Cingular calls on '3 Amigos
By Edward Iwata, USA TODAY
In the offices of Cingular Wireless, they're called The Three Amigos — a tag
that does not offend this high-powered trio of Latino telecommunication
executives. Why should it? Chief Operating Officer Ralph de la Vega, Chief
Information Officer Thaddeus Arroyo and general counsel Joaquin Carbonell are
enjoying fast-rising corporate success.
They're leading Atlanta-based Cingular's big push into the multibillion-dollar
Hispanic market in the USA and abroad, as telecom industry researchers find that
family-oriented Latinos use cellphones and related services more than many other
They're shepherding Cingular through its 1˝-year-old purchase of AT&T Wireless,
a $41 billion merger that spawned the nation's top wireless carrier, with 57
million customers and $30 billion in yearly revenue.
And, as three of the highest-ranking Hispanic executives among Fortune 500
corporations, they're role models for the Latino community and youth.
"We've got a microcosm of the Hispanic marketplace right here at Cingular," de
la Vega says.
Their corporate ascents are true Horatio Alger tales, Latino-style.
The sons of successful Cuban businessmen who struggled during the rise of Fidel
Castro's communist regime in the 1960s, de la Vega and Carbonell fled to the USA
as kids to be raised by relatives and foster families.
Both recall the fear of saying goodbye to their parents at the Havana airport,
to fly to an unknown country. "It was terrifying," Carbonell said. "We had no
sense we would ever be reunited."
De la Vega grew up in Miami, working as a janitor, a mechanic and a draftsman to
pay for school. After earning his engineering degree at Florida Atlantic
University and an MBA from Northern Illinois University, he rose to president of
BellSouth's Latin American operations.
Carbonell and thousands of other children were whisked by Catholic charity
groups to the USA, where he stayed at a refugee camp in Florida. He grew up with
a foster family and his parents in Green Bay, Wis., then graduated from Duke
University's School of Law. Before joining Cingular, Carbonell was president of
Arroyo, the U.S.-born son of a ranch hand and a homemaker, spent his childhood
in San Antonio and Spain. After returning to the USA, he served in the Army
Signal Corps and earned his MBA from Southern Methodist University. Arroyo
worked at Sabre and Southwestern Bell before Cingular hired him.
By pure luck, the trio landed in recent years at Cingular. After the huge AT&T
Wireless merger closed, they realized they may have been the first Latino
executives to carry out a megamerger in U.S. corporate history.
"The fact that we're all Hispanic is a unique anomaly," says Arroyo.
Now, like a growing number of U.S. companies in many sectors, Cingular is
storming the Hispanic market and making its mark as a company friendly to
Latinos and other minorities:
• Cingular recently converted 420 of its 2,000 nationwide stores into bilingual
sites for Hispanic consumers. The sites boast Spanish signage and literature,
Spanish-speaking employees and other offerings to lure Latino shoppers.
• Some of Cingular's marketing targets Hispanics, from Mexicans in the Southwest
to Cubans and Caribbean people in Florida. A new ad slogan, Adelante!, or "going
forward," was a big hit during the recent World Cup.
•DiversityInc. magazine recently named Cingular one of the "Top 50 Companies for
Diversity" in the USA for its recruiting of minority employees and diversity
training. Some 52% of Cingular's workforce are women, 42% are racial minorities
and more than half of its senior executives are women or minorities, Carbonell
Cingular does not disclose how much of its revenue or market share are
Latino-related. But the company's Hispanic strategy, of course, comes at the
cusp of huge demographic shifts.
By 2010, when one of every six people in the USA will be Hispanic, the spending
power of Latino consumers will grow to $1 trillion from $736 billion last year,
reports the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth.
Recent industry reports show that Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment in
the U.S. wireless market.
They averaged 975 total voice minutes a month in the first quarter of 2006 —
compared with 631 minutes for non-Hispanic whites, according to analyst and
product director Tamara Gaffney at Telephia, a San Francisco-based
market-research firm for the wireless industry.
Hispanics also pay more for cellphones, spending $130 on average, compared with
$100 for non-Hispanic whites, Gaffney says. Most people cannot afford a fancy
Mercedes-Benz, but everyone can buy a cellphone — what she calls "an
approachable luxury item."
Moreover, Latinos use more cellphone-related services — such as text messaging,
instant messaging and ringtone downloads — than the general population,
according to the U.S. Hispanic Cyberstudy by America Online and Roper ASW.
Why do Latinos like cellphones so much? According to analysts and Cingular
executives, Latinos want to keep in constant touch with family and friends in
the USA and Latin America.
And if they're immigrants with new jobs, they send part of their paychecks to
relatives in Latin America but also want to spend cash on cars, clothing, houses
— and cellphones, says Juan Tornoe, senior strategic planner at LatinWorks, an
advertising firm in Austin.
"Latin Americans love everything those little machines have to offer, and they
have the buying power to get the newest gadgets," says Tornoe, creator of the
Hispanic Trending marketing blog. "It's all part of making it in America."
No doubt, the focus of the Three Amigos and Cingular CEO Stan Sigman on Latinos
isn't a faddish business trend.
"The Hispanic market is fundamental to our future success," says de la Vega. "We
want Hispanics to feel welcome, to know we're catering to them as clients."