By Jonathan J. Higuera
December 2000 - As the highest-ranking Hispanic at Microsoft, Orlando Ayala shoulders a hefty responsibility. He’s part of the company’s business leadership team, a group that works directly with president and CEO Steve Ballmer.
He’s enjoyed a remarkable ascent since joining the company in 1991. Along the way, he proved his worth by plotting the company’s investment and growth strategies in developing markets such as Africa, India, the Mediterranean, and Middle East as well as Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. Within three years, the regions under his guidance doubled their revenues, from $500 million to $1 billion.
A native of Colombia, Mr. Ayala represents a growing trend of Latin American-born and -educated business leaders assuming top roles in some of the world’s most prominent companies. Carlos Gutierrez of Mexico, who now heads Kellogg, is another example.
Mr. Ayala acknowledges he’s not a “techie,” but his sales and marketing expertise have vaulted him into the inner circle of one of the globe’s most successful companies.
HISPANIC BUSINESS spoke with him in Washington, D.C., prior to the Microsoft-sponsored Hispanic Heritage Awards ceremony, which took place September 20.
HB: Microsoft is here to sponsor the Hispanic Heritage Awards this year, which marks something of a step up in terms of the company’s involvement with the Hispanic community. Can you describe the relationship? How long has it been going on?
OA: This is our first year with the Heritage Awards, but by no means is it the only thing we have done. We have been involved in several activities, many of them with ASPIRA [a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on youth leadership]. Through transferring products and, what is more important to me, knowledge to the community, we have been active to the tune of about $6.7 million to $7 million over the past couple of years.
HB: What are Microsoft’s plans for entering and managing the Hispanic market, both domestically and in Latin America?
OA: We are in the early stages of really understanding consumer behavior on the Hispanic side. That’s something that I am interested in specifically. At this point I think our activity is not just selling more to Hispanics. I think the priority is more along the lines of what can we do to reach out to the Hispanic community with our technology and with knowledge to help transfer technology.
HB: Do you see different marketing strategies for reaching U.S. Hispanics as opposed to Latin American consumers?
OA: No. At the core, it’s exactly the same. Of course we want to market to them. Of course we want to sell to them. But most of all, I believe software has the potential to close that gap we call the digital divide and give people a chance to realize their dreams. That’s a basic element that’s real for Hispanic Americans and for Hispanic Latin Americans.
HB: What’s your role in developing these markets?
OA: I was hired in 1991 to create the Latin American division for the company. Now I have worldwide responsibility for sales, marketing, and services for Microsoft. I just came from Colombia, where I inaugurated a project that gives about 7,000 students from low-income families access to computers and the Internet. These are projects we try to do everywhere. So I get very active with concrete projects like that, and I get very active in terms of focusing our people on the fact that Microsoft wants to be a good citizen in every one of its locations.
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