News Column

A CEO's Best Friend

June 2003, HISPANIC BUSINESS Magazine

Scott Williams

Palm Tungsten

Just a few years ago, technophiles raved that a wireless world of electronic devices lay ahead. Well, in case you haven't noticed, that time is now.
To help readers make sense of this new reality, we surveyed Hispanic senior executives from an array of industries about those wireless devices that have become indispensable to the running of their everyday lives.

Lizabeth Ardisana, CEO of ASG Renaissance (number 148 on the Hispanic Business 500), a communications and technical support firm in Southfield, Michigan, confesses to being a technology junkie. She owns a cell phone, a personal digital assistant (PDA), and a laptop computer.

"Without a cell phone I don't think I could survive either professionally or personally," she says. "Without a cell phone I wouldn't be able to keep up with my business."

Ms. Ardisana uses a Nokia 6360, a step up in terms of size from her previous cell phone. She decided to super-size her cell phone because, as a self-described cell phone "abuser," she wanted a phone with a longer battery life. The Nokia 6360 comes with a lithium ion battery that provides as much as five hours of digital talk time on a single charge. Her Nokia phone, which comes with electronic paging and voicemail, has allowed her to discard the pager she once carried.

Talking to oneself used to be a sign of mental illness. Now it's more likely to signal a cell phone user wearing an earpiece with a built-in microphone. Ms. Ardisana admits to using a hands-free earpiece for convenience, safety, and health concerns.

"I do think there's a concern when you use a cell phone as much as I do," says Ms. Ardisana, who suffers from breast cancer and is concerned about a possible link between cell phone use and brain cancer. "The earpiece gives you two hands free and lets you avoid having the phone next to your head," she says.

Wireless headsets are still fairly new to the market and Ms. Ardisana hasn't tried one yet. Like other headset users, she says she would be thrilled to use a cordless headset because it would make movement even easier. But for proper use, she says, the reception would have to be clear.

Patricia Pliego Stout, CEO of The Alamo Travel Group in San Antonio (ranking 74th on the Hispanic Business 500), owns three cell phones. Her daughter keeps one and she has the other two - one for business and one for personal calls.

"I can be in contact with my office and with my family all the time, immediately," she says. She uses two cell phones because she wants to be able to answer calls from her family right away and doesn't want to tie up her business phone with personal calls.

She also uses two service providers that offer different roaming charges so that she can choose the cheapest plan when placing a long-distance domestic or international call. And, at times, one phone offers better reception than the other, she points out.

Personal calls are handled with the Nokia 1261, while business calls come in on the Nokia 3590. The Nokia 1261 provides text and picture messaging and e-mail, sends and receives business cards, and has a phonebook that can accommodate information for as many as 200 contacts. The Nokia 3590, meanwhile, offers voice dialing for as many as 10 numbers, uses a browser to retrieve text from the Internet, and provides up to 6.5 hours of talk time.

Ms. Pliego Stout also uses the BellSouth Wireless E-Mail Service and the Motorola T900 two-way device that comes with it. With the T900, she can send and receive text messages between other two-way devices, some cell phones, and computers and PDAs with e-mail capabilities. Although she enjoys it, she admits to not being up to speed yet on the T900.

"All of these gadgets require an intense reading of all the instructions because the buttons are pushed two or three times," she says. "To maximize your use, you really need to understand your new wireless gadget."

One reason she enjoys text messaging is that she believes she communicates better through the written word than in voice conversations, and it has the added benefit of creating a communication record. "It helps me tremendously to put something in writing and then send it to managers," she says.

Dennis Garcia, president of Potomac Management Group in Alexandria, Virginia (403rd on the Hispanic Business 500), says telephone conversations don't have the same clarity of communication as the written word. "I like a message to be very distinct," he says. "I think that what is imperative to business now is getting the message right the first time."

Mr. Garcia says that's one reason the BlackBerry Wireless Handheld is so popular in the Washington, D.C., area. "The BlackBerries are winning out over cell phones 3-to-1 because you just get pure text in," he says.

Made by Canada's Research In Motion, the BlackBerry is a combination cell phone, organizer, and text messenger that enables users to send and receive e-mails in what is essentially real time. They're popular among members of Congress who need to communicate constantly with their offices, Mr. Garcia says.

