Diane Sanchez is the president of Telefonica USA, a subsidiary of the one of the world’s second- or third-largest fixed-line and mobile telecommunications company in the world, a global company with more than 250,000 employees.
And yet, when she looks back, over her shoulder, to keep an eye on the compeition, she said she finds herself looking at two unlikely companies: google and Amazon.
“The googles, the Amazons — they are after our customers,” Sanchez said. “How do we provide services, generate revenue, provide value.”
Sanchez was the discussion leader at WorldCity’s CEO Club gathering on Friday. Sanchez, who has worked for Terremark, Alcatel-Lucent and AT&T, is responsible for providing telecommunications services to U.S. multinationals for their oversees operations, including Latin America. “Every company I have worked for, I have been selling in Latin America. (With Telefonica), we sell to the United States, Latin America.”
The CEO Club, one of six event series hosted by WorldCity, is held every other month exclusively for the top official at each of the 1,100-plus multinationals in WorldCity’s Who’s Here database. The conversations among the gathered executives are usually wide-ranging, and that was the case Friday.
Fernando Campo, who oversees the Western Hemisphere for Citrix, a $1.4 billion Fort Lauderdale technology company, asked Sanchez if google was really a threat and if it was based on its entry into so-called “cloud computing,” which is also of interest to Amazon.
“They are a very serious threat,” she said of google. “If you look at what they are doing with AT&T.”
In addition to seeing google and Amazon as potential threats, she sees enormous technology-driven change being wrought in the global economy, and it is not just based on the sour economic situation. For Telefonica, which is opening offices in Palo Alto, Calif., Dallas and New York, the change means opportunities.
Ruben Rotulo, who oversees Latin America for Aligent, an HP spinoff, agreed.
“This is a time for more leadership and less management,” he said. “The old model of Excel spreadsheets for the last seven quarters is gone. And not because of the economic crisis.
“If we think we will be out of the crisis in 2012 and have more predictability … the ever-changing world is here to stay.”
Claudio Muruzabal, CEO of Neoris, a subsidiary of Mexican conglomerate Cemex and based in Miami, offered a note of caution on the age-old leadership vs. management conundrum. “We always struggle with management and leadership,” he said.
He then suggested that it is more dangerous than ever to delegate in far-flung operations. “There is a need to spend more time managing the day to day,” he said. “Things are happening so fast.”
Julio Grabiel, a partner with the global consulting firm AECOM, concurred that technology is running rapidly through his area of expertise, architecture, as well. “In design consulting, technology is changing everything. You end up with a three-dimensional model of the building. The contractors can see the electrical, mechanical and the plumbing.”
To be sure, change is coming fast in most industries. Sanchez talked about cell phones that can be used to project movies onto the wall, phones that Kyocera’s Julio Gaitan said later his company is already selling.
And she mentioned that Telefonica, a proud Spanish company, has changed the language in which it conducts its business in its Madrid headquarters. “Everything is in English.”
Fernando Rodriguez, the CEO of Terra Networks USA, a subsidiary of Telefonica, agreed. “This company was very Spanish.”
The symbolism is that Telefonica is a global company, not a Spanish one.
For Sanchez and Telefonica, technology is creating opportunities. The company is hiring, as are several of the other technology-related companies present, in certain situations — Citrix, Neoris, Quaxar. But the pace of change, combined with opportunities, makes it challenging, she said.
Consumer banking is coming to cell phones, in the form of “m-wallets.” The un-banked, particularly outside the world’s larger economies, is an enormous opportunities. Sanchez feels, she said, like “I have a grocery cart. I am running down the aisle. I have one hour. What do I fill the cart with?”