Perhaps, people are speculative about getting involved in family-owned businesses, as they want to earn their own achievements. Leticia Latino, the CEO of Neptuno, was of the same opinion until she joined her family business. Her father founded Neptuno 50 years ago after immigrating from Italy to Venezuela and discovering that the opportunities in the Telecommunications sector were going to be endless.
In her early years, Leticia resisted the idea of going to work for him, mostly because of the labels and assumptions that went with it bothered her. She wanted to be recognized for her own achievements, so even before she graduated from Business School, she was already working for Merrill Lynch in her home country Venezuela. She then decided to interrupt that career path to pursue a dual master’s degree from University of Miami. Upon Graduation, she got a job offer from Nortel Networks and that is how, ironically, she started a career in Telecommunications, the very industry she had avoided years earlier. After Nortel started having serious financial problems, the massive layoffs started, and in 2001, Leticia was out. She then realized that she could add substantial value to the family business, and after a couple of years back in Venezuela learning all she could about it, she accepted her father’s offer to return to the US, to found and run Neptuno USA. He promoted Leticia to CEO 15 years later, in 2017.
Let’s find out more about how Leticia headed Neptuno to make it recognized in the USA in an interview between CIO Look and Leticia.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
What were the challenges you came across since founding the organization?
The main challenge I faced was to be able to make Neptuno recognized in the US. Our company has a strong brand and reputation in Latin America and the Caribbean. We have been fortunate to work with pretty much every Telecom Carrier and Infrastructure Supplier there, but when we opened in the US, it was as if that experience was worth less here, as if it did not count at all. For instance, we had been a supplier to Ericsson since the 1990’s, with my father signing the Master Service Agreement in Ericsson’s Headquarters in Sweden, yet it took us several years to get certified by them in the US. These companies are massive, and to navigate through their corporate structure, especially when you are minuscule in comparison, is beyond challenging. To think that we can provide customer reference letters starting from the 1970’s and that barely any value is placed to them, because they relate to international projects, has made my job extremely frustrating, so for a long time we just kept our international focus. My first decisions as CEO included: to commit to become an active player in the USA, to help deploy 5G with innovative field services solutions and to advocate for workforce development and diversity and inclusion. The company became a Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Certified in 2017 with the vision that the WBENC platform could help us penetrate some of the Key US Wireless Players, provided that many of them have committed to increase their diversity sourcing. This is all playing out as we speak, so I hope to have an update for you on that in the coming years!
What is your thought on the necessity of a positive work culture? In what ways do you implement it at your organization?
I’m so pleased to hear this question, as it is indeed quite important to us. I believe that family-owned businesses have a clearer vision of the type of culture they want to embrace. As a company, we are known to have exceptionally low churn, we have multi-generational employees of the same family and that makes us incredibly happy. We see our employees as an extension of our own family. We are big on building trust, with the employees and the customers. We live by the “old fashion honour code”, we keep promises and put people first. One of the main things my father, who at 86 is still active in the company, always highlights is how the corporate world and our industry has deteriorated from when he started working in it back in the 1960’s. Price over quality, short term gain over long term trusted relationship, misleading information over truth and in some cases, even a strange pride in tricking the customer. It has been hard staying true to our company culture in times when you feel is not as appreciated as it used to be or when it potentially prevents you from getting the business you are pursuing. The encouraging thing is that especially during these pandemic times, and unfortunately because a lot of companies are struggling, those ‘old fashioned’ values seem to be having a “come back”. I recently was lucky enough to interview Tami Simon, founder of SoundsTrue for my podcast, and it was refreshing to hear how she is not only a big believer but a big promoter of the concept of “Conscious Business”, which is all about conducting business with the purpose of making a powerful contribution to the world. So for us, instead of building telecommunications networks the purpose should be about helping bridge the digital divide. That mindset shift does change the way you look at your business. If we all strived to increase transparency in everything we do and focused on leading and supporting businesses that have that greater purpose philosophy, I am quite sure we would all enjoy our jobs a lot more, and we would be helping create not only a positive work culture but a more positive world period.
What would be your advice for aspiring and emerging women entrepreneurs in your industry?
I am a big dreamer and I like to make the impossible possible. Entrepreneurship requires an ability to dream big and not to be put off by the long list of “cons” that I can assure you will surface when you decide to enter the industry. These are exciting times for women, we are achieving things that we have not achieved before. Who needs more proof than having witnessed the oath of the first Female VP in the history of The United States of America? The journey is not easy, and you will face huge challenges, but we have the attention now. We must come forward and grab the microphone. It is our time.
Have you in any ways contributed towards the cause of women empowerment?
I like to think I have. I am a fierce advocate of Inclusion and Diversity, especially because my industry still struggles with some of the big flaws that exist around this issue, so I get involved however I can to help raise awareness and find ways to bridge the equality gap. I also co-authored, with 13 other Women Owned Company’s CEO’s, a Book entitled “Women in Business Leading the Way”, which became a #1 Amazon Best Seller in April 2020. The whole book revolves around our own experiences and provides valuable advice to others embarking on similar paths and industries. The biggest takeaway that I provide in my chapter is that “It is not about being one of the boys, is about being part of the team”.