He recently upgraded to the BlackBerry 6710 because it has a built-in cell phone. This wallet-sized device also has a built-in thumb-typing keyboard and navigation track wheel and enables users to send and receive attachments.

At less than five ounces, the BlackBerry 6710 also offers Short Messaging Service (SMS) and browser capabilities. SMS is a form of short-text messaging that is quicker than sending and receiving e-mails. Like Ms. Pliego Stout's Nokia 3590, the BlackBerry 6710 comes with a built-in browser that enables retrieval of news and information from the Internet in text form.

Mr. Garcia says he sometimes shuts his cell phone off, but he checks his BlackBerry at all hours. His cell phone is the compact Motorola V60I, which fits easily into a shirt pocket. Initiating or ending a call is simply a matter of opening or closing the cover, unless you choose the "key answer" option.

Ariel Schmidt, president of Atlantic Graphic Services in Clinton, Massachusetts (number 431 on the Hispanic Business 500), recently purchased a device equivalent to the BlackBerry. The Palm Tungsten W is an outgrowth of 3Com's Palm Pilot, which revolutionized the personal organizing world several years ago.
Jason Schmidt, Ariel Schmidt's son, says his Argentinean-born father keeps well connected with two cell phones - one to carry with him and the other installed in his car - and, most recently, the Palm Tungsten W.

Mr. Schmidt says his father uses the Palm Tungsten W as a daytime organizer and a place to store lists, memos, and notes on meetings. It also stores his address book, has an earphone attachment for easier telephone communication, and sends and receives e-mails.

Elizabeth Pohl, president and CEO of Trinity Construction Enterprises in Albuquerque (number 306 on the Hispanic Business 500), says having a contraption that can do everything isn't always a positive. Some devices that try to do too much don't do anything particularly well, she says, and some features trumpeted by marketing departments go unused.

"My frustration with technology is that there is always the latest and the greatest," she says. "If it works, I don't want to change it. If it doesn't have the functions that I need now or if I can't use it three years from now, I don't want it."

Ms. Pohl says one technological advance she would like to see is wireless Internet access. She uses her laptop computer whenever she travels or whenever she's in the field visiting job sites. She would like to be able to access the Internet from wherever she happens to be.

"If I can access the Internet, I can access either my main computer or main printer or go to multiple locations for information without having to come back to the office to do it," she says.
Widespread wireless Internet access is still a long way off, but airports, hotels, and cafes increasingly offer hubs that provide it.

Ms. Ardisana says that although she uses her cell phone a lot, her favorite form of communication is e-mail because, like Mr. Garcia and Ms. Pliego Stout, she believes she can communicate more clearly using the written word. On the road, she uses a Dell Latitude CS laptop to send and receive e-mails from her hotel room because it's small and lightweight (4.3 pounds) and has a docking station that enables her to grab and go.

"I travel a lot, and there's nothing worse, particularly these days, than schlepping a bunch of stuff through an airport. I want the lightest-weight stuff I can schlep," she says.

She also owns a Palm V that she uses to keep her calendar when she's out of town. It serves as her phone directory, which she finds particularly helpful when traveling. The Palm V, like other handhelds, allows her to electronically exchange business cards with other handhelds, a feature that speeds up the process and provides less interruption in meetings. "I'll be in a meeting and someone will say, 'I'll beam this over to you,' " she says.

Ms. Pliego Stout uses a Palm III to keep her calendar, phone numbers, and addresses. She says she uses it daily, and at the end of the day she prints out what she has done.

"Once you get very familiar with how to use these electronic gadgets, you just cannot live without them," she says. She also believes such gadgets help her run her business more effectively by making it easier for her to stay in touch with her 18 offices around the country.

"When I started my business, I had always a fear that I would not be in contact when I had to travel, and right now that is not a problem," Ms. Pliego Stout says. "I'm connected and in control."
But not everyone is enamored with the high-tech, wireless world.

Stephen Martines, CEO of Steve's Equipment Service in the Chicago area, says he fired an employee recently for spending too much time with his PDA. "Every time I looked at him he was punching something into that thing or downloading stuff onto the computer. He spent more time with that than he did with his customers."


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