Ernest Sales interview: from national health service innovation to national-scale retail networks
Midis Group has just appointed one of the most experienced and popular technology sector leaders working across Europe and the Middle East. Former HP executive, Ernest Sales, is new Chair of Midis Groups’ recently-acquired K-Tuin retail network in Spain, and also now CEO of Midis Group affiliate, Selectium, principally delivering local office facilities for HPE. To get the low-down on his pathway to Midis, we interviewed Ernest about his early years in the business, and the distinctive edge that is driving Midis Group success.
“Well, you know, a 30 year career is a long time. The latest part of my career has been all sales and business management, but the first part of my career, was computer science, software development, IT consulting, these type of things,” said Ernest as we started our conversation. It turns out the early years of Ernest’s IT career contain a great story of risk and reward.
Midis is one of the few organizations that understands how to put itself in the shoes of these big groups and is able to develop local offices seamlessly for them.”
Ernest is originally from Barcelona, so he’s Catalan. His first degree was Computer Science from the Universidad Politécnica de Barcelona with a Masters Degree in Business at Instituto de Empresa. Still a student, he found work at Hewlett Packard in Spain, in the healthcare department. From the start he was thrown in at the deep end, implementing third party software in healthcare to computerize hospitals.
The first two years at HP, he implemented healthcare Information systems in seven hospitals. HP offered him a job leading development of a nationwide healthcare platform from scratch, a giant deal that led to computerizing the majority of hospitals and primary care centers in Spain. The national scale of the achievement really becomes apparent when Ernest tells more about the project.
“In 1988 or ‘89, Spain did not have healthcare for everybody. Only healthcare workers and families of workers had it - around 67% of the population. President Felipe González had discussions with our management and the company proposed software that might save 35% of cost of the healthcare budget. If they rolled it out it would be able to cover 100% of the people.”
“So Felipe González went to the elections in 1989 offering full universal health care for everyone, and I did receive an order for millions to computerize all the hospitals of Spain. I was 25 years old, had already developed the software, and now I had to implement it. So we ended up hiring 200 people and we implemented 70 plus hospitals.”
It’s a big opportunity, and we will be looking for talent, for ambition and for fearless execution. It’s exciting and it’s going to be outside the comfort zone for many, but I am sure we all are going to experience great success.”
“From day one as a kid, I started by having the responsibility of developing software and implementing it, which lasted a few years. Still today, the software running the healthcare of Spain is my product, something I can’t be more proud of. As a result, Spanish citizens - and foreigners - have free healthcare. It is a human right and I had something to do with it. My first ten years of career were IT Software Development, consulting, CIO-like responsibilities for all Spanish health care and I ended up running the overall Healthcare Information Systems Department, focusing mainly on selling our solutions. Then I was invited to lead same department for Latin America from Miami and from there I got other sales management jobs.”
Q: Knowing what you know now about software development, would you have still taken on that big job in Spain?
“You know, I was a kid, and I was completely ignorant of the complexities that I was going to deal with. I did computerize seven hospitals so I had background on how to go in there, install computers, install applications, teach people and educate them. And somehow I felt it was possible, but I felt it was very difficult to sustain a software platform made in Pascal, Fortran, Cobol, RPG1, with a hierarