Cesar Rodríguez (MBA 04), Chief Executive Officer at AxisMed
Cesar Rodríguez combines his experience in the telecommunications, technology and healthcare sectors to make digitization a process that involves real transformation towards new business models, as CEO of AxisMed, a subsidiary of the Telefónica Group in Brazil.
– After more than 15 years working for Telefónica, you are now Chief Executive Officer of AxisMed, a healthcare services management company acquired by Telefónica. What responsibilities does your position involve?
Telefónica acquired a significant stake in AxisMed in 2013, without taking control of it. It invested in it since it seemed that there was a real growth opportunity for the company in Brazil based on the development of new digital healthcare models. AxisMed did not progress at the expected rate, and in April 2016 Telefónica decided to acquire the company in its entirety and take control of it. In this regard, the main challenge has been to restructure the company completely, and transform its business model to maximize the investment made. For this purpose, we have aligned the subsidiary’s new strategic plan with the strategic priorities of the Telefónica Group itself, focusing on a strong commitment to digitization and big data and the ability to create value for our customers by reducing their healthcare costs. As CEO, my main responsibility is to devise this strategic plan, and above all, to ensure we have the capacity to execute it, transmitting to the subsidiary the high-performance culture that is set in Telefónica’s DNA.
– What shape is the Brazilian market in? What challenges does expansion in the Brazilian market entail?
Brazil is a complex market, in cultural, economic and social terms. From the outset, it is essential to understand that this market is continental in size, and by that I do not just mean in the geographical sense, where you can have distances of 3,800 km between certain cities. Let me explain: the business opportunity offered by a country of 200 million inhabitants is enormous, but we must understand that the risk of expanding a business here is just as great if the operation is not managed and executed properly at a local level. I may be stating the obvious but, in a nutshell, a business in Brazil must be managed from Brazil.
The main challenges are: the need to know the local specificities in fiscal, legal and financial terms (which are more complex than in other markets); secondly, successfully leading the teams and being able to understand Brazilian peculiarities and its socio-cultural habits to achieve the best performance possible; and finally, creating a mixed business ecosystem that includes outstanding in-house talent and that of potential local partners.
– In 2009 you embarked on your international career when you moved to Bogota, in Colombia. How was the experience?
Very positive, both professionally and personally. Having the experience of living and working abroad and totally immersing yourself in another culture allows you to open your mind. You end up becoming much more flexible and adaptable to new contexts and ideas.
Colombia is an admirable country, of which I have unforgettable memories, especially of its people. I made good friends that I still keep in contact with to this day, even though more than five years have passed since I left.
Professionally speaking, I joined Telefónica Colombia in 2009 as Head of Sales and Customer Services, being assigned the task of transforming an organization with more than 700 direct and 4,000 indirect employees. The local team was extremely welcoming towards me, from our Chairman Alfonso and our CEO to all my other colleagues and management team, who made my integration so easy. When my stay in Colombia ended in 2012, it made me feel very proud to see how the team had been able to completely turn around a complicated situation in three years and make the operation a benchmark at a Group level in certain aspects of the business, especially in terms of the improvement of the sales area (both in terms of volume and quality) and in customer management processes.
– What career goals have you set yourself in the medium term?
I am currently enjoying a challenging project at AxisMed, which is highly demanding: to completely transform a company in my role as CEO, applying my professional experience in the areas of technology, healthcare, and digitization in order to devise a new business model. It is like a plane having to change its crew, engine and use a new type of fuel, all while the plane is in the air. This experience is allowing me to consolidate new executive skills with a comprehensive vision, something which is very enriching. So, I think that my medium-term future will be working in an executive role on an international project in which digital transformation and innovation in business models are key, be it in the technological sector or in healthcare, a sector in which I have been working for five years and which I am really passionate about.
– What is it like to live and work in São Paulo?
