A New Year, and a New Business Climate

By Andrea Richard

The first South Florida Executive Roundtable of 2017 convened on Jan. 11, just a few days before President Donald Trump took office.

Understandably, the new administration was on the panelists’ minds, whether they were concerned about change and uncertainty or trying to avoid political drama creeping into office conversations.

The panelists offered plenty of takeaways as they discussed the threats and opportunities for their respective industries for the year ahead. Innovation, nurturing talent and using technology for a competitive advantage were among the talking points.

The panelists:

• Carmen M. Perez, president of FPL FiberNet, which recently was acquired by Crown Castle. Perez will stay with the company temporarily to lead the transition.

• Jorge A. Plasencia, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Republica, a marketing and advertising agency in South Florida.

• Tere Blanca, founder, chairman and CEO and president of Blanca Commercial Real Estate.

The moderator was Tom Hudson, vice president of news and special correspondent for WLRN-91.3 FM, Miami’s National Public Radio-affiliate station.

SFBW is the exclusive media sponsor of the invitation-only luncheon. Here are the key takeaways from the roundtable.

What are the perceived
threats and challenges for 2017?

Blanca: For our industry or any other industry, it’s too much tweeting. I’ve been in many meetings with CEOs running businesses from many different industries and, kidding aside, the biggest concern that everyone has is the unpredictability of our current, new administration, how the global markets will perform and how global threats might ensue if we make the wrong decisions.

In terms of opportunities, across the board last year, office space absorption rate in the fourth quarter picked up.

Plasencia: I’d say coming from my industry, connecting people with brands is the biggest opportunity we have, and yet the biggest threat has to be technology. Companies and brands are looking at how to better connect with millennials and “Generation Z” [those born since the mid-1990s] through technology.

Miami has popped up like a Pop-Tart. We are very resilient. At Republica, more and more companies and brands are becoming open to Miami. And we are up against the big guys in the San Francisco Bay Area and Houston. Ten years ago, that wasn’t the case.

Perez: From my perspective, what we are about to see in the changes in technology—how our lives have and will change with smartphones and driverless cars—is exciting. We will be more connected. In South Florida, we have a tremendous opportunity with companies like CareCloud, Modernizing Medicine and Magic Leap that are out there and are growing.

As for threats to our South Florida economy, the ability to attract venture capital to fund these companies is a concern. We in Florida, as a state, only get 1 percent of the approximate $58.6 billion dollars of venture capital invested nationwide. Another concern is finding talent.

What’s trending now?

Plasencia: Miami has an international presence. A lot is written up about the startup community, the performing arts and the arts, and, in general, Art Basel and Wynwood. The energy that is there, and that they are living and doing business there every day is real.

The other thing that I think we are doing a better job at is connecting the business side of Miami with what makes it famous: the sexy side. The beach, the beautiful people and everything else that we are known for.

Plasencia: There’s a uniqueness to our community that you don’t find in other parts of the state and that you don’t find in other parts of the country. We got the arts. Check. We got tech. Check. We got the finance district. Check. That’s what’s changed in the last 10 years. But we still have to work on the education system.

Perez: What allows us to play with other companies is our convergence of technology, to be able to work from anywhere in the world. The connectively MIA [Miami International Airport] affords us is fantastic and gives us direct flights to almost anywhere in the world. That CEO can live in Miami half the year or for the whole year, and can take a flight to anywhere he/she wants.

Invest and adapt

Blanca: Two years ago, we planned an initiative to be as innovative as we could and invested in a robust CRM. And this year, we will add another aspect to connect to our audience with a new web design portal. Also, we will continue to adapt to the needs of the real estate market.

Plasencia: We’ve been investing since day one in digital and social. We are early adopters of tech in our industry. Everything we do is done on Google, all in the cloud now. What we’ve really invested in is people. A lot of what we build are websites, mobile apps in-house, so we’ve invested in the back-end programming. I think we’re investing in the people that can sell that proprietary technology. We are in the business of people.

Advances in technology

Perez: We interchangeably use the terms “technology” and “innovation,” and I think they are very different things. Innovation is really about thinking differently. And then technology, I look at it two different ways: One is the world of infrastructure. It’s fiber. The roads. The box that your computer sits on. And the other is software and the cloud that is really changing our world, but you can’t have all that without infrastructure.

One of the the things we are doing, and all telecom companies, is that we will be able to do installations remotely, without having to send someone to the site for install.

What’s different for 2017?

Perez: One of the differences is being as responsive as possible in customer service. The challenges of the future for us is to find ways to be cost-competitive using technology. People want unlimited amounts of bandwidth for nothing.

As an example, take road construction. If you drive any street in Dade County, we have torn up streets in order to lay cable. And now there is new technology, called micro cable, that is laid through the edge of the streets, so you don’t disrupt street traffic. But regulations haven’t allowed it just yet.

What do you want to
change moving forward?

Plasencia: I’m going to get out of the way more. I want to have a physical brick-and-mortar presence in Las Vegas.

Blanca: For April this year, we will celebrate our eighth year, so it is time to continue our footprint throughout Florida and look at business lines that are complementary to our services in brokerage services.

Leave political conversations alone

Blanca:. We are a team of 20 and we are very respectful of each other views. We don’t get into heated conversations about politics internally or with our clients.

Plasencia: Early on, we made the decision not to do political campaigns. And I think that was the right decision.

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