Nearshore Americas

Blanca Treviño on Effective Crisis Leadership

Blanca Treviño is not afraid of change. In the late 1970’s she was studying Administrative Computing Systems in Mexico – several years before personal computers hit the market. After becoming President and CEO of the IT services provider Softtek in 2000, she transformed the company into a global force and now oversees an organization of more than 15,000 associates in 30 offices worldwide. Her admission into the highly exclusive Mexican Council of Businessmen in 2014 even forced a change of name. The group has been known as the Mexican Business Council ever since, while Treviño has become its vice-president.

The CEO outlined her vision for how business leaders can adapt to a world in constant change during a webcast last week organized by the Council of the Americas Symposium and Bravo Business Awards. Treviño discussed the enhanced role of technology amid the Covid-19 pandemic and touched on some of the latest opportunities and trends in Nearshoring.

“I am in a very privileged industry,” the CEO said. “Technology has played a major role in keeping things up and running during the lockdown… For all of those lucky enough to be so-called knowledge workers, technology has enabled us to keep doing our jobs with minimal disruption.”

Treviño said Softtek had adapted quickly to work-from-home arrangements, moving their entire workforce in just two weeks. But she was also impressed with the response from other industries, such as the restaurant sector, which has leveraged technological platforms and saved many businesses from bankruptcy.

She also pointed to e-commerce as “one of the champions” of the pandemic. “There were some concerns about e-commerce,” Treviño said. But “lately we all have raised e-commerce as the only way to get things that we need.”

Similarly, she sees cybersecurity and artificial intelligence (AI) as crucial tools for navigating the current crisis. In particular, she highlighted AI as the technology that has the potential for driving greatest transformational change.

Mexico’s education system has also effectively leveraged technology in the crisis.

“Something that was really impressive was that public schools were able to keep offering classes,” Treviño said, adding that she had “never expected” such flexibility. “It is interesting because they are moving faster out of need.”

“We have to take advantage of the (Nearshore business) opportunity,” she said, adding that policymakers and the private sector would have to work together. “It’s not just that the work is going to come, there are things that have to be ready and that we have to offer.”

Closing the Digital Divide

Nevertheless, Treviño emphasized that the crisis had also exposed underlining weaknesses in the region. She said the panorama for Latin America was complicated by its slow embrace of digital transformation. Millions of people still have no access to the internet in the region – a predicament that exacerbates economic hardship and leaves children out of the education system.

Infrastructure upgrades and the sharp increase in mobile phone use means Mexico has seen a marked rise in internet penetration across the country in recent years. However, nearly 38 million people – or 30 percent of the population – still has no access to the internet, according to Mexican government data.

Treviño said the public sector must take a leading role in addressing the digital divide. However, she added that private businesses should also support the effort.

In “the private sector we have to understand that we are part of the solution,” she said. “For example, in our case we support some small and medium-sized companies with a platform… and we offer that platform for free, because… if we don’t do this, those small shops will close.”

The platform, called Click2Sync, helps users connect their e-commerce platforms to an inventory that records purchases or changes. Merchants can therefore track how their business is developing across storefronts, or multiple social networks, marketplaces and ERP systems.

Such initiatives are part of a drive to make the most of the sweeping changes brought on by the pandemic. But while many analysts have identified new favorable circumstances for Nearshore, Treviño warned that the region would have to deliver quality and productivity to strengthen its position.

“We have to take advantage of the opportunity,” she said, adding that policymakers and the private sector would have to work together on the effort. “It’s not just that the work is going to come, there are things that have to be ready and that we have to offer.”

Treviño welcomed the news that the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) had been ratified and has now entered into force, replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). However, she also warned that the agreement was not a guarantee of success for the Nearshore region.

“The agreement was needed, it is good news that it is already improved,” Treviño said. “But it is not enough. If we don’t do all the other things that are important in order to attract that investment, it’s not going to be enough.”

Treviño expressed concern about the economic consequences of the pandemic. With oil prices falling and the tourism industry at a standstill, the World Bank expects economic activity in Mexico to shrink by 7.5 percent in 2020. Treviño also noted that Mexico had not registered economic growth in the past 18 months. “When this pandemic arrived, we were already in bad shape,” she said. “I think it is going to take a few years to get back on track.”

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Empathy: the Most Valuable Leadership Skill

Taking a realistic view of such a situation is crucial for effective crisis management, Treviño said. She highlighted the leadership role that women have taken during the pandemic. For many women across the world, remote working has meant supervising home schooling while continuing with their jobs. Treviño also pointed to the efforts of women leaders such as Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, who have both presided over some of the most successful efforts at managing the virus in the world. Germany has reported a far lower death than Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom or France. Ardern took the decision difficult of adopting a full nationwide lockdown and closing the country’s entry ports to all to all non-residents in March.

Treviño said that public and private sector leaders could both learn from these leadership examples. “Embrace reality, don’t sugarcoat it… take a look at the whole picture. There are going to be difficult decisions.”

Above all, Treviño said leaders need to identify with others and be aware of the difficulties they face.

“In order for people to understand the decisions that you make,” people must see “that you took into consideration all the aspects,” Treviño said. “When there is a crisis, you need that kind of empathy.”

Stephen Woodman

Stephen Woodman is an independent journalist based in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. He has six years’ experience covering business and culture in Latin America. Stephen has been published in numerous international media outlets, including The Financial Times, BBC News and Reuters. To share story ideas, drop him a note here

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