Artículos en Inglés
Jose Antonio Rodriguez, President of Digicel El Salvador
By: Marcela Solis
Translated by: Vivian Melara
Who is Jose Antonio Rodriguez, President of Digicel as an individual?
As an individual, I am a person who loves to enjoy life; I enjoy my life at every minute, every second. I have fun. Though sometimes I fall, I stand up again and I keep having fun.
Are you married, do you have children?
I am happily married to Monica Pacas whom I married seventeen years ago. I have four children: Paola, the eldest with 15 years old; Jose Antonio who is 12 years old; Ximena who is 10 years old; and Andres who is 8 years old.
How was your college experience?
I studied at the University of Tulane, in New Orleans, in 1987. I studied Computer Science Engineering. At that time, El Salvador was going through a unique moment in its history. We were financing a war, which likely not many you remember or didn’t experience. I experienced the war during my youth, my adolescence, and I had to live curfews. It was a very complicated situation. Then, I attended college in the United States in this period. Technology always called my attention. My family has a long line of doctors: my two grandparents were doctors; my dad was a doctor; since my brother didn’t study medicine, was assumed I was supposed to study medicine. But let’s say we negotiated.
How did you join the workforce and where did you work before Digicel?
I graduated in 1991, after the Peace Agreements began, and I got a job with GBM here in El Salvador at the end of 1992. I started working with GBM in 1993 and I was with them for almost six years as the systems engineer to a sales manager of one of the technology units. Then the Telecom Company, one of the national carriers, contacted me – because they were developing a product at that time. I was working with them for half a year.
Then I had an opportunity in Telefonica; a bigger multinational. That was in 1999, and almost a year after it was launched in El Salvador. I worked in Telefonica for a little more than nine years. I started as a sales manager in El Salvador, then I took over as Director of the Sales Department in El Salvador, then I took over the same position in Guatemala. With the consolidation of Telefonica in Central America I had the privilege to work as a Director of Marketing watching over four countries, which were four completely different markets.
Then, during my last year and a half in Telefonica I worked as country manager, specifically in El Salvador, until Digicel appeared, which was also a company that captivated me from the start. And I was given the opportunity to come here, and so here we are.
What is Digicel’s history, at an international level and in El Salvador?
Digicel was born in Jamaica in 2001, following the vision of the Board’s President, Denis O’Brien. Precisely because of this, our headquarters are in Jamaica. Following Jamaica’s launch he also visualized growing in other Caribbean countries. We started operations in Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, and then a series of islands in the middle and then, in 2007, we had the opportunity to work in the Salvadoran market. Here, Digicel already existed as a company, the name Digicel was a pure coincidence. Former Digicel had American capital and Venezuelan capital. We were sister companies, of a Venezuelan company called Digitel.
Digicel bought the other company?
Then, when the opportunity for the Digicel group to acquire the company here in El Salvador arose, the other company was bought here in El Salvador in 2007. This other company worked in the same field; it was the same name with a different logo, different stocks, different stockholders, different modus operandi. What was accomplished with the Salvadoran acquisition was, like we say in El Salvador, “shake the tree.” A network of first-generation technology was assembled first. Immediately the company grew in coverage, sales points, and number of terminals available to customers.
What has been Digicel’s market growth? What is its actual percentage in El Salvador?
In El Salvador we have around 26%-27% of mobile phones. We grew from number four to number two, from the moment the company was formed to the end of 2007. This was almost in a matter of a year and a half. And this is thanks to the investment in the network, in stores, in outlets, and overall, because we gave the client a service he was not used to receiving, for its novelty and promotions, for its quality customer service, for its network quality and its innovations.
What has been the most difficult challenge?
In a highly competitive market we had to count with a highly creative team to differentiate us from the market, we had to be different so the clients prefer our service. I would say there are challenges every day, but thanks to the highly qualified, highly motivated team, challenges make us enjoy our work.
Talking about employees, how many does Digicel employ in El Salvador? Approximately how many are young?
We are all young (laughs). We have about 370 direct employees. But then we generate more than 1,000 indirect employees, through our distribution network, through our outlets, and contractors. But the being young part is not a joke, though, since the average age of our employees is 33.
Does Digicel have corporate social responsibility programs? What are they?
There are two pillars in the Corporate Social Responsibility Program (RSE): one of them is sport and the other one education. At the sports level we are official sponsors of our National Soccer Team, our dear Selecta. Not only the senior team, but the national team at all its levels: u-21, u-17 and the beach soccer team. We also support the Fundacion Educando a un Salvadoreno (FESA), which has an integral program for education, values and nutrition. In fact, I believe that all of us are aware that FESA has successfully placed four or five young athletes in international teams, not only in soccer but also in baseball and other sports. Aside from this we also sponsor the Special Olympics.
Additionally we support the Foundation Gift of Life (Fundacion Regalo de Vida), where we team with other entities, such as the Hospital del Diagnostico, to give an economic donation. Since some time ago, we are also supporting the Citalá School, a school designed to provide secondary education, starting from seventh grade, to young men with scarce resources. The school operates within the campus of Lamatepec School (Colegio Lamatepec).
Tell us, how was the process of the Claro-Digicel merger? What did you think of the Superintendence of Competition’s resolution?
First of all, why the request for a merger? This was part of a very complex progress of negotiation where two business groups said, “let’s see, why not see this transaction.” El Salvador was one of the legs of this transaction. The transaction had three legs: Digicel would buy the Claro operation in Jamaica and Claro would buy the Digicel operations in Honduras and El Salvador. And this, again, was a very complex operation because we spent months working on it.
The news was publicly announced in March 2001, and this provided general information, not specifics detailing the transaction, but rather what the transaction consisted and was going to be subject to the approval of the governmental authorities of the three countries. Then, if I remember correctly, by November or December 2001 the Honduran and Jamaican governments gave their approval, however,in El Salvador the first petition was turned down in June 2001; afterwards some observations were given. There was a second request in January 2012 and a third later on.
How do you evaluate the Superintendence of Competition’s job?
In the end, I think the Superintendence of Competition has a hard job because it was not an easy situation. Like I say, the context in which this process was moving was not easy. And the truth is that the Superintendence evaluated different elements that influenced the decision they took. I wouldn’t dare to say or speculate why it came to be or why it didn’t , but I think that they did an exhaustive analysis where they took into consideration all the variables and all of the elements necessary to lead to a conclusive decision in this case.
How do you think the telecommunications competition would be affected with the Claro –Digicel fusion?
Look, I think that the market would have been, obviously, more concentrated. However, it is a market where there are still, assuming that the fusion would have taken place, four different operators. Then, four, for a market this size, is also very competitive. Again, I believe that the Superintendence did the evaluation of the elements considered in this process and this lead them to take the decision they took.
What is the evaluation you give to this process?
Well look, it was an exhausting process, I think, and very complex. I believe that the superintendent is not mistaken when he says this was one of the biggest challenges. You can imagine what it was to know inside the house, or rather not know what was going to happen, because usually a merger in, let’s call them normal situations, if there are normal situations, is a six to seven months process, but here we spent eighteen months with that uncertainty. However, again, I take my hat off to everyone who works at Digicel because in these eighteen months not only did we maintain our customer base, but we also grew. And this is very important to emphasize: we never stopped fulfilling the promises our clients were expecting from Digicel. And even with the possibility of the merger, this showed our customers continue to prefer us to the last moment.
Now, how secure do you see the country in terms of politics and its institutions? Do you consider it is time to invest?
Look, I believe we talked at the beginning of the interview about the history of our country. I am an optimist convinced that this, first of all, is our country; second of all, that as Salvadorans we are in debt to our country; third, that as Salvadorans we have to keep moving forward, independent of the circumstances we could be living during a certain time. We are a young democracy. We have scarcely just celebrated twenty-one years since the Peace Accords. Then, of course we are living a very hard moment; we have a great climate of insecurity. We have a challenge in the area of education, for instance; we have a challenge as a country talking about the topic of investment. However, as Digicel, we believe in El Salvador, we are Salvadorans that are talking, we believe in El Salvador, we are going to keep believing in El Salvador and we are going to keep investing in El Salvador.
Going back in history, do you believe that the Salvadoran government took the right decision by privatizing telecommunications?
It’s good that you ask that. I also, in various prior occasions when they have asked me that, answered: “well, what do you think of the process?” Just as I am an optimist regarding the country, I also defend privatizing. I remember, in my time, there were no cell phones. Starting there, to acquire a land line you had to have connections or influence. And if you were given one, with luck, you had to wait two years, if you were not given one and you underwent the normal process, say, you waited up to ten years. Then, I remember that just after telecommunications were recently privatized (by recently I mean two to three years, when pre-paid phones were popular), a good Costa Rican friend of mine came to the country and was amazed with two things: one, of the highway’s infrastructure, at that moment the Comalapa highway had been inaugurated; and two, something that left him with his mouth wide open was that you could go to a store, buy any phone you wanted, pay, take it and call others. That in Costa Rica was something that did not exist at the time, they did not even dream about it. The privatization process in Costa Rica happened two years ago, scarcely two years.
But, yes, the privatization of telecommunications has given an enormous dynamism to the country’s economy. The industry contributes a high percentage to the generation of the national economy’s gross domestic product. We are a job generator; we are a tax generator, too, for the state.
A Quick Glance:
José Antonio Rodríguez: Optimist
Cellphones: I love them
Superintendence of Competition: They have a hard job
Investment: More must be done
The youth: The future of our country
Claro: What Claro?