News Column

A Candid Q&A With the CEO of Brightstar, the HB500's Top Company

June 3, 2008

Michael Bowker--Managing Editor, Hispanic Business Magazine

 R. Marcelo Claure, CEO of Brightstar

For the second year in a row, R. Marcelo Claure, the chairman, CEO, and president, has taken his company, Brightstar Corp. to the top of the Hispanic Business 500 companies. He's done so with verve, vision, and the ability to penetrate new markets. Despite his globetrotting schedule, we caught up with Mr. Claure this spring for a surprisingly forthright interview. He not only shared his business philosophies, he also gave us a glimpse of his early experiences that set the course for his remarkable success. Our discussion spanned a variety of issues and topics.

HB: What Was Brightstar's Financial Year Like In '07?
Brightstar continues to post strong financial results. In 2007, we ended the year with gross revenues exceeding $4.8 billion. We saw significant success in a number of key markets like Australia, the U.S., and Latin America and continued to grow via geographic expansion into parts of Asia, Africa, and most important strategically, via a joint venture with Tech Data into Europe.

HB: Has the worldwide economic slowdown affected your growth so far this year?
We are lucky to be in a technology industry that continues to accelerate around the world. Innovation and new technologies spur a lot of product activity in the telecom industry, and this, in turn, helps to drive demand with consumers. We again anticipate that the industry will grow this year. That being said, I cannot say that our industry is unaffected by economic conditions. We have certainly seen the economy affect key partners and customers over the past 12 months. I can say that while some parts of our business have slowed, we have anticipated that and have put renewed energy and resources into diversification and growing higher margin businesses like supply chain solutions. This strategy is certainly paying off. For example, we just signed a multi-year contract with Telecom New Zealand to take over their entire supply chain.

HB: What is the hardest lesson you've had to learn in today's economy?
Without a doubt, we must be forward looking and willing to take action to evolve now to meet future needs. I think companies that are not agile and cannot react quickly to market changes will have a much more difficult time in responding to today's economic realities. I have a seen a lot of companies resting on the success of the past, but that time is gone. You must make hard decisions, invest in the areas where growth will be strong, and divest in areas that have slowed.

HB: Is the economy causing you to rethink or change your business model?
I wouldn't say it's the economy causing us to rethink our business model. We have always been a company in motion. I believe Brightstar's success has been, to a large degree, our willingness and ability to act like entrepreneurs even when we started posting billions in revenue. The wireless industry certainly accelerates faster than nearly any other industry, but no company is immune to change. Change is the only constant, and you must build your business and systems anticipating that.

HB: What are the biggest challenges facing Brightstar today?
Our biggest challenge is the thing I am most excited about; we are investing and focusing a significant amount into becoming world-class supply chain experts. We have already an international reputation for excellence in this area, and I believe it will define us as a business moving forward. The challenge is changing mentalities from who Brightstar is today to who we need to be tomorrow. We also are very focused on putting the right people in the right roles. In a more sophisticated business model like supply chain solutions, the human resource element is critical. If we get that right, I believe we will be a powerhouse to reckon with in the mobile telecom industry and beyond.

HB: In terms of a silver lining, what creative solutions have Brightstar developed to battle the slowing economy?
Agility. Without a question, we are known for being very innovative and flexible to meet our customers' needs. Some of our competitors focused a lot of time and resources into building world-class logistics centers, which have been highly successful for them. But, one of the challenges with that is these types of solutions tend to be rigid and not scaleable. If you are focused on driving every cost out of a process, that process can't have nuances. It remains to be seen if the future world will want to buy into a "one-size-fits-all" solution or if they are seeking a company that will work with them to develop solutions tailored exactly to their business model. We are banking on the belief that the future opportunities are for agile, innovative companies like ours.

HB: What parts of the world do you see providing growth for Brightstar in the future?
We are very bullish on Europe and see a lot of opportunity to bring value to customers there. We have made great progress in the Asia Pacific region, and of course, I mentioned our new subsidiary in New Zealand. And despite the fact that we are firmly entrenched and the clear market leader in the Americas, there is still significant growth for us there. Opportunity is everywhere for us. It's about identifying the right projects and focusing on them.

HB: What are your short-term and long-term financial/business goals?
In the short term, we are focused on further investing and evolving our business into more solutions-focused areas, as well as diversifying our portfolio further. There is no question that the next few years will be huge for smart phones, and I believe Brightstar is the best organization in the world to support the sales and marketing of these products. From a long-term perspective, I want to ensure we keep growing, but also grow profitably, which is where I am focusing much of my time today. Brightstar is always called out as a phenomenal success story, often times doubling our revenue from one year to the next. When you become a multinational, multibillion-dollar company, that growth isn't realistic or sustainable. I am focusing on delivering value to customers, positive return to investors, and a solid organization that my employees can grow with for years to come.

HB: How important is the Internet to your business? Do you utilize it for sales?
Critically important. We use the Internet to sell to our customers and process millions of transactions per year over the Web. We create and manage e-commerce solutions for customers all over the world. We use the Internet as one of our key communications tools. In fact, we just relaunched our global intranet to create a knowledge center and center of excellence that all Brightstar employees now use on a daily basis. When you are a global organization like Brightstar, technology must be employed to gain efficiencies and maintain consistencies. Of course, our supply chain business uses some of the most advanced technologies in the world to drive business intelligence for our customers, so I anticipate that the Internet and other IT programs will become even more important to our business in the future.

HB: If you had a piece of advice to give to young Hispanic entrepreneurs, what would it be?
I give the same piece of advice to entrepreneurs when asked take calculated risks. I don't suggest or recommend risk taking without a thought process behind it. "Take a risk" is bad advice. But, being willing and able to leap after you've looked is what's important. So many people are just afraid to try new things or take risk in their careers, but I strongly encourage this -- especially when you're young. I was 26 when I started Brightstar.

HB: When you are not busy building the top company in our HB 500, what do you do to relax?
Most significantly, my wife and I just welcomed our new daughter to the world so that is certainly the focus of any free time. I also enjoy owning the Bolivar soccer team and like to put time and effort into helping create future leaders in Latin America. I believe we as Latino leaders and business leaders have a responsibility to give back to the communities that have given us so much. I am pleased to focus the little free time that I have in these areas.

For more of Hispanic Business' signature lists, please see the Ranking Channel

Source: (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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