Maria Montenegro Of Wolters Kluwer: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Reallocate resources to the best opportunities, and deploy resources in stages (fail fast, learn from your experiences)

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Montenegro. Maria is the Executive Vice President of Strategy & Innovation at Wolters Kluwer, a leading global provider of expert solutions, insights and services for professionals. Maria leads the development of strategies to accelerate business growth, transformation and innovation across the company. Her portfolio includes Corporate Strategy, Innovation, Americas M&A, Global Divestitures and Integrations, Sales Transformation and Pricing. Prior to joining Wolters Kluwer in 2022, Maria was a leader in McKinsey’s Life Sciences Digital Practice. Maria previously worked in investment banking at Morgan Stanley. She’s a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’m originally born and raised in Portugal. Growing up, after wanting to be an Egyptologist, an astronaut, and an air force pilot, I finally settled on wanting to become a doctor — following the footsteps of my mother and one of my 2 brothers. Just 3 months before D-day, I made a radical shift and decided to go into Management & Economics, as the thought of studying for another 12 years (which is what it takes in Portugal to become a specialist and be able to practice independently) was daunting. I wanted to become “independent” and the owner of my own destiny sooner.

After college, I spent a year starting eCommerce companies for Rocket Internet, in APAC, which was a great growth experience for a 20-year-old. I then moved to Investment Banking in London, at Morgan Stanley. And shortly thereafter, I moved into Strategy Consulting at McKinsey, where I spent the better part of a decade as I got to work in almost every continent, serving Prime Ministers and CEOs, across industries and functions.

After my MBA at Columbia Business School, I decided to stay in the US and move to DC (where I still live) as growing up I had a particular obsession with “The West Wing” TV series and always dreamed of living there. I focused my time at McKinsey, in the US, serving Healthcare and Life Sciences clients, drawn again by my family history in the sector, until one day I got the opportunity to join Wolters Kluwer.

While Wolters Kluwer is a diversified portfolio of B2B Software and Information Services companies, it was its Health business that I first felt a connection with. UpToDate, which is one of our flagship solutions, is the world’s leading clinical decision support tool, supporting millions of healthcare practitioners make the best care decisions for their patients, every single day.

Having the chance to join a company as mission driven as Wolters Kluwer and with such strong focus on diverse teams was a huge privilege, and that is how I ended up leading Strategy and Corporate Development at Wolters Kluwer.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Wolters Kluwer is a nearly 200-year-old company that’s undergone a radical but hugely successful transformation from a publisher, to information services, and now increasingly more driven by AI. Our combination of industry expertise, global reach, innovative technology, trusted content and commitment to compliance and risk management sets us apart as a leading provider of professional information and software solutions helping our customers in over 180 countries make informed decisions and achieve critical efficiencies.

Wolters Kluwer has deep understanding of various industries (legal, tax, accounting, finance, healthcare and compliance) allowing us to produce, analyze and disseminate information relied upon by millions of healthcare physicians, accountants, lawyers, and financial risk officers like no other provider can. Even before the rise of (Gen)AI, Wolters Kluwer boasted an impressive portfolio of AI-driven solutions to the benefit of customers. Approximately 50% of our digital revenue now comes from products that leverage AI. As industries undergo rapid transformations, it’s the power of technology to streamline activities, mitigate risk and foster efficiency that makes us stand out in the marketplace. Driven further by innovative technology like AI, we saw our share price rise 133% in five years.

UpToDate is a great example of the societal impact that Wolters Kluwer solutions have. It is a clinical decision support tool, and there are over 100 independent studies that show that patients receive better quality care when their clinicians use UpToDate. For example:

  • At a hospital in Japan, the diagnostic error rate for patients seen by physicians using UpToDate was 2%, whereas the rate was 24% for patients seen by clinicians not using UpToDate.
  • Researchers at Harvard University concluded that, at more than 1,000 hospitals studied over a three-year period, use of UpToDate was associated with improved quality of care for every condition on the Hospital Quality Alliance Metrics and an estimated 372,000 hospital days were saved per year.
  • Researchers at Singapore’s National University Hospital found that use of UpToDate led to a change in investigations, diagnosis, or management 37% of the time.

Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

I would say teamwork, my willingness to accept constructive feedback and tendency to challenge the status quo most contributed to my success.

Firstly, I’m a big believer in the power of a team that has diverse skillsets, personalities, approaches, and experiences:

I started at Wolters Kluwer focused on Strategy and Corporate Development, and since then my responsibilities have expanded to other GTM-related areas. Bringing a set of highly-technical colleagues with very different backgrounds and experiences from mine, and those of my Strategy and Corporate Development team, has been critical to our success.

My ability to see feedback as a gift has allowed me to admit when I’m wrong and get better every day.

I spent nearly a decade at McKinsey, one of the leading global management consulting firms, where feedback is cherished and taken as a responsibility. I’ve grown tremendously from it, and wish it was more openly and genuinely accepted in the corporate world. Many people tend to be defensive and take feedback as criticism — I find it to be a gift. My view is that whoever gives me feedback cares enough about my growth and development that they are willing to take the time to think about how to frame it to me and walk me through their thought process.

Finally, I’ve learned that curiosity and willingness to challenge the status quo by considering different paths and possibilities is critical in a Strategy function.

Great curiosity and conviction led to the reorganization of our portfolio ~15 months ago, positioning Wolters Kluwer in a much stronger way to win in the ESG software market. The company was doing very well, but we recognized great opportunity in operating differently, and upon doing the market work, we decided to not stay comfortable with our level of success and push the envelope to position the company for accelerated growth in decades to come.

Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

We help our professional customers (e.g., doctors, lawyers, accountants) make critical decisions every day by providing expert solutions that combine deep domain knowledge with specialized technology and services.

As mentioned earlier, AI is not new for WK (or many of our competitors) — 50% of digital revenues are already from products using some form of AI (e.g., Machine learning, Natural Language Processing).

Generative AI has the potential to change the way our customers work and we help them make better and faster decisions. It also has the potential to revolutionize the way we work internally and improve productivity — be it in editorial or software development.

GenAI has unleashed energy and accelerated the pace of innovation across all AI use cases — we are working on over 200 of these for both internal and external use. Our approach is to roll them out in a thoughtful and responsible way which allows us to avoid any potential harmful impacts like hallucinations for example.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Machine learning, Natural Language Processing, and Generative AI are the three most exciting technologies.

We have the most use cases in machine learning where, for example, we are using data to learn patterns related to a specific task, like classification or predicting the probability of an event. The learned patterns are then used to perform the task of previously unseen data.

For example, our LegalView Bill Analyzer product uses AI to find patterns within legal invoices and flag likely violations, allowing corporate legal departments to control legal spend.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

Wolters Kluwer embedded AI into our workflow and products over 15 years ago. Today approximately half of our digital revenues come from products enabled by AI. We firmly believe that AI will continue to have a profound impact on our sector, because we have seen firsthand this evolution and impact for well over a decade. Over the years, it’s been amazing to see, both for us and our customers across different industries, how our investment in AI has transformed what used to take hours of manual work into seconds and minutes. We’re very encouraged by the opportunities AI will continue to bring and committed to enhancing our AI products and services to meet our clients’ most urgent and complex problems.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

To drive development of use cases and speed up time to market, we have built an AI Acceleration Framework. This allows us to cluster use cases by functions and ensure sharing of best practices.

Our AI Center of Excellence, comprised of over 60 experts, is committed to scaling AI capabilities across the enterprise. For example, we frequently conduct company-wide webinars on responsible use of AI and best practices on integrating technology into products.

Tools such as Github co-pilot and Microsoft Office co-pilot have been rolled out to enhance internal productivity.

