Interviewed by Dustin S. Klein | [email protected]
When Marcelo Claure got into the mobile phone business in 1997 as it was just getting started, there were 1 million mobile phones sold a year. Today, there are 1.7 billion sold every year.
The founder, president, chairman and CEO of Brightstar Corp. lives and breathes the fact that massive growth and change are part of the territory. Smaller, more powerful and robust smartphones and wireless technologies are being developed constantly.
“Change is part of our culture and our game,” he says. “We need to adapt to change. Being a distribution company at our core, we’re constantly changing suppliers, not just to change but because they become less and less relevant.”
What started as an effort to be the leading distributor of mobile phones in Miami soon became the leading distributor in Latin America.
“Then we said, ‘What about in the U.S., too?’’ he says. “Then we said, ‘What about the world?’ Today, we are the world’s largest distribution company.”
And it couldn’t have happened without a concerted effort to find executives who could operate in a dynamic, changing environment — very different from the traditional executive.
“They’re very unique and hard to find; at the beginning, we made a lot of mistakes,” Claure says, describing how the talent was having a difficult time keeping up with the technology.
But under Claure’s leadership, Brightstar has attained unprecedented growth, expanding to 51 countries in only 15 years. With $6.8 billion in revenue and 5,500 employees worldwide, the company is in a great position today, realizing growth in all areas. Here is an inside look on how to deal with frequent change, explosive growth and the necessary talent to rein it in.
Take an ‘on-your-toes’ approach
Claure says a large part of how you deal with change is your approach. If you can establish a team that is always on its toes, that’s one of the first steps to what in simplest terms is a two-part culture.
“Change forces you to have a culture of innovation and a culture of ‘What’s next?’” he says. “If you look at what our company is today and what it was 10 years ago, it’s a completely different company.
“We are a lot more service-oriented now; from being a trader of mobile phones to today, we’re a leading supply chain company in our industry. We’re one of the leading insurance companies in the arena. We’re the world’s largest buy-back and trading company. Pretty much one thing is always thinking of what’s next.”
Many companies who stay on the cutting edge of technology look for individuals who are often the type to be called “early adopters.” These employees stay up on all the latest developments and are eager to try the latest product, even before all the bugs are out of it. However, an executive with impressive credentials doesn’t always equal an early adopter.
“We thought that by bringing big executives from big firms they would automatically yield success,” Claure says. “We couldn’t have been proven more wrong. The type of execs that fit our profile are the innovators and people who are used to building stuff, who operate in a changing environment, are very different than your traditional executive who is pretty good at grabbing something and keeping it constant or making it grow at suboptimal levels.”
It’s a somewhat painful process of trial and error. You are looking for a good fit when the tolerances are very narrow.
“We’ve learned and figured out the profiles of what makes somebody flexible at Brightstar,” Claure says. “Definitely it’s enough flexibility and adaptability to change and willingness to try new ideas, to bring new ideas to the table and to do different things in the course of their career. That’s what makes an executive at Brightstar shine.
“We’ve gone through a lot of hits and misses, but I think we’re getting better at recruiting the right talent.”
Be flexible to evolve
Once you think you have the right talent in place, you will be in a position to stress that, as the technology evolves, the company has to evolve with it.
“You have to build the culture and company that is ready to be flexible and be able to change pretty fast,” Claure says.
“If you look at the players we’ve dealt with since our founding, we’ve seen the rise of Motorola and Nokia. Nokia is struggling. If you look at where we’re working today, the focus now is on, ‘How can we offer a high-end smartphone like an iPhone or Galaxy for lower-income people so they can pay us a dollar a day?’
“If you go back 15 years ago, would we ever think that was possible? Absolutely not. So we’re used to change, we’re used to mobility. If you just see my industry, Apple was nonexistent there 15 years ago; today, it takes 75 percent of the industry profit.”
What began as a distributor is transforming into a service company for Claure.
“We’ve built our services around the phone and leveraging the structure we have around the world,” he says. “It’s pretty unique. Today, we run supply chains for some of the world’s leading operators.”
An entrepreneur is always looking for ways to expand his or her business, and Claure set his focus on ancillary products and services in that vein.
“We now buy more than 25 million used phones from consumers, we recycle them and we sell them in American markets,” he says. “Then we focused on the consumers who are accidentally losing their mobile phones; we launched an insurance company.”
