“I get to play the role of historian and also visionary in this life,” says Boca Raton-based Pete Martinez, chairman and CEO of the Sivotec family of companies, which are best described as high innovation enterprises at the intersection of sports, health, technology and big data analytics. “I’ve been involved in around 400 different projects in my career, but the most challenging ones now are the ones ahead of us, because those are the ones that offer some of the most promise.”
Martinez, who landed in Miami in 1961 as part of the Cuban migration, holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Miami, where he was named distinguished alumnus and a member of the Tau Beta Pi and Iron Arrow honor societies. (Higher education still colors his days: Martinez serves as a research affiliate at MIT and is a visiting professor at Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University.) His immediate postgraduate life resulted in a richly rewarding career steeped in groundbreaking work for IBM—and he holds more than 30 patents and technical publications in the areas of health care, AI, computer architecture, robotics, optical disks and display technology—so he knows that for him to say that the most consequential era is yet to come is a big deal.
During his 32-year tenure at IBM, Martinez, who served as vice president of global business services and the senior location executive for IBM South Florida, led a 1,700-person organization composed of consultants, hardware and software developers, industry specialists and sales leaders. He directed projects in the areas of advanced research, supercomputing and information-based medicine. In 2003, he led the formation of IBM’s largest business transformation multiclient center, which is now a multibillion dollar outsourcing business. Previously, he directed the formation of business consulting and system integration services in Latin America, which was staffed by 2,000 people in 17 countries—a $1 billion business. He was also the founding executive of IBM’s e-business strategy consulting and served as consulting profession leader for the Americas. Among other career highlights, Martinez was part of the original IBM personal computer team and a founder of IBM’s internet division and e-business consulting.
So when Martinez talks about feeling the ground shifting, this is a man who knows the terrain.
Though Martinez left IBM to join Sivotec in 2007, his admiration for the iconic computing company remains undaunted. IBM’s involvement in AI means that they are helping to direct, as Martinez says, “the future of everything,” as well as quantum computing (“that will be revolutionary in terms of the depth of problem you can solve”) and hybrid clouds (“they can put a lot of your computational capability and your information systems for your company in a very hybrid, very private, very secure environment”). Martinez was involved in the creation of IBM’s original consulting organization and he says that IBM has the largest business consulting organization in the world. “It’s a spread portfolio, with a lot of promise,” Martinez says. “Their investments in technology will start paying off big time.”
Toward the end of his long tenure, Martinez led the creation of the IBM University Consortium LA grid (i.e. Latin America grid) and the advanced pandemic global research initiative Project Checkmate, in partnership with the famed Scripps Research Institute. This was in 2006, when the avian flu was taking hold. “We used IBM’s big supercomputer to model the potential mutations of what the virus would do,” he recalls. “That’s insane in terms of capability. Think of that translating to today—imagine anticipating the delta variant happening and having the vaccine ready for it, if and when it happened. Project Checkmate got me excited about the possibilities of what technology could do in the health space and how backwards we were in terms of the adoption of technology and AI in health and rehab. I literally walked out at the top of my game—I was 53 years old, and people thought I was crazy, and I said, ‘No, I’m following a different light right now. I want to concentrate on improving the human condition.’ ”
If Martinez’s work can seem abstruse, he can quickly bring things down to earth, communicating to people where they live. “Think of the intersection between genomics and AI,” he says. “Those are two of the most explosive frontiers, but the moment you combine the two, you’re actually able to understand genomics in a way that we never had before. This is one of the projects we’ve been involved in: It typically takes a highly skilled geneticist about three or four days to properly diagnose a child with a rare genetic disease. Using AI, we got that down to 10 seconds, with much greater accuracy and scalability.” If that sounds like a one-off, a promising experiment, it’s not: The technology has been put to use on 150,000 cases for kids with rare genetic diseases, across 40 countries.
Martinez and his companies have also leveraged their work in genomics and AI to study brain health, including Alzheimer’s disease. “Typically, we’ve been using the Petri dish, the mouse and the monkey,” he says. Today, waiting for a mouse to get smarter or die feels like the Middle Ages. “Now you can actually simulate and model brain function,” Martinez says, “and the key is that you can put a whole lot more variables into a computer model than you can put into a mouse’s head.”
Photo by Larry Wood