As the opportunity to embed AI into our products and workflows increases and the pace of innovation accelerates — intellectual curiosity, the desire to learn, and critical thinking become all the more important.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

Educating the workforce across many functions — business leaders, product managers, product developers, and marketing all need to know the potential of AI and how they can use it in our products to better empower our customers.

Ensuring that people, in their excitement don’t go off and experiment in their own sandbox, but instead develop products responsibly (especially given the importance of maintaining our intellectual property) is critical.

There is a high demand for people with the right skills especially on the technology / product development side and it is always a challenge to attract sufficient talent. However, given Wolters Kluwer’s long track record of successfully deploying technology, like AI, across its product suite, our hope is that this history of success, as well as our strong internal culture of employee growth and development, will help us attract and retain talented technologists.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

We help professionals when they have to be right — for doctors at the point of care, for businesses to be compliant etc. Gen AI hallucinations and data biases are major concerns. Customers’ critical decisions require a careful development process guided by responsible AI principles. We help address ethical considerations with AI through some of the following ways:

  • Privacy and security — the protection of our customers’ assets and data is our top priority.
  • Transparency and explainability — our customers need to understand the decisions they make.
  • Governance and accountability — we address risk management throughout the process.
  • Fairness — we won’t allow AI to be subject to biases. It’s important for us to treat people with fairness and without discrimination.
  • Human-focused — we take pride in solving business problems that benefit our customers while considering the broader impact on society and the environment.
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What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

If AI is causing disruption in your industry, it’s crucial to adapt and strategize effectively. Here are five steps you can take:

  1. Understand customer challenges and pain points
  2. Build a Center of Excellence
  3. Commit to responsible AI
  4. Inspire innovation
  5. Reallocate resources to the best opportunities, and deploy resources in stages (fail fast, learn from your experiences)

At Wolters Kluwer, we launched an AI Center of Excellence in 2016. It was and continues to be centrally funded to support use cases across all of Wolters Kluwer. Today, this CoE is comprised of over 60 of our most talented AI strategists, technologists and innovators from across our company which has led to unimaginable insights, new product and enhancements, new ways of working, and creative solutions to some of our customers’ most challenging and complex problems. It has also ensured the sharing of best practices and identification of opportunities to replicate use cases and patterns across the company, while establishing high standards and governance. The coming together of this group and the impact it has had on our company, employees and clients, has inspired other CoEs across Wolters Kluwer.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

Contrary to popular belief, AI is not a recent development at Wolters Kluwer. Our AI center of excellence was established more than a decade ago, and as mentioned earlier, 50% of our digital revenues are already from products using some form of AI. Another misconception, I often hear is that AI is a silver bullet. But AI is just another enabler to help our customers make better decisions.

While the technology is exciting, our product development process always starts with a deep understanding of the customer journey to assess commercial opportunity, and then the design of a solution that considers the type of technology that’s most adequate (including the type of AI).

Finally, a popular assumption is that customers will change their workflows overnight. However, many of our customers have a way of working honed by experience over many years. Changing customers’ ways of working to embrace AI requires real change management and communication which is not always fast and easy.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Teamwork makes the dream work. Everyone has talent — a diverse team of talented people outperforms any individual or a homogenous team. On my team, I have folks with very different talents and personalities, and we push each other to make each other better. There is no one way that is better than all others — it’s the combination of approaches and the ability to flex them and choose the right one for each moment that brings success.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

I sleep very well at night. At Wolters Kluwer, we adopt a continuous improvement and constant transformation mindset. This allows us to “Make it better” every single day. Evolution, not revolution tends to lead to the best outcomes long term (continuous progress, not big bang).

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Sustainability, evangelizing organizations on the fact that ESG / Sustainability Performance brings financial performance, and it’s not just me saying this, it’s an analysis of over a thousand academic papers by the NYU Center for Sustainable Business.

How can our readers further follow you online?


Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.