Mr. César Cernuda serves as the President of Microsoft Latin American Organization and Vice President of Microsoft Corporation. Mr. Cernuda Rego started his career in the banking industry, at Banco 21 (Banco Gallego), and later joined Software AG. In the last 20 years, he has been working at Microsoft in many different leadership positions Worldwide such as the General Manager of Microsoft Business Solutions Europe, Middle East and Africa, the Worldwide Vice President of Microsoft Business Solutions, the Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Services of Microsoft Latin America, or the President of Microsoft Asia Pacific.
Juan Manuel González, ICT Research Director at Frost & Sullivan, had the opportunity to conduct the interview.
JMG: César, can you please describe what your role is for our readers?
CC: First of all thank you so much for taking the time to have a discussion with Microsoft. It’s a great pleasure to be with you. Well, my role is nothing else than really trying to enable Microsoft’s mission in the region of Latin America.
While we define ourselves as a global company, we look very carefully at our regional presence. At this moment we have 35 offices in 21 countries and there are 2000 people in the organization and 80,000 partners that we work with in Latin America. We try to empower every organization and person on the planet to achieve more through our offices, people or any of our partners, that’s pretty much my mission.
JMG: You became CEO two years ago. Have you seen any change in the region since then?
CC: Yes, for sure. I was Vice President for Latin America years ago. I spent almost four years and a half in the region, and then moved to Singapore as President of Microsoft Asia Pacific, spent four years there and then I came back and I found a different Latin America but it was also a different Asia. The world is changing at a speed that we have never seen before. So the answer is yes, I found a different Latin American back then, and I have seen a lot of changes during the last two years. I think the speed of change, how the region has been digitally transforming, it’s remarkable.
The truth of the matter is that there’s a huge opportunity in the region because of the youth of the population. This youth is really digital. And therefore what we’re seeing is that the digital adoption is a reality. How people are using social tools. How people are interacting, sharing, learning from each other is very different from what I saw before. In the last two years I’ve seen a lot of change. I found a different Latin America but definitely I see that digital transformation is on top of the table for every single organization, every single CEO wants to talk to us about it. They are asking for our advice on their own path to digital transformation regardless of the industry. For them, it’s not about how to reduce costs, rather how to be more competitive and better reach their customers and be more successful.
Juan: What do you want to accomplish in the next couple of years?
CC: We should aim to have a much more competitive region, where we can enable digital transformation. I believe that my team has an amazing opportunity to really help democratize society. The reason for that is that with digital transformation, technology is becoming accessible for everybody. As a matter of fact, in the past, it used to be a huge gap between the technologies that any SME was able to use versus what large enterprises had. Today, we are seing a complete breakthrough. We’re seeing great startups born into the cloud or even small business shifting and using new technologies which are exactly the same that larger organizations use. So today an SME can go and use the same Microsoft productivity tools that any large organization is using, but paying only for 1 or 2 users. They don’t need to have the hardware, they don’t need to have the maintenance, and they don’t need to have all these people supporting the infrastructure.
I think that’s the real change, and it’s happening as we speak. A big part of our job is to enable that transformation. And one of the things that we’re discussing with several industries is what you do with the amount of data that you have. How can you monetize that?
Two of the biggest concerns people have are security and privacy. I think one of the biggest discussions happening these days is if the new currency is going to be the data. Who owns the data? And what are we doing with the data? So Microsoft has a very clear position, which is: you own the data, it’s your data. And by “you” I mean the customer. The customer owns the data, regardless if it is hosted on my cloud or not. So companies now can monetize that data and we’re going to provide the technology to make sure they are leveraging that in a very smart way. That’s a big part of the difference on our approach to privacy. As you know, GDPR in Europe was put into effect in May and we’ve been one of the first companies to say that we are going to update our technology and processes to be compliant, not just in Europe, but worldwide. We are trying to use that as a baseline for our privacy commitment to our customers.
Other than that, I get a lot of questions around security. The most important thing is to make sure that you protect your company in the best possible way and you have technology and a good partnership to make sure that if something happens you know it and you can react to it fast. And that’s one of the biggest discussions we have with customers. How do we help them to be more secure and protected?
I think all the transformation that is happening nowadays will continue and will happen even faster if we are able and capable to build trust in our customers. That is a big part of my job. I need to make sure that people trust Microsoft and we need to demonstrate that all the time.
JMG: Microsoft has been changing as well during the years. How would you describe what Microsoft is today and its mission?
CC: Well, the mission is to empower every organization and person on the planet to achieve more. We’re a company with 42 years of history and the first thing we change was the culture of our own company. We’ve been shifting from a company that used to know it all, to one that should learn it all. Many companies are expecting us to know everything because they are coming for answers. And it’s true that in technology we have been and we are a leading company and therefore you end up thinking that you know it all.
