There is a reason for why we provide technology services from Argentina …. this is how it started:
It started at a party in Montevideo, Uruguay. My wife (a native Uruguayan) was expecting our first child and I had been under contract to the UN to help implement and train users on the implementation of a Customs Processing system. We were staying at her parent’s house so she could give birth close to home.
I was waiting for a contract to go to Guatemala within the next few weeks. At the party I met a friend of a friend of my wife, who was from Buenos Aires. He said to me something like you would have great opportunities if you come to Argentina, why don’t you give me a copy of your resume. Without thinking much of it I did just that. Several days later my mother-in-law answered the phone – it was a call from a company called Telecom Argentina…never heard of them. It was an HR Director requesting I come to Buenos Aires for an interview with the CIO. It took me a while to piece together how they found me and again, I didn’t think too much of it, agreed to meet and a few days later I was on a plane for a 35 minute flight to Buenos Aires. I had no idea what to expect …none. After a roughly 15 minute interview, the CIO offered me a Director position on the spot. A brief chat with my wife (an easy decision not surprisingly) and few days later I was back on the “Air-Bridge” (puente-aereo) flight to Buenos Aires on a rainy October 5, 1992 where I suddenly found myself managing technology investments of more than $30m per year.
The company was a privatized entity from the State-run Telecoms monopoly, a company called Telecom Argentina, a consortium of France Telecom, Telecom Italia and a local Argentine Group called Perez-Companc. From what I experienced I describe a privatization as a combination an M&A, a start-up a turnaround and a remote outpost of a multi-national (2 Europeans in this case). All of these elements of a privatization bring plenty of headaches that converge and come at you like a freight train. One thing I found out quickly was they needed everything so I soon found myself trying figure out how, what and where to allocate the $30m+ in investments I was tasked with defining and managing. Without these investments, the company couldn’t function, that was clear and the executives were constantly reminding me of that. There were many times when I wondered how or if this would all work – but it did and thanks to those and other large scale investments, carried out with other parts of the Consortium, and the team we assembled to carry them out (internal and external) we managed to get Telecom off the ground and to a US$2b company by 1995.
After 4 years I could say “mission accomplished” and my adventure took me to yet another high- growth or else project, this time as IT Director of a company in the Retail-Property management sector based in Argentina and Chile. Soon after joining, the company President told me that as long as I got it right “7 out of 10 times” I would be fine, the next week he told me it would have to be 8 of 10 – they also needed everything. For those who remember the IBM System 36, you might know that platform was already obsolete in the mid 90s, and they had applications still running on it. I proposed a full-scale revamp of the entire IT infrastructure with SAP being the centerpiece of the strategy. A Board Meeting was scheduled and in the meeting I remember the Company President’s response to a proposal I made to invest several millions to improve and consolidate the technology infrastructure via the SAP project, he responded “ yes I know of this type of system, my brother who is President of a Conglomerate in Germany implemented something very similar, and, he eventually had to fire many of his top executives as a result because they were reluctant to change”. So who was in that meeting with us? All of the, shall I say “legacy” Directors who were more than happy to make me bleed over this. I was the agent of change… with a target on my head. Even those who had shown support before jumped ship. I had no choice but to keep pushing and with some help from key people from within and outside the organization we managed to push through the initiatives – Four more years and another $20m invested – and (very importantly) we managed to transform our tech staff, training them on the new technologies and leveraging their Retail and Technology experience, helping them grow in the process. Today the company has presence in 6 countries from the 2 original and has enjoyed 15x growth.
Next stop…IT Director and CIO of Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 (Argentine Airports 2000): I had already been living in Argentina for 8 years and had managed multi-million dollar investments oriented towards helping companies grow in privatizations/ turnaround/start-up situations, so by now I was battle-hardened.
Still, I would never have guessed this next stop in the adventure would be another privatization – I had already been involved with one in Telecommunications. In this particular case, it was a consortium led by an Argentine company with an equal-share Italian partner and a minority American partner. The Argentine group was running the company and it was they who hired me.
Soon after joining-very soon – I realized that all was not good in this family.
The main partners (Argentine-European) that formed the consortium, were at such a state of disaccord that they were trading full-page ads in the Buenos Aires dailies firing shots at each other . After one particularly aggressive newspaper exchange, Lorena, the Director of Customer Service came into my office with a long face…. She didn’t say anything, but I could see what she was thinking. I just told her something like… “stop reading the papers, life goes on”. She replied,” yes but, this is nasty – how is this going to end up?” I didn’t know for sure, but somehow I felt it would get sorted out – somehow. The company President who is a very astute businessman and after all, most of what we were doing involved operation of a public service (the Airports no less) and that wasn’t going to stop.
So with that backdrop I was in the middle of putting together a major investment in technology that would help optimize airport terminal infrastructure for the new international terminal being built – hope fully – save what had become a very politically polarized project. The Airport Operational and Common Use Systems project was the center of attention – with the argentines on the one hand looking at one type of solution and the European partners pushing another. My arrival was in the middle of that firestorm. This not-so-friendly fire prompted me to talk to the company president… I didn’t want him to get blind-sided by the main technology project and see another round of full-page newspaper battles over it. So I told him, “look, our partners are pushing 1 solution, but clearly there is another solution better suited for our needs. Do I need to take into account any political considerations in making this decision”? The answer, fortunately, was what I was looking for….”Thanks for mentioning this, but don’t worry about the political stuff – I’ll take care of it, go ahead and get it done, and remember …all things being equal or similar, best price wins.” Good enough for me – we went with the systems we proposed that brought the best value and in that process we were left with partners unhappier than before.
As in my previous assignments, the point was, we had to grow the company – both in Latin America and outside of it and the fact that there was a political minefield to be navigated didn’t change that. What we did need was more technology talent in addition to the small but highly talented team we already had. So more recruiting of local talent and we again found the right people, with the right attitude and skills to help us meet the objectives. We looked to invest – and did, in technology, businesses, infrastructure and grew locally and internationally. Several companies were purchased, integrated or “absorbed” several other partnership agreements were signed and we were off and running and in spite of the disaccord, peace was made and today the company is the largest single private operator of airports worldwide.
Which leads me to the following….
This was a completely satisfying experience and integrated and participated in several high-growth business projects – both within the local borders and outside of them. It was an enriching experience I have to say and it’s what brings me to doing what I do now. The Argentine language (a slightly “modified” Spanish), the culture, the contacts and above all, the friendships and the people in general that made it such a unique experience.
Professionally and personally one of the most gratifying thing about the experience is all the great technology teams I was a part of – those that I inherited and those I helped recruit and build. Without that talent and their hustle it would never have been possible to carry out the incredible projects we did. They helped me grow and helped create high-value technology solutions under extremely demanding conditions. I’ve since seen many team members who I had the privilege to lead, go on to much bigger and better things over the years which doesn’t surprise me at all
Thanks to that experience my mission today is to help US companies use technology talent “Made in Argentina” to help them create and build incredible technology solutions.