REGIONAL FOOTPRINT

Costa Rica 2018 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Elkin Suarez Durall, General Manager of Emerson Electronics, on the company's growth in the last few years, the peculiarities of Costa Rican talent, and his outlook for the future.

 Elkin Suarez Durall
BIOGRAPHY
An electronic engineer with an MBA, Elkin Suarez Durall has worked with Emerson directly and indirectly for 24 years, including the last 11 years as an Emerson employee. Most recently, he ran one of the company’s business unit operations in Brazil, returning to Costa Rica to handle marketing. He assumed the post of General Manager in 2016.

What do you seek to accomplish during your time as GM?

We want to continue to grow, though with high value-added processes, by developing new functional areas and perfecting the current ones. Emerson currently has many business units. For example, we are working on the product support perspective that conducts tests and prototype designs, and we would like to expand this.

What other countries were candidates before Emerson entered Costa Rica in 2008?

Emerson also looked at Mexico, Brazil, and Panama. It already had a significant footprint in Mexico with a relevant commercial and manufacturing capability. One of the reasons that we came here to Costa Rica was to expand and diversify.

How has the company grown since opening its new facility in 2015?

When we started, we had half of a floor at the old facility. Then, we were growing rapidly and required more space and thus moved into this complex. To date, we occupy four whole floors of a new building with 700 people. We have been diversifying since we started as an engineering center and are now growing in this regard.

Has this exceeded the company's expectations of Costa Rica?

Definitely. The original idea was to be an engineering center; however, we started to diversify into accounting, finances, and so on. We expected 2017 to be flat in terms of growth; however, we grew by double digits and expect another similar growth for 2018 as well. We are active in the oil and gas industry, power generation (including geothermal and renewables), life sciences, pulp and paper, and chemical industries, just to name a few.

Costa Rica is a small country; is there a cap to the amount of highly skilled talent?

There are certain areas that we would like to expand in, though we will have some limitations. We need specific profiles for big data analysis, such as mathematicians to do these analyses. One interesting thing we have learned is that in the beginning, some of the roles were designed for engineers; however, we could train technicians and help them grow in their roles. That has truly opened the way we manage the company. It is great to look for the best of the best when we have it; however, when there are intermediate levels that can help manage growth, that is extremely beneficial.

How important is Costa Rica to the overall company?

In terms of sales, it is a small country for the company, but it is extremely strategic. We support the Americas from here, not only North America which is around 60% of our coverage, but also Latin America with 30%, which is consistent with the ratio of sales. From a strategic point of view, we can leverage business units in Costa Rica given the fact that we are located in a free trade zone. Our clients are international which is another important element to consider.

What are some of the challenges of working in Costa Rica?

Mobility for our employees is becoming a challenge, especially being caught in traffic for several hours a day and being non-productive or not being able to spend time with their families. Furthermore, working remotely is not an option for some roles, especially related to innovation, because it is key that the teams work together in those cases. This is an issue for us currently. In the short term, fixing the public transport system would make a huge difference.

What is your outlook for the short term?

In 2018, the main event will be the elections, and it will be exciting. One of the great benefits of being based in Costa Rica as a foreign investor is that there are no large swings or changes during election periods, as is the case in other countries.