

Little by little, the project took shape and Keglevich began to devise new assistance packs for travelers who go out to explore the world, with payments in cryptocurrencies, proposals for pets and even emotional support. Last August they finally associated themselves with TurismoCity and this week they will launch Pax Assistance on the market, a project that had a price seed investments of $2 million. “As soon as we spoke we saw his incomparable passion. We don’t know anyone who knows more about the industry than her”, says Santiago Botta, project leader for TurismoCity.

The new firm is a subsidiary of an American company, which has expansion plans to Europe and Asia. “Yes or yes, I wanted to bring to Argentina a subsidiary of the American corporation. That delayed the massive release to the market due to the number of procedures that they made me complete in the country,” he added.

The new proposal came at a key moment for the sector. During 2020, the year of the pandemic, tourism collapsed and company numbers fell to almost zero. According to data from the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), there was a 74% reduction in international tourism, generating losses of US$1.3 billion in export earnings.

The positive side? After the crises, travel assistance took on an unprecedented role. “What happened with the pandemic was incredible. Before, you had to go out and convince customers to invest in security. Now, travelers are aware, many are afraid of traveling due to Covid-19, of the consequences that it could entail during their trip, which caused the industry to explode. It was an external push, but it definitely changed the business, it became unthinkable to leave the country unprotected”, argued the businesswoman.

Alexia Keglevich: "Before, you had to go out and convince customers to invest in security.  Now, travelers are aware, many are afraid of traveling due to Covid-19, of the consequences that it could entail during their trip, which caused the industry to explode"
Alexia Keglevich: “Before, one had to go out and convince clients to invest in security. Now, travelers are aware, many are afraid of traveling due to Covid-19, of the consequences that it could entail during their trip, which they did let the industry explode”Alexander Guyot

Another of the great issues that the pandemic brought to the table was mental health and support. For this reason, Keglevich decided to add an emotional support proposal for the traveler and his family, a product that until now did not exist in the Argentine industry. “Suppose a traveler goes alone to another country, and the mother is left worried. The objective of the company for this case is not only to accompany him, but also his mother, tell him where that person is, what the place is like, “he said.

In turn, from the company they seek to offer a service according to what the client is going to need, with the possibility of adding benefits “on demand”. For example, medical assistance for pets, coverage for extreme sports, a Covid package for people over 75 years of age, multi-cause cancellation, device protection, special care for pregnant mothers, among others.

“In the industry there is a lot of commoditization, when the reality is that the doctors are the same ones who attend to all the companies. We have absolutely low profitability for products, but because we want it to be accessible to all types of travellers. In many countries it has become mandatory to enter with travel insurance, so many companies are tempted to raise prices and make promotions of 20% off, when before they raised the rates. I am against that, we want to leave another mark,” he argued.

In total, Pax Assistance will provide coverage in 190 countries, with more than 50,000 providers in clinics, hospitals, outpatient clinics, professionals, laboratories, diagnostic imaging centers, ground and air medical transport. Before going openly to the market, the company adopted a round of referrals, in which the 23 players of the Argentine Soccer Team, Latin singers for their teams on international tours and travel agencies in the region joined.

Her role as a woman does not go unnoticed either. Just as she knew how to occupy the position of CEO when less than 10% of women held a decision-making role within large companies in Argentina, now the executive believes that gender brings her a competitive advantage through “sensitivity and intuition”.

“It always cost women much more, whatever we undertake. We come from 5,000 years of history where women cannot, so we automatically grew up with that thought in mind. I am always in favor of women, that they dare, that they know that they can. If there is something that women have, it is resilience, a characteristic that is exacerbated in women because they have always been considered the weakest. That provides us with an internal strength to get ahead and do what one sets out to do, our only limitation is ourselves with self-demand”, she emphasized.

For Keglevich, his father, as a “good Hungarian and nobleman, is extremely chauvinistic”, which became a double challenge for his career. The Second World War marked Nicholas Keglevich’s character forever. Born in Hungary in 1939, into a family that had the title of count, he had to escape at the age of five when his country was invaded by the Soviet Union. For two years he wandered with his six-year-old sister through Belgium and France.

For this reason, when Alexia started working in the family business as a cadet at the age of 16, her father greeted her with a phrase that weighed heavily on her back: “Now hell begins: you have to be the first to enter work and the last one to leave”. Over the years, he demonstrated his abilities and earned his place.

Alexia Keglevich: "It always cost us women much more, whatever we undertake.  We come from 5000 years of history where women cannot, so we automatically grew up with that thought in mind"
Alexia Keglevich: “It always cost women much more, whatever we undertake. We come from 5,000 years of history where women cannot, so we automatically grew up with that thought in mind”Alexander Guyot

“But I was always rebellious and at the age of 25 I began to have important differences with my father, so I decided to go my own way,” he added. Already with the responsibility of having a daughter and a mortgage in tow, she quit her job and started working at Banco Río. It was four years where she soaked up knowledge about finances, until her father asked her to return in the 2000s and she agreed, convinced that it was her vocation. The rest would be history.

“One is a victim or a protagonist, and I want to be a protagonist. Many people during the pandemic were laid off, I was there and it seems that the world is ending. I felt that intense pain, it was the first time since I was 16 years old that I got up and didn’t have to go to work, something unthinkable. I couldn’t understand it, I was lost. But you have to take it with humor, calm, listen to your intuition and get ahead. It is not time that heals wounds, but will,” he concluded.

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HELEN HERNANDEZ

Helen Hernandez is our best writer. Helen writes about social news and celebrity gossip. She loves watching movies since childhood. Email: Helen@oicanadian.com Phone : +1 281-333-2229

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