John Müller: Kubrick’s Cashier


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The BBVA Foundation in Bilbao it occupies what was the headquarters of the Banco de Bilbao in the Plaza de San Nicolás. Designed by the French Lavalle and Labrouste from 1865 and enlarged by Achúcarro at the end of the 19th century, it is a building with two bright rectangular courtyards and two floors. In the one on the right, which was the operations room, where the tellers with sleeves were, there were noisy mornings with industrious people lining up. Now it is an open room where there is a lonely white ATM that seems to mimic the famous monolith from the film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ by Stanley Kubrick.

In the council room is the very long table

original. The edges of the president’s post are more deteriorated than the others, probably due to the traffic of files and files that were presented to him. The chairs are tailor-made for each counselor, there is no equal. And that reveals the stature of these Bilbao bankers: leaner than what the excellent local cuisine might suggest.

Some of the brightest minds on the planet roamed this building Tuesday. They were among the 35 recipients of the Frontiers of Knowledge awards for the 2020 and 2021 editions. The awards have earned the reputation of being the prelude to the Nobel. There are already 15 experts who, before obtaining it, conquered one of the Frontiers of Knowledge. Among them, eight economists, including five of the last seven winners. The influential economist Daron Acemoglu, a professor at MIT, highlighted this fact in a recent interview published by the McKinsey consultancy and assured that this was his “favorite award.”

This ability to anticipate speaks very well of the criteria of the juries and of the pre-selection work of the technical support committees. In both the Superior Council of Scientific Investigations It has an important role, but it is, above all, the governance rules to ensure the independence of criteria of the participants, established by the BBVA Foundation led by sociologist Rafael Pardo, which have worked virtuously.

These awards and the foundation are backed by a bank, BBVA, an entity whose image has faded over the course of this century. Controversial investments and divestments, ill-advised bets and the splashes at the top of the organization of the adventures of former commissioner Villarejo have posed a particular challenge for a bank that, like its competitors, faces the existential challenge they have posed to the brokerage business new technologies and digitization.

Having an image means having a story that provides coherence to the past and illuminates the future. The decision of the BBVA Foundation to appoint Bilbao since 2019 as the permanent venue of its international awards and which, due to the pandemic, almost went unnoticed, it can be a great success in that process. A step as emblematic as that Kubrick ATM that adorns the operations yard. [email protected]

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