Alfredo is a seasoned executive with a broad international experience in the Intelligent Transportation Technology sector. He has spent his more than 20 years of professional experience leading multicultural and diverse teams. He has lived in Spain, Argentina, Brazil and the US, having managed teams and leading business units in China, Europe, LATAM and the US. He has a Masters degree in engineering from the Polytechnic University in Madrid, MBA from IAE ( Argentina ) and a MS in Data Analytics from Texas A&M ( US). Alfredo lives in the US and has a global function in Kapsch Trafficom as head of the Urban and Mobility Solution Center.
USEC was privileged to have Alfredo as one of the panelists in a recent event in Washington DC titled ‘Navigating Cultural Differences in International Projects’. After that event we had a unique opportunity to obtain an exclusive interview with him and discuss his experience as an executive in the US, the challenges faced by foreign companies doing business in the US and the future of the transportation business.
What have been the greatest challenges for you as an executive from Spain working in the US?
I come from a wide international and multicultural background, so in terms of adapting and learning how to work with people from the US was easy and natural to me. It was the same way of doing, listen, learn, be open minded and respectful and adapt. You need to understand how US people work, what matters, how they think. But the real challenge was to bridge between the company and corporate out of Spain with my team in the US. That was one of my key missions the first time I came to work in the US. I took quite an effort. It was about culture, processes and change management. There are things that work in Spain, that do not work and will never work in the US.
This is valid for the US and any other country in the world, you need to listen, come with an open mind, and be able to adapt. I’ve seen this in many European companies that came to the US, and for many of them, it took years to understand. Some of them, were a complete failure, until they were ready to change.
By the way, the same applies to US companies trying to do business abroad.
Your initial college education was in engineering and you have managed engineering teams through your career in Spain, the US and other countries. What do you think are the most significant differences between engineers trained in Spain and the US in terms of skills?
I believe Spanish engineers are very well prepared. It has always been very good and powerful the broad and generalist education that made us very flexible. One of my concerns actually is when I read the potential excessive specialization of Spanish degrees when aligning with Europe. I know I’m touching a very sensitive topic, but I’m a firm believer of getting a broad education first and specialize later. And even more in a world where technology and business models are changing so fast.
And with now doubt, languages, learn languages. This has gratefully changed in Spain, but still there are people that do no take it seriously. I still have needed to reject great candidates because of their level of English.
What would be your advice for a young student interested in becoming an engineer. What type of engineering discipline in your opinion is going to be more demanded in the near future? Mechanical, Civil, Industrial, Telecommunication, other? Would you recommend studying engineering in a university in the US or in Spain? Why?
Study what you feel like you like better. Enjoy and make the most of it. But try to get a wide education and do not specialize a lot in your early stages. Then start working and see what you really like. After that is when you should get your Masters degree. Life changes a lot, and you will need to be ready to discover what you like and adapt. So get very solid fundamentals, train your skills and capacity to learn quick and be flexible and always willing o learn.
Regarding whether to study in the US or Spain, I have had the chance to go to the University in Spain and also here in the US. After having lived that experience, my recommendation would be that as long as the quality is good, it does not matter much in what country you study. Actually I would recommend to do your bachelor in one country and the Masters in the other one. The richest your cultural experience is the better for your education and preparation as a professional. And that is something that we value a lot when we hire new potentials. Professionals that have studied and worked in different countries come with a good ability to adapt, and that is essential in today’s business world.
For several years you were a senior executive at the US subsidiary of a Spanish company (Telvent). Do you have any advice or lessons learned for companies from Spain trying to break into the US market?
Spanish companies are welcome in the US. Spain creates good professionals and first class engineering companies. Our background and expertise is very well received. And in my experience, US customers are eager to learn what is done in Europe. As soon as you’re good, you will have a place in the US market. Said that, becoming local is essential. Customers in the US want to have first class professionals close to them. So those areas that require close contact to customer, absolutely need to be here and with the right skills to communicate and understand your customer. You can of course develop software in Spain, but your Business Analyst and your Consultant and Project Manager, better stay in the US and become local. It will not work to try to do it from Spain. Your team will also need to learn the way of doing things in the US. And hiring good local people will also help tremendously.
