One might think a priori that an entrepreneur would like that Chema Alonso he would feel like a fish out of water in a multinational company like Telefónica; for him, however, it’s like “a Disney technology park” and he explains: “When slides became fashionable in multinational companies, I thought: why does an engineer need a slide? Those of us who love technology want to do great things, and here you have immense capacity for innovation, brutal ways of doing new things, and that’s fascinating,” the Strom confesses Chief Data Officer from Telefonica.
Under the umbrella of his department are two of the company’s most innovative areas: security, for both individuals and businesses, and big data. For the first concept alone, his department billed 341 million euros in 2016, 23 percent more than in the previous year. And between the two areas there are about 600 professionals. Are these stunning numbers compatible with the spirit of freedom that an entrepreneur needs? “When you start and run a business, you also lose freedom because you have many fronts to manage. Here you have many supervisors and many processes that make everything easy for you. I always tell the team that they have a responsibility to deliver services and to proceed at the same speed as before in developing services, because in such a dizzying world, technologically speaking, it’s imperative. It is important to keep the spirit, develop new technology, innovate, patent, develop differentiated products, keep challenging yourself… We register 30 patents and three or four new products per year. We have to be very agile to maintain the lead.”
But the question is: Can the entrepreneurial philosophy be maintained in a structure like Telefónica? “I do. Although it may seem hard to believe, all companies love entrepreneurs. One of the most common discussions I have with managers, both at Telefónica and other multinationals, is that many of them manage other people’s money and the key is to manage each project as if it were their own. When I had my own business I always said that the money that comes in must be greater than the money that is spent and today it is “I am convinced that we must always work with this goal and spirit of seeking opportunities to be a financially healthy company. Managers often forget this. Entrepreneurship can be maintained by keeping a constant eye on the market.”
The company you are talking about is IT64the company with which he co-founded Rodolfo Bordon 25 years ago “as a self-reliance formula for two boys from Móstoles. I always say that when I first met José María Álvarez-Pallete, he asked me: Do you know Wayra? And I told him no. And then he asked me: And do you know what a startup accelerator is? To which I repeated, no. And he countered: But do you know what a startup is?and I said no again. But you have a startup!he exclaimed. And I answered: No, I have a company. My company should always function: not to attract investors or exits. As we have grown, we have specialized in cyber security.”
His integration into Telefónica was gradual: “First I worked as a consultant for Pallete for a year and three months when he was Executive President of Telefónica Europe. When the multinational took over my company, that’s what we started with eleven ways (We changed the name because Informatica64 didn’t sound very good in English) and we worked as an independent SME for a year and a few months. So when I joined Telefónica, I already had a clear idea of what the company is like and what we can do. The goal was to add value to the security sector and we focused on innovative products, the creation of patents, technical training…”.
In a multinational company, is it essential to bet on entrepreneurship? “Companies that have not hired entrepreneurs are dying. If you have people to manage but not transform and move forward, it stagnates. I see innovation as part of the business. Every year we release new products. Innovation is the way to survive. Intrapreneurship positions you better against the competition. I have a very technical profile, I am a computer security doctor and a telecommunications engineer, and it saddens me to see that in the world of managers of large technology companies, technical education is very low. I always say that one of the mistakes in today’s business world is that in companies there is a lot of Steve Jobs and a big shortage of Steve Wozniak, there is a lack of Data Scientist profiles, IoT … In the United States they have they have already recognized it and strive to surround themselves with good engineers. Anyone can have good ideas, but putting them into practice is something else. At Telefónica there is now a high profile of a technical entrepreneur among its directors and I think that is good and necessary. You have to spoil the wozniak of this world,” he concludes.
Focus versus expansion
He defines himself as a frustrated comic artist. “In fact, I have to create a character josemariñoas my mother calls me, roughly a hacker that I didn’t know Chop“.
The purchase of the rights to Electronic Clico, the cartoon character that was considered the benchmark for digital humor, a few years ago, is part of this cultural concern: “For a couple of years we released chapters. At the moment it is on standby but with the intention of editing it again one day.”
From your point of view, as a cybersecurity expert, what advice would you give to an entrepreneur who wants to get into this space? “There are so many possibilities because there are so many ramifications, and as new technologies emerge, new options arise. My advice would be to focus on a problem or niche you want to solve and dig deeper rather than expand so it’s the best solution in its segment.” Indeed, massive virus attacks have proliferated recently. “The world has gone digital and technologies have been introduced into more and more widespread media and places. You have to invest in risk: both in prevention and detection, and in response.”