I am not going to lie to you, it is a complicated city. This is due to its size, transport difficulties, certain shortcoming in terms of services and safety problems. On the other hand, it has a wide range of cultural, recreational and, above all, gastronomic activities to enjoy. And Brazil is a fantastic country with truly unique places. Once you decide to live in a new city, you should not concentrate on what you ‘do not have’ there, but on what different things that new place allows you to experience and appreciate.
– With training and experience in technology and management, where does your interest in improving healthcare come from?
To be honest, I started working in healthcare by chance in 2012 when I took on a new role as Head of Global Business Development in the eHealth and Digital Security Unit.
I had never worked in the sector before, nor was I familiar with its business models. The process of learning and immersion on an international scale that I had to go through at the beginning was really intense. But it made this sector really captivate me. I consider myself fortunate to be able to work in two areas that I am passionate about: digitization and business management and within two sectors, namely technology and healthcare, which are gradually merging into one.
– What is new in the field of digital healthcare?
There has been a lot of talk about ‘digital healthcare’ for the last 8 to 10 years, but there have been few real advances (outside the US), except in terms of improving medical and diagnostic equipment. It does seem that since 2016 there is more openness on the part of top executives in the healthcare and pharmaceutical sector to move more quickly towards digitization, but there is still a long way to go. We might say that healthcare, from a technological perspective, is like the financial sector was 15 years ago. Everyone agrees that the current situation is globally unsustainable in terms of increased costs. Finding a sustainable healthcare system is a must for everyone, including public and private sectors, as well as all of us as members of society and potential patients. I trust that in 5-8 years there will no longer be talk of ‘digital healthcare’, but simply of healthcare which is fully geared towards the patient and the efficient management of resources, without ever foregoing human contact in medical care. To reach this point, digitization is a necessary process over the next five years, the driving forces of this being big data, the creation of predictive management models for risk profiles in order to plan in terms of preventive treatment, remote and personalized management of patients, improved access to healthcare systems and medical treatment, the advancement of diagnostic equipment, progression towards ‘payment for performance’ models for medical and diagnostic networks, and the transformation of the pharmaceutical sector based on the ‘continuum of care’ concept.
– You are also a volunteer and member of Population Health Alliance, a non-profit organization that is working towards creating a more sustainable and affordable healthcare model in Brazil. Is this the first time you have been a volunteer? How would you describe these last few months at the Foundation?
I am a volunteer at the Telefónica Foundation, an organization whose main purpose (among others) is to create specific measures aimed at eradicating child poverty in the countries in which the Group works. It is a project that makes us proud as a company. The testimonies of the thousands of children who have been able to access education and escape from situations of extreme poverty are extraordinary and heartbreaking, but at the same time they motivate me hugely to continue supporting this work.
Since 2016 I have also been part of the ASAP, a non-profit association that aims to disseminate more sustainable healthcare models and to ensure greater access for the population. In Europe, fortunately everyone has access to healthcare, although the system has enormous deficiencies in terms of its sustainability, a problem which I am sure we can solve together. In Latin America, on the other hand, basic needs are still not being covered, such as having access to a doctor when needed, not having to pay or being diagnosed without having to wait months on a waiting list, things which today are out of reach for the majority. Technology is an essential tool in helping us address these deficiencies. Today I am part of the Association’s board and I can ensure you there is still much work to be done to raise awareness in the public and private spheres for the purpose of accelerating this transformation process.
– What are your memories of your time at ESADE?
I have very good memories. Admittedly, there were difficult times because of the effort that it entailed, but overall, I look back fondly at my time there. One of the things I recall in particular is that I really wanted to go to class, unlike other periods of my life as a student when I really could not be bothered going. The fact that it involved working a lot as part of a team, that many of the classes were based on case studies, and that I had the opportunity to learn from classmates who were leaders in their fields, made the classes very interesting. Of course, I remember how difficult some of the exams were! But that has become a mere anecdote with time. ESADE was a turning point for me in that it made me realize exactly what I wanted to do with my career. I still keep in touch with ESADE Alumni through the Brazil Club, although I would like to be able to dedicate more time to it than I currently can.