And as I said above, please do not intend that what works in Spain will work here and you know it all. Do not impose.
As a leader within a foreign-owned organization operating in the US, are you concerned about policy changes derived from the change in the government that might create difficulties doing business in the US market?
LOL. Although still there’s a lot of uncertainty, it is definitely a risk that we all know need to watch carefully and be ready to adapt quickly. It can affect from manufacturing, to bringing qualified people or developing software abroad. So, I’m not overly concerned yet, but we need to be cautious. Let’s see.
There is an enormous degree of interest in autonomous ground transportation. What do you think are the biggest hurdles that need to be overcome to make it a reality?
Although autonomous vehicles is moving very quickly still there’re important gaps from technical to regulatory. For instance the connection with the infrastructure is still not fully solved. To make an autonomous car work on a highway is easy. When you get into complex areas such as cities, then is a different story for which still there’s significant problems not fully solved yet. From a regulatory point of view, standards are not finalized and guarantied in all aspects which will make difficult a broad deployment and legislation is still not in place to regulate liabilities. The typical question about who is liable if an accident happens – the owner, the OEM or the DOT – is still on the table.
Additionally business models are still not 100% clear. When you talk to municipalities, states and public customers in general, nobody knows who will pay for the piece of the infrastructure.
One of the other major open points is about the data, and who owns the data: the citizen, that is you and me, the OEM, the state. Who has the right to use it, and at what price. And what data.
I was in a very interesting debate a few weeks ago, where a State Secretary of Transportation was making clear that if OEMs wanted to get their connected cars on his highways, they would need to give him access to the data. For instance a group of OEMs in Europe have drafted a proposal on how this would be structured. I have seen nothing yet in the US.
But in any case autonomous car is here to stay and revolutionize how transportation has been defined until now. It is moving very fast, faster than what we all expect, but there are still a few issues that need to be addressed and a lot of moving parts.
We are living what could be called an App Revolution, that is affecting every single aspect of our daily life. How do apps like Waze or Googlemaps have changed drivers behavior? Do you know if the companies behind these apps are sharing/selling their valuable traffic data to the police, local authorities or specialized companies like Kapsch TrafficCom? For example, Waze has updated life data on all sort of traffic incidents like accidents, constructions, road animal kills, etc…Also these apps can provide accurate historical information on traffic commutes. Is the future of Traffic Management going to be affected by this App Revolution?
Definitely mobile apps are changing the landscape. Waze as an example has changed completely the navigation devices market. Try a walk into one of those retail stores that 2 years ago was still selling portable navigation devices. They do not exist anymore. Why? Because people are using Waze.
However, what has been done so far in terms of data is the easy part. The data that is being used today is easy to collect, and the applications developed are the easy ones. In many cases not very useful. The challenge is to get the data that is not evident, and make a good use of it. There’s a tremendous field in gathering and using the traffic data. And that data will not simply come from mobile apps.
And even more that data is still not enough for connected vehicle.
I attended recently a Smart City congress, and the number of companies and start ups with IoT platforms was incredible. But they all were the same, they used the same data – the easy one – , and the content they had created, was visually nice, but useless. Data, big data, machine learning, deep learning, are fancy topics that everyone likes to talk about. There’s a lot of companies and people talking about it and starting to work with it. But the ones that are really making a good use of it are very, very few. There’s still big challenges to resolve. In Transportation, traffic prediction is a challenge, and I cannot name you any good prediction engine yet. If someone has one, I will buy it !! And when you get into the complexity of cities, with public transit, parking and complex road network, existing data and applications around are still not enough. So, great area of research and innovation for those new engineers we were talking about.
Let me give you an example: I have developed a model that can predict the likelihood of accidents on a 60% rate, using all the existing data in a typical DOT and data collected from mobile apps. But that is as far as you can go. The rest depends on the individual behavior. So, as soon as we are able to monitor those variables within the car through connected vehicle technologies, we will be able to cover the remaining 35%.
The app revolution will affect it all, for sure mobility end to end. It is indeed transforming and enabling the way we conceive mobility and will continue. Just remember that with connected and autonomous cars, the app will move into your car.