Insuring the devices filled an expanding need in the market. Devices are misplaced, lost, dropped or stolen every day because, in part, of their convenient size.
“We wanted to be in the insurance business so we bought a small insurance company,” Claure says. “We fix our systems so they can scale, we fix the management team and then put that insurance business into our 51 different countries so that it immediately explodes our growth. Our insurance company has grown 450 percent in the 1½ years since we bought it. Next year, it will grow 1,000 percent.
“Then we figured out that retailers needed help in managing the growing wireless complexities so now we manage wireless categories at the world’s leading and biggest retailers in the world.”
Learn to use your advantages
Once you have been evolving your business in tune with how the industry is evolving, you often get a very good sense of where trends are going so that you can make some solid predictions, which can lead to expansion.
Claure says in addition to those skills, an advantage can be had in just being a bigger company.
“Being big now means ideas come to your company — a lot of people come with them,” Claure says. “That’s a lot easier now. Now your job is to pick the right idea, pick the right product and solution and make the right decision. It was a lot harder seven to eight years ago when you had to invent everything. We’re very good at identifying and saying we want to play in a specific business.
“We’re constantly being approached by smaller entrepreneurial companies. We buy them or partner with them or figure out other ways and then put them into the Brightstar platform. It gives them pretty amazing growth. It’s a lot more fun now when you can choose than it was before.”
As competitors try to encroach upon your space, use your experience and foresight to decide what new partnerships to explore.
“More than mobility, we’re going to experience in the next few years the connected world,” Claure says. “Everybody has a mobile phone today. There isn’t much more to mobile phones but not everybody is totally connected.
“Today, each person probably has a couple of devices — like tablets and your phones. If you look at the future and what’s expected by 2020, we’re going to have 50 billion connections, which means every human being is going to have a connection. So what does that mean?”
He sees opportunities to wirelessly connect smartphones, computers, digital cameras, cars, refrigerators, washers and dryers — whatever. It all will be connected.
“We’re moving toward a completely connected world, which means new supply chains need to be formed to operate that connected world,” Claure says. “There are new ecosystems, new businesses and new players.”
It all boils down to who has the capability to execute, he says.
“The keys are how do you execute? How can you scale? How can your systems and people scale?
“We sit in a position where we have sufficient business for the next couple of years. The potential with this business, if you execute an opportunity, then nobody tells you how good you do, that’s expected.
“But when you screw up or do something wrong, news travels fast, and that’s a problem. We need to make sure we continue to do what we do. Never take our customers for granted. Make sure we execute. A lot of activities we execute are because customers are outsourcing to us so their expectation is that we’re going to do a lot better with price than they used to do themselves.” ●
How to contact: Brightstar Corp., www.brightstarcorp.com or (305) 421-6000
The Claure File
Founder, chairman, president and CEO
Education: Claure holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and finance from Bentley College in Massachusetts. He also received an honorary doctorate degree of commercial science from Bentley College and an honorary doctorate degree from the Universidad Tecnica Privada de Santa Cruz.
Claure on how to deliver exceptional service: Talent, talent, talent. I spend 40 percent of my time interviewing new talent. I have replaced 80 percent of my management team in the last two years and the reason for that is the people who got us to a certain point aren’t the same people who are going to get us further.
Out of that 80 percent, half are still with Brightstar but they’re not the leader, the same COO, CFO, CTO. A company’s most important asset is its talent base. For every company and every industry, if you have great people running your company, great things will happen. If you have mediocre people in your company, bad things will happen. You might be good for a certain period of time in your company; it doesn’t mean you’re going to be good forever. Talent management is a very important process.
Secondly, you have to do the painful exercise of investing in having the right systems and processes. It’s painful because it’s expensive but also because it’s disruptive. Every time you have to implement a new ERP or a new warehouse management system, your initial reaction is delay. Delay — but then you pay for the consequences later on.
We’re learning. For example, I won’t tell you the customer but in a very large country we grew faster than our systems. There was a point where we couldn’t shift devices. They were like, ‘Oh my God.’ Those are problems you can’t fix at once. Those are problems that you have. … As we build our new products and services, we have to be dedicated to investing to make sure we can scale our systems, people or processes.