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Chronicle of an unexpected decision | Chapter 1 of 4

Disclaimer


The translation of the original spanish version of this chronicle was done by me. I am not an english teacher, nor do I claim to be one. What I learned was due to "on the job training". Therefore, please disguise the unintentional mistakes that you will surely find in it. Thanks and apologies.

Tony

Genesis

I dedicate this chronicle, first of all, to the memories of my always remembered executives of the company, to whom I reported during the different stages of our beloved unit, the GDCA: Jorge Ober, Guillermo Cascio and Héctor Ortelli.

I also dedicate it to the memories of those who accompanied me to lead it: Carlos Menor, Eduardo Puópolo, Jorge Tajes and Víctor Viotto.

This chronicle is also addressed to those managers with whom I had previously shared several local and international projects and who, having been requested by me, did not hesitate for a second to join this new project, and with whom we continue to walk together our paths in this life: Guillermo Abi, Gustavo Bianchi, José Luís Calzato, Omar Cicale, Vanesa Di Molfetta, Andrea Freile, Marta Hahn, Ana María López, Carlos Magariños, Jorge Osinski and Gastón Víttori, among other excellent professionals.


But this chronicle is mainly addressed to you, one of the 4,500 young professionals, to whom I had the pleasure of welcoming to our beloved GDCA, whether you were recently graduated or with a few years in the profession.

Yes, you...

... who enjoyed its first years, like all of us, with the illusion of seeing the birth, growth and development of a team that dreamed of achieving prestige in our country and at an international level

... that surely told your loved ones how lucky you had been to join our company and, in particular, our unit, which prided itself on keeping your job as long as you wanted, through a policy backed by almost a century of life.

... that trusted blindly in me, in what I promised you because I was convinced of it and that is why you were able to train, to integrate teams united by the profession and, in many cases, by sincere friendship.

... that provided IT services to first class international clients, located in our country, USA, Europe or the Far East.

... that enjoyed going out together, sports activities, parties and other activities together with co-workers of the same generation.

... that, maybe, even found your future spouse here, with whom you built a family that today enjoys your children. I was an involuntary Cupid, but in reality I am simply Tony, the same one yesterday, today and always.

But it is also addressed to you, who had the misfortune, along with all of us, to witness the sudden death of our unit, which occurred in the midst of the successes we were achieving, and when nothing could have foreseen it. Our electrocardiograms were fine, our blood pressure was normal, we had no symptoms... and suddenly, what happened?


I decided, as my professional responsibility indicated, to call myself to silence for a long period of time, waiting for the company to give its explanation. But nothing really happened and, moreover, something unusual: the reason for my departure was not even officially explained.

I was hesitating a lot about writing this article or not, but I decided to do it because I am one of the few people directly responsible alive at this moment, and I would not want this chronicle to disappear with me.

It has been ten years since my "forced retirement" from IBM (we’ll see later how it happened). I consider that this is a long period of time to have maintained a prudent silence and that this is the right momento to make this chronicle known.

Those of us who were in charge of leading this project didn’t deserve the outcome it had, which was totally beyond our will and abilities.

Here you’ll find the true story, divided into four chapters. If you think it merits it, I would be grateful if you would let your colleagues know about it.

So, let's start, as it should be, from the beginning...


Background

Since the closing of the Martinez Plant operations in 1994, the few employees that remained in the company tried to readjust themselves as best as possible to the existing functions within IBM Argentina.

The process was not at all easy, since it was a very different environment from that of Manufacturing, where we had grown and developed as professionals. In my case, my assignmemt to the Services Division since its genesis in 1990, facilitated this process.

However, deep in my heart, I always dreamed of recreating an Export Unit from Argentina, which I had the privilege of sharing with other managers during two decades. In fact, I felt that I was the custodian of a legacy received from that executive group, and I was reluctant to believe that it would disappear with us, the day we retired from the company.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the IBM's cycle of IT products manufacturing was ending and its substitution by products built by third parties was already planned for the near future.

Installed capacity in excess was identified and, although CEO John Akers had predicted reaching 100 billion dollars within few years, there was no clear idea of how to accomplish it.

Attempts were made to standardize products with the Vanilla Ice Cream concept and to concentrate many dispersed locations into very few, but each geography was fighting for its own survival: United States, Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. They closed in on themselves.

In the mid-1990s, IBM stock fell to an all-time low and, after several consecutive years of losses, the company appointed a new CEO, the first hired from another company: Lou Gerstner.

Traditional product sales were declining, and the newly formed Global Services Division was beginning to grow under the leadership of Dennie Welsh.

IBM opted to retain technology and centralize it in a few locations: Fishkill and Poughkeepsie; and began to slowly divest its hardware plants.

The 1994/96 period was a time of great uncertainty. The components logistics and transportation costs couldn’t be offsetted by the manufacturing sites assembly and testing hourly costs advantages, and the products became uncompetitive.

The deep values, their associated principles and the latest concepts developed in the Martinez Plant´s agony, as well as the processes and applications available then, were transformed in objectives that helped me to recreate ours, and we were able to achieve and surpass in the following years.

In 2001, the IBM Martínez Technological Campus was launched, with a 50 million dollars investment. Frem there, customers in all Latin America would be served.

It carried out 5,000 million monthly transactions, equivalent to processing daily the equivalent bank monthly transactions; its storage has capacity to keep the photos, fingerprints and personal data of all the Earth’s inhabitants. It had 1400 professionals developing technology solutions, according to the client’s business strategies.

Meanwhile, the IBM Latin American Computing Center, located in Brazil, was moved to Boulder, Colorado, which had acquaired the latest available technology.

Since the Boulder hourly costs were higher than Brazil, this left the door open for an eventual repatriation, which indeed took place in 2002, and thus began the concept of global services from Latin America, with Brazil supporting US clients in Boulder, Poughkeepsie and other computer centers. And then, why not from the Martinez Campus? However, at that time in Argentina, the exchange rate made it impossible, and after the devaluation, the debacle and the 2001 political instability US executives didn’t want to take the risk of sending services to our country.

In 2003/04, the Corporation agreed to do a pilot experience in Argentina with a couple of accounts: Continental Tires and Hitachi. They involved end-user support, networking and some server management services. Some Latin American executives believed in this idea, among them Guillermo Cascio, Alberto Battistón and Miguel Becerra, the executive I reported to, who called me to a meeting in Boulder in June 2004 to represent Latin America. From then on, the story began to be known.

There it was decided that IT infrastructure services would be provided from Argentina to clients in USA and Europe, and the basis for the project were defined.

In October 2004 I met with Jorge Ober to start organizing the project and present the requirements and organization to Miguel Becerra, Héctor Ortelli and Guillermo Cascio, to whom I reported in Argentina.

Privately, Jorge gave me a recommendation, after many years as the Head of the Martinez Plant, regarding the relationship with our Head Quarters. He told me:

"Look, Tony. If they come and tell you that you have to paint the walls and windows green and yellow, you must always have the paint cans at hand and even if it is crazy, don't hesitate. Paint them green and yellow”.

I would remember that until today, although in real life, later on, I did not keep it in mind under certain circumstances.

Photo with Jorge Ober, early 2005.

GDCA launch and first year of life

This vitally important decision was announced in January 2005 at a Kick-Off meeting, attended by the Director of Latin American Services and the local Directors, under whose responsibility the GDCA project building and growth would take place.

A target was set to reach a level of 500 IT service professionals, providing these services globally, within a three years period. Interestingly, it represented the same size that the former Martinez Plant had maintained, on average, during its nearly half century of life.


I had the privilege and great honor of launching the Project in front of several IT managers and professionals, who recognized the great importance of having chosen our beloved country for such a mission. I felt like no time had passed and I saw myself joining the company and in the very same location 35 years before. A déjà vu difficult to describe came over to me at that precise momento and, after the meeting, several participants came up to pat me on the back.

