An elite club for wealthy nations no more: under the guidance of Angel Gurría and his team, the OECD has broadened its membership and kept pace with a perplexing global economy.
Group: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Secretariat staff: 2,500
Number of member countries: 35
Annual budget: €370m
“What we do is show you a mirror and ask you if you like what you see.” This, in a nutshell, is how Angel Gurría understands the job of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Paris-based outfit he has overseen for 11 years. “We don’t tell Turkey what to do with Turkey or Mexico with Mexico. We just tell them where they fit in and ask, ‘Do you feel like you could do better?’”
There is something of the passive-aggressive gym instructor to all this. Indeed the OECD, a club of mostly rich countries, can be seen as an elite fitness regime for developed economies with each member pushing the others to adopt smarter policies. Meanwhile Gurría’s staff around the globe provide influential rankings, metrics and advice. As Gurría puts it, “We’re not a think-tank: we are a do-tank.”
One of the key achievements of the Mexican-born Gurría’s tenure as secretary-general has been broadening membership through the accession of Chile, Estonia, Israel, Latvia and Slovenia. Coming from one of the bloc’s poorest nations himself gives him “an emerging-country view”: a perspective that prioritises the speedy development of those economies at the lower end of the scale.
At the other end of the spectrum, though, Gurría is aware that in lots of the richest countries, multi-lateralism and globalisation have become dirty words. He believes it is a problem of perception: “Globalisation doesn’t have a face; it doesn’t have a neck from which you can hang it.” In such a climate he understands that OECD countries need to look beyond growth at the expense of those who inevitably lose out.
This spirit of inclusiveness extends to Gurría’s own team, the close-knit group of advisers, assistants and confidantes who form his cabinet. They help him guide the rich world and coax global leaders onto the policy treadmill. And also with him all the way is “a certain eye surgeon”: his wife Lulu Quintana, who he says has “kept me going for 43 years”.
Gurría came to the OECD in 2006 following a career in politics in his native Mexico, where he served as both minister of foreign affairs, and minister of finance and public credit in the 1990s. The 66-year-old made a name for himself in that decade by steering the economy through a change of administration while avoiding financial crisis, a feat the country had previously struggled with for decades. This led to him being nominated for the OECD's top job in 2005.
Mario López Roldán Head of the speech-writing and intelligence outreach unit
“Mario is the head of a unit that writes about 360 speeches a year – about one a day, although many more if you only count working days. Our work on substance is only half the work: the other half is dissemination – getting it to policy makers and influencing policy.”
Lyndia Levasseur Personal assistant to the secretary-general
Gabriela Ramos Chief of staff, sherpa and special counsellor
“Gabriela is my right hand. She is crucial in ensuring that the OECD delivers on its strategic agenda.”
Isabell Koske Senior adviser, co-ordinator of the Better Policies Series
“She’s a German economist with a PhD, who does a very interesting job preparing brochures called the Better Policies Series. We give these to leaders who come here and they set out the policies that are most important to that particular country.”
Elsa Pilichowski Counsellor
Angel Alonso Arroba Head of management and communications
“He keeps my agenda, which is a challenging thing because it changes about 10 times every day.”
Juan Yermo Deputy chief of staff
Dr Lulu Quintana Wife of the secretary-general
“The one who puts it all together and makes it happen. She keeps me going.”
Amanda Gautherin Head of protocol and resource management