Driving Effective Change with Jeffrey Bland

alumnus standing in front of campus building
Jeffrey Bland on campus at Harvard Kennedy School in May 2022 for the Infrastructure in a Market Economy  executive program.

Jeffrey Bland is the general counsel and corporate secretary at Abengoa North America. Abengoa is an international company, headquartered in Seville, Spain, that develops, engineers, and constructs concession-type infrastructure, including, for example, large-scale solar-thermal power plants and desalination plants.  As general counsel, Jeffrey is the lead attorney on all major U.S. transactions and, along with a team of others, scrutinizes projects and operational disciplines to identify material risks and optimal risk-mitigation strategies.  

HKS sat down with Jeffrey recently to learn more about his experience at HKS when he recently attended  Infrastructure in a Market Economy  (IME) executive program in May 2022.

HKS Exec Ed:  What challenges were you, as an executive professional, personally looking to overcome by attending a Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education program?

Jeffrey: External challenges to the success of an enterprise – be it a public, private, or nonprofit organization – in the infrastructure realm are daunting, but the personal challenges executives face to their own efficacy are no less real. A key characteristic of effective executive leadership, I have observed and believe to be true, is a dedication to continuous improvement; being challenged personally and taking a hard look at current thinking and assumptions should occur periodically. As an executive, I found myself wondering: how do I drive change and performance at a meaningful level in my organization if my current thinking could be insular or stale?

Beyond developing my core competencies through my earlier formative education and my expertise later through on-the-job training, collaboration, and self-study, I decided that my professional career needed an injection – an intensive deep-dive where I would be exposed to best practices from world-class Harvard faculty and from worldly classmates; where what I knew – and what I thought I knew – would be challenged; and then use what I learned in the classroom and on campus as a catalyst to stimulate and push my own and my colleagues’ thinking.

What are some of the lessons that you hope to implement from the Infrastructure in a Market Economy program in Abengoa?

two men speaking in classroom
In between lectures, Jeffrey speaks with Akash Deep, faculty chair of Infrastructure in a Market Economy.

The IME program covered a broad menu of topics, but two key sets of lessons have especially resonated with me. The first is a better appreciation of the role, not just the presence, of risk in infrastructure projects. In Abengoa, and very likely in other companies, it is critical for us to identify, analyze, and develop options to mitigate risks. However, the IME program presented through several case-studies a sophisticated view on the powerful role that allocative risk can and should play in infrastructure projects. And, an important take-away insight for me was companies that leverage those understandings will be more successful.

The second set of lessons, similar to the first, relates to developing a more keen understanding of what makes for successful public-private partnerships. The IME program delved deeply in this respect, presenting a rich array of analytical perspectives, including extensive discussions around the life-cycle approach to project finance, in order to redefine the contours of optimal public-private partnership (PPP) frameworks, which can be helpful to governments and enterprises contemplating venturing into the world of PPPs.

How would you describe Executive Education to someone who is considering it?

men seated, one gesturing with hands as speaking
Jeffrey participating in small group work during program.

The IME program was rigorous, yet approachable and the HKS’ case-study pedagogy was highly effective in sharpening my own analytical tools. The in-class sessions were informative, engaging, and collegial. 

Being an on-campus student at Harvard was exceptional – from the high-level of faculty interaction to being inspired by 40 peers who hailed from almost two dozen different countries spanning North America, Central America, South America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, East Africa, and East Asia, the Harvard experience without question did not disappoint. And, to be sure, the professional relationships, many of which have since turned into friendships, are priceless.

Prior to law school at Northeastern University (Boston), Jeffrey obtained a Master of Public Policy from Duke University (Durham, NC), and before that he worked in Washington, D.C. primarily in media relations.