"It's a responsibility for all manufacturing companies in Latin America to hire young generations in key innovating projects"

Friday, May 20, 2011

Latin America has become equivalent to growth for the IT sector, with countries like Brazil, Mexico and Argentina leading the region.

More than 15 years ago, French 3D software provider Dassault Systemes (DS) entered into Latin America, initially to serve global clients. Over the years, it has turned to partnerships and acquisitions to create a presence in the local market.

BNamericas caught up with the company's president and CEO, Bernard Charles, to learn more about Dassault's business in Latin America, expansion plans, his view about the role of the workforce in the industry and cloud computing.

BNamericas: Revenues in the Americas were nearly US$168mn 1Q11, up 22% compared same period 2010. What's your projection for this year?

Charles: We can say safely that our plan is to grow about 30% year-on-year. Business in the region grows faster than DS does globally. Lfast year we projected to double the growth for 2014 [globally]. We grew 20-30% this year [regionally] and I think Latin America will grow faster this year because of the projects we have, especially in the energy sector.

BNamericas: What's the role of Latin America in your company?

Charles: It's a very important market. It has evolved over the last 15 years; initially we started the business at large with Brazil, Argentina and other countries and it was mainly for production and certain design.

It was more about following, but quickly evolved because we were putting people here and creating partnerships with local [businesses], reselling training and installing our software. But we realized that there were a lot of medium-sized local companies that will do more than just being a contractor. That’s how we started directly serving the companies.

BNamericas: What's DS's expansion strategy in the region?

Charles: Well, during the last 15 years we have acquired more than 50 companies [worldwide] and the focus on these acquisitions has been mainly in technology companies, like start-ups. Ours are very product-orientated acquisitions. We are also very sensitive in not buying a company just because they have an instant base.

BNamericas: DS has presence in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil and plans for a new office in Colombia. One of the criticisms of the sector in the region is the lack of experience and skilled workers. What's your perception on this issue?

Charles: I think the level of engineers in terms of technology is very good here; there are a lot of great school and universities in the region. When we hire people they quickly learn not only the tools but how to apply them.

I think the labor is very good. In the first years, when we were working in the energy sector, I remembered seen young engineers coming out of schools going to these complex environments and quickly learning to take the most advantage in doing new types of engineering.

BNamericas: Even when compared with Europe?

Charles: The skills are not a problem here; we are hiring very good engineers and technicians in the entire region, because Latin America has evolved.

As an example, during the last five years we have offered apprenticeship places for students and we offer our curriculum at universities. The result has been very good, as good as other countries around the world, because people want to learn new things.

BNamericas: So is hiring new generation of graduates part of DS's strategy in the region?

Charles: Well, it’s not only important for DS but also for our clients. The first pilot team for one digital manufacture client was a group of interns who were still at school. When you give these type of opportunities [to graduates], they swallow everything up, they learn very quickly because they do not have the resistance of having to do the job differently from before, because there was no before.

In fact, later, this team became a core team for the buyer to adopt the next generation tools, so I think it's a key responsibility for all manufacturing companies in Latin America to hire young generations in key innovating projects, they will come with new ideas and new passion.

BNamericas: But companies in the region won’t hire recent graduates because they have no experience...

Charles: But with no experience you remove all the inhibiters. Some companies think they are highly knowledgably about certain subjects and they have no time to change because they believe they know…It's part of human nature, and that's a competitive advantage for countries like China and India.

BNamericas: Why these two countries?

Charles: Because they are new and they have the conviction it will work, they have faith. Let them try, instead of telling them what to do. The same applies to Latin America.

BNamericas: One of the topics nowadays is cloud computing. What’s your vision on this matter?

Charles: From my perspective is very profound subject. At the present, if you are a company designing and manufacturing abroad, your main issue will be to make sure that the designs are according to the product.

In order to make this possible, you have to install software, pay for the server, buy the database but also pay for someone who can administrate it. Also, small companies have to buy 3-4 licenses for manufacturing. This is all too expensive.

In our company, for example, With SolidWorks [the 3D design application] we have more than 1mn students and more than 1.5mn licenses for 3D entries. Now we are working on a collaborative platform that will be launched midyear.

With this collaborative platform, if you want to connect with someone in a different country, you can. You go into our site, click on the subscription section and in less than 30 minutes you will receive your user ID and password and you are up and running, so when you do designs you can store them and anybody who you want can read it immediately, modify it, touch it up, share images, add and remove parts of the design. This is a simple scenario, it's the cloud.

BNamericas: But how much will this application cost?

Charles: Well, think that with this you won't have to buy the software. As an estimate - it's not official yet - the subscription for this platform could be US$100 per month per user. And if you are happy, you continue with the subscription or you can cancel. This model is going to be very affordable for small and medium-sized companies.

About Bernard Charles

Bernard Charles was appointed president of Dassault Systemes in 1995. He was named president and CEO in 2002.

Charles started his career at DS in 1983, leading teams to develop new technologies. In 1986, he founded a dedicated strategy and research department, and in 1988 he was named president of R&D.

In 2007, Charles received the insignia of the Chevalier de la légion d'honneur, and was appointed member of the Académie des Technologies in 2009.

He graduated with honors as a mechanical engineer specialized in automation and computer science engineering from Ecole Normale Supérieure in Cachan, France, where he still belongs to the scientific core of professors.