The objective of the New Unit was to provide IT support, operation, maintenance and monitoring services through global practices, processes and methodologies, to customers in USA, Canada, Mexico, Spain, Portugal and Switzerland, among other countries.

The main IT Services to be provided from the GDCA would be:

  • Server Operations (Mainframe, Unix and Wintel technologies)

  • Information Backup and Recovery Operations

  • Database Administration

  • Problem and Change Management

  • Information Security Management

  • IT Asset Management

I’ve invited Carlos Menor, Guillermo Abi, Carlos Magariños, Jorge Osinski, Jorge Tajes, Victor Viotto, Ana Lopez and Gaston Víttori to be part of our Project Office.

I was, finally, the custodian of the "Manufacturing Legacy", to recreate it in the New Unit: the GDCA!!

It seemed incredible to me and I was willing to put in whatever effort was required to make it happen, and make it last.

As I had already planned to travel in March to visit my children and their families, who lived in Barcelona, I took advantage of this trip to arrange a meeting with Iberia's IT Technology Services Manager, Juan Hinjos, whose office was in that city, to introduce myself and invite him to visit us in Argentina as soon as possible.

During that meeting we communicated by phone with other managers under him, who were based in Madrid. The formal part was covered.

Once the link was established, I returned to Buenos Aires to start shaping the project, resorting from the aforementioned professionals to fill the first positions that needed to be created, as the first work orders were being received from Spain.

The visit was beginning to bear its first fruits.


As we did not have a definite place where GDCA would be installed, since the company's Real Estate group was looking for suitable buildings in CABA (City of Buenos Aires), we were provisionally installed in what was still standing and free of the plant's offices, among them the Management Room used by JO and the back of the second floor of Module A.

The Unit was gradually integrated with students, young professionals and others highly qualified in disciplines with a high degree of technical specifications and also in those oriented to management.

The exchange rate had brought the Argentine peso to a 3 to 1 ratio to the dollar and the country had stabilized. It was the time to start exporting to our first customers in two countries: USA and Spain.

During the remaining first half of the year, orders from USA were very weak and the only ones arriving were the ones from Iberia. This increased our anxiety , as we wondered if we would ever occupy the new and huge four story building in Vicente Lopez, where we, finally, were located. It was in front of the river, on the "Urquiza" street, the name by which the building would be known from then on. Our small group had settled there and occupied only half of the fourth floor of the building.

We received periodic visits from executives and project managers from USA, among them Bob Byers, who assured us again and again that we should be calm and that the work orders from the USA would come.

And this really happened….

Starting on the second semester of the first year of GDCA's life, 2005, the orders from USA arrived, and arrive, .... and flooded us!

We couldn't believe it; they just kept coming. In few months we had surpassed 200 people and the growing trend had become exponential. There was still a quarter left and we were already occupying more than two floors of "Urquiza".

Fortunately, we had been foresighted and developed a training plan, which was immediately put in place to allow young professionals entering the company to have the appropriate knowledge and english language skills to meet this sudden demand.

On a personal level, very sad news. Jorge Ober suffered the loss of his beloved wife Ana, so he could not continue to attend to this growth with the same dedication as before. I was really sorry for him, as I had known the couple since I had joined the company more tthat thirty ago and they were always a role model.

I had to double my dedication since I was virtually in charge of the GDCA until he returned, while this unforeseen exponential growth was sustained.

By September it was more than evident that all forecasts were going to fall short, that "Urquiza" was going to be too small to accommodate us and that we were going to need a new building. The company's Real Estate department quickly took action and the construction of a new one was started, which would later be called "Olivos I".

December 2005 photo.

Meantime, in December the "500th employee", (name by which the poor man who had the fortune, or misfortune, to join us that day), would be recognized as such from then on. This fact meant that we had reached the goal set for a three year’s period, during the first one, a true record in the history of IBM Argentina.

Before the end-of-year holidays, young people organized a party on a Friday night at one of the clubs next to our emblematic building. A large number participated, I would say more than 300, and together with other people from the Proj