Our next interviewee for the “Barcelona Personalities” section is Manuel Garriga, the CEO of 3G Mobile. I was invited to his office in the city centre and was excited to learn about the mobile industry in Spain.
I started my interview by asking how was 3G Mobile able to become one of the market leaders even though the industry is so competitive in Spain. “It is not because of our products or services. I would say that it is because of our adaptation capacity. We have been following the changes in the market movement for last 15 years and we don´t expect our clients to change. The competition in Southern Europe is harder than in Northern because we have more mobile phones than people. The industry is very mature and we have to fight for the customers. Last year we did a joint venture with one of our competitors and it helped us to stay out of troubles.”
What made you decide to set up 3G Mobile?
“I was studying at the university and the mobile phone was a new thing. It was interesting to help my friends with their phones. We started with just few people and it was quite unprofessional. We did it for fun but could still see the future in it.”
What challenges did you face setting up the business?
“Well, a lot. Everything was hard. The market was against us. For example, Vodafone was selling phones like nothing and they didn´t need our help. I was only 17 years old and my parents wanted me to study, they didn´t support me on that. But I had nothing to lose.” And he gives me a big smile.
Despite the adversities, it took only few days to start the business. “When you have an idea, making a business plan is easy. The market changes and it doesn´t even make sense to plan months ahead. Just start with low costs and you´ll see where it takes you.”
When I asked, what the three things you need to be successful in this role are, Manuel stops for a moment to think. “It is hard to say, people are different. I would advise to adapt to the reality, the people you work with and the market. Big companies have their egos but you have to do your job. Second – work hard, very hard. In Spain many don´t do that. I work for 11-12 hours a day because I want. I have four hours advantage daily over my competitors, it makes 20 hours a week, and this is where the result comes from.”
What are the main challenges you face at work?
“People. Finding correct partners and shareholders is always tough. You also have to keep the balance between yourself, the employees and customers. Not all the employees are equally motivated when you have a team of 40-50 people. I think if I had 5-6 people working with me, we would all be happy hard-workers.” Manuel points out that the economic situation has actually helped them because people don´t want to lose their jobs. “It´s ugly to say, but I hope it stays that way. Unfortunately, in Spain, many prefer to stay at home. Everyone admires that guy who gets money from the government and goes on holidays. They say to their kids they need to study but do nothing themselves. I don´t understand that!”
I was surprised when Manuel said he can´t point out proudest and the most memorable moment in his career. When he finishes one thing, he starts another. “We have objectives every three months. We don´t have time to celebrate, just go back to office. Investors are always asking, what´s next, so we have to keep moving.”
What motivates you?
“For me it is easy. I just don´t know how to work badly. Of course, I make wrong decisions and make mistakes but I can´t stop doing what is expected from me. I´ve had been doing this for 15 years so I try to enjoy other things, as well. Sometimes, we go out of the office but I always work hard on my plan, goal.
What cultural differences you see in using mobile phones?
“I think it is all cultural. In Sweden, only 24% have data connection, they use public WIFI. In Tokyo, only 15% of people under 22 are using emails. For us, it is crazy. Here, 85% have smart phones and pay the data connection. If you go to a bar and see five Iphones on the table, you are in Spain or Italy. These people like to show off. They may not have a job but they sure have an Ipad. It is not good or bad, just different.”
Even though the usage of technology is so popular in Spain and the world in general, Manuel doesn´t think it can´t help the businesses to do better. “Companies care about the model and the price and are afraid to try new things, to take risks. We have the solutions and we provide them but people behind the decision don´t see the personal win. If it works, company wins. If it doesn´t, they may lose their jobs. For example, we said to Vodafone they spend money on the wrong things at the wrong time but they want to keep it that way. So only if you have a clear strategy how to do things, the technology will help.”
Mobile business has changed a lot during the last five years and like Manuel says they are not looking for new clients, anymore. “The market is full. We are only fighting with our competitors and try to make their customers loyal to us. Now the phone is not that important, it is the tariff. We go for solutions and packages, try to combine the calls, sms, Internet…”
What do you think of team building activities for the staff?
“I can see only short term benefits. We have tried many things and not all of them worked. If you do it once in two years, people are happy. If you keep doing it all the time, they expect it and don´t fight for it. If you stop doing it, they think company is going down and you don´t treat them well. We went on a trip and people started to have conflicts, personal things. I would recommend small, one-day activities. You definitely need the balance but I haven´t found it, yet. You have to know the employees, the right activities for them, so I think we need companies like yours to help us.”
At the end I asked our “must”, a piece of advice for the companies considering starting a business in Spain. “People come here for the weather, food, and beach. But the cultural shock comes not because of the sun. If you have a product, it is easier. But selling services is absolutely difficult. Working with locals may be hard, especially if you don´t know the language. Catalan is not necessary but helpful, especially if there is a problem. This is why you need a great team to work with, dedicated and trustworthy. Just a good idea won´t do it.”
I would like to thank Manuel Garriga for his time and honest answers.