However, the risk of having a culture of knowing it all is that your ability to learn starts to decrease. One of the biggest changes that Satya Nadella (Microsoft CEO) brought with him was a deep cultural transformation. And this shift is helping us to have a much better conversation with our customers. When I engage with CEOs I am very transparent and very honest. Usually, the challenge is not about the technology itself. Is about changing the culture of a company and understand what technologies will enable them to transform their company. So, I think that’s has been the biggest change that we have seen. Transformation starts with changing your culture.
JMG: What is Microsoft’s number one recommendation for companies in Latin America about changing their culture?
CC: I recommend companies to be honest with themselves on what they want to change and how they want to lead that change. The biggest challenge is our ability to change and our desire to change. We expect everyone else to change, but not us. And I like to provide examples about how we are changing things in Microsoft. I run the business in a very different way than what I was used to. For example, I used to rely more on our finance team for accessing several performance reports but today I can go and look into a simple dashboard using a single tool that everybody in Microsoft is capable of using because it’s really user friendly. The result is that we are freeing up a lot of time from people.
And this transformation is happening in each and every industry. Today, many of our clients are looking at us and feel comfy with our own transformation. We were used to engage in pure IT discussions and being solely working with CIOs. But now is different, while we are willing to keep having those conversations we are also interacting with BDMs, CIOs, COOs, CFOs, that are actually reaching out requesting us to have a business discussion, not a technology one. And we talk about business, we talk about new economic models, we bring into the table a whole new way of seeing things, a cultural and management change.
JMG: César, what do you believe are the biggest challenges for companies in Latin America that want to transform themselves? What strategy Microsoft has in place to help those companies to embrace digital transformation?
CC: I think the biggest challenge is their desire to change. We are truly living in the fourth industrial revolution, the so-called digital transformation era. CEOs and decision makers need to ask themselves where they want to see their companies in the next three to five years. And, what are the enablers for them to build the next wave of growth for their company.
That’s the real discussion they need to have. So for me that’s the first step. Once they get there, they need to ask themselves about their culture. And the third one is about technology, who’s going to be their digital transformation partner.
Microsoft approach to help those companies is unique. Definitely technology wise, we have a great technology. The investments that we have done in R&D are huge. The company has been investing a lot on cloud computing to help our customers leverage their data to build their future (Microsoft invested more than 13 billion last years on R&D) In addition, our presence in the region is exceptional. We have 35 offices in 21 countries and in the most important cities.
JMG: What do you think the future holds for the Information and Communication Technologies market in Latin America?
CC: I think every company is becoming a technology company. All industries are shifting and moving into a new world where different monetization models will arise as a consequence of how they manage their data. A relevant portion of their sales will depend on how they leverage technology. I think we’re going to see a big shift on the ability within the companies to use more and better technology.
We have several examples of how technology is changing and making processes more efficient in Latin America by simply adding cloud and artificial intelligence tools. But Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not new; it has been out there for more than 20-25 years. As a matter of fact, artificial intelligence is everywhere now. One might not notice but every single company is probably already using it in one way or another. The key is how companies are taking advantage of it, how they are using it.
However, in order to really have a powerful AI you need to have a lot of data. During the last years, there’s been an explosion of data. The amount of data has been growing exponentially while the cost of storing that rising amount of information has decreased. We’re seeing a huge inflection point around artificial intelligence.
JMG: César, you have just described the transformation impacting several industries in Latin America nowadays. How these changes are impacting Microsoft?
CC I think the company has been changing and is changing as we speak. We live in constant change. For many years Microsoft has been basically selling operating systems software. Then, we start selling software for servers. With the transformation that we have gone through lately and our positioning as a cloud and artificial intelligence leader our total addressable market in Latin America has increased 10 times and that’s only considering cloud and artificial intelligence.
The amount of knowledge that we now have is really enabling us to change in a completely different way. We are not just a purely software vendor or even a cloud provider, we are in the business of helping companies in a much broader and encompassing way
JMG: César, I want to close this conversation with a personal question. How would you define success for your role and what are you passionate about?
CC: There are two big elements for me to define success for my role. One is about the contribution that we have made, with my team, to transform Latin America. When I started this journey there was a certain level of digital transformation in the region, and we see a totally different one today. We aim to help to democratize the society way more, increasing job prospects for the population in Latin America. I think that the opportunity we have is huge.
The second element is developing our talent. This is one of the activities that keep me motivated. I always tell the people we hire that we don’t hire them for a job; we hire them for a career. So when I interview somebody I always tell them “I know that you’re capable to do the job. My discussion with you is what is going to be next; what your path in a company like Microsoft will be” We aim to empower every person and organization to try harder and achieve even more.
I think those two are my major objectives. First, doing our best to have a better region and assuring that people is better served. And second, creating a better, stronger and highly motivated team that is really passionate about what they are doing. That is what drives me forward after all these years in the company.
JMG: César, great. Thank you. Great discussion!