Hailing from Madrid, Spain, Miguel Matey has spent much of his life working for the global BPO provider Atento in many different locations. After many years climbing through the ranks at Atento, Miguel is now the general manager of Mexico and regional director for company’s operations in the Americas, claiming responsibility for the U.S., Puerto Rico, Central America, and Colombia.
All of Miguel’s immediate family is from his birthplace of Madrid, making them all ‘Los Gatos’ (The Cats), a local nickname for Madrileños. “Being a Cat, I grew up in a small town in the north of Spain called Santander,” Miguel said. “My father was an engineer who worked for the paper industry his entire life, which led to us living in many different towns. As a child, I learned to make friends very quickly in this lifestyle, but also had to learn how to leave them behind. This is probably why, after spending too long in a single place, I get bored and like to change things up.”
At the risk of an argument with his engineer father, Miguel chose to study economics and business administration instead of engineering. However, after three years working for an accountant after his studies, he realized he was in the wrong profession, so he moved into sales after serving a year in the army. “I sold insurance, dog food, African goods, candy, you name it,” he said. “While I was studying, I did sales for a big insurance company on the side, which was fun and challenging. At that time, the unemployment rate in Spain was huge, so you had to be more flexible, accepting contracts based on commission only. But things changed after my first BPO experience.”
The Dawn of a Life-long Career in BPO
Miguel’s first foray into BPO was with an HR company that sold its recruitment and selection services over the internet—the first company in Spain to do so. “I learned a lot about HR processes and why they are so important for companies,” he recalled. “Atento actually became one of my clients, and offered me the opportunity to participate in a commercial process for them. Back then, Atento was known as Esratel, a former subsidiary of Telefonica Group, but the company was re-branded and launched as Atento in 1999.”
Joining Atento at that time was an exciting prospect for Miguel, as this prominent company was looking ahead toward opening branches across the world, something that greatly appealed to the travel-hungry Spaniard. “After a few years, the company president offered me the opportunity to work on similar operational responsibilities in Mexico for the first time,” he said. “I thought about it for two minutes and said “when do you want me to leave?”. He was pretty surprised, but I was single at the time, I was looking for adventure, and I wanted to live outside of Spain. One week later, I was in Mexico working with the country manager.”
In the early 2000s, Atento’s presence in Mexico was small. There were only two contact centers, one in Monterrey and one in Mexico City. Today, the company has 17 of them all over the country.
From Mexico to Guatemala
Miguel’s first tenure in Mexico was only for one year in 2003, after which time he was given the chance to move to Central America for three years and become director for the region, overseeing the consolidation of branches with Mexico.
Miguel spent the first three months of 2004 in Guatemala City, but wasn’t too fond of it because he found it to be dangerous. “I moved to Antigua, which I loved; it’s a beautiful, colonial-style city,” he said. “The town is surrounded by volcanoes and coffee plants, so there is a special smell in the atmosphere all the time.”
While living in Antigua, Miguel took the chance to travel around the entire country, from the Caribbean and Pacific beaches to the many Mayan ruins and natural wonders. “It was like going back in time 30 or 40 years,” he explained. “Things like roads were in poor condition, but Guatemalan people are hugely warm and accepting. Besides the small safety concerns over drug trafficking, 99.9% of the population are amazing.”
Antigua was also where Miguel met the woman who would later become his wife, who, coincidentally, is also from Spain. “She was working for the Spanish government in Antigua and she was also my neighbor,” he recalled. “At that time, I loved holding big parties at my house, so I invited her over one night with another 140 people. She came with some friends form the Spanish embassy and that is where we first formally met.”
Back on the Road
At this point, Miguel and his new found love returned to Mexico for just a few months, but, after Miguel proposed on a Canadian vacation, they decided to return to Spain in order to get married and be with their families.
Miguel continued to work for Atento in Spain for two and a half years, running the multi-center business and working on further growth in the country. It was at that time he was offered to run the Czech Republic, France, and Morocco regions, regularly traveling between all three countries every week.
In comparing the BPO industry in those regions and Central America, Miguel cites the cultural differences as being the most prominent. “People in Morocco have amazing language skills, but are not very well-organized, so it’s tough to keep processes running consistently,” he said. “On the other hand, they are very creative and can solve problems on their own, which is a trait that Latin Americans share. Compared to Spain also, staff experience levels are much lower in Latin America, so you need to train them from scratch, which is actually something exciting and satisfying about working for Atento here, because you get to play a real part in their development.”
After one and a half years in this role, the new CEO of Atento offered Miguel his second chance to move to Mexico as general director for the country. “The offer came on January 2nd 2012 when I was spending time in the north of Spain,” he recalled. “As soon as I got the offer I again said “yes”, but this time I had to consult with my wife. After a couple of days of discussing it, we made the decision to come back.”
Mexico: Round Two
After two more years in Mexico, Miguel’s son was born, signifying the most exciting moment of his life, and solidifying his pride for the country. “It’s pretty cool to say that my son is from Cuajimalpa, Mexico City,” he laughed. “And, from a career perspective, Mexico is a great market for BPO opportunities. Some companies here have good ideas in terms of business development, but I think we still have a gap between quality, delivery of operations, and client perceptions that needs to be filled.”
Atento’s presence in Latin America today includes Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Colombia, serving clients in the telecom, finance, retail, and travel verticals, but the company continues to grow in this region under Miguel’s leadership. “Some Latin American countries are more evolved in the voice channel that they might be in Europe,” he says. “But, in the digital, non-traditional channels, the region still has plenty of room to grow. Some experts believe that voice will end soon, but I disagree. I think we’ll have voice in this region for many years. Today, the main channel in Mexico is classic mobile, not smartphone, so voice is still number one. Also, only 20-30% of Mexico’s population has internet at home, so the majority of the country is not yet communicating through that channel. However, year by year, these channels are growing, so we will eventually catch up to Europe.”
One interesting observation Miguel makes is that some technologies and services in Latin America have leapfrogged the evolutionary stages that Europe has to go through. For example, Uber is widely used in Latin America but is still restricted by regulations in some European countries. “While Latin America is not as mature as Europe in some ways, these digital innovations are far more advanced than some of the traditional services that you’ll find in Europe,” said Miguel. “This trend is creating an ecosystem of innovation in Mexico, because entrepreneurs become inspired to create new businesses. They are very creative here.”
Miguel still has the travel bug and dreams of visiting Asia, but for now he is very settled in Mexico as he works on consolidating Atento’s regional projects. “I feel like I need a few years to further stabilize what we’re trying to achieve in this region,” he said.
Outside of work, Miguel sometimes plays golf, but spends most of his time with his wife and son. He and his wife really enjoy traveling around whichever country they live in. “We visit many different towns, cities, and states in Mexico, probably a lot more than most Mexicans do,” he joked. “I also like climbing and hiking and have climbed all the volcanoes in Mexico. I did the same in Guatemala when I lived there. From the top of the volcano in Antigua on a clear day you can see all the volcanoes lined up one after the other all the way to the Pacific—it’s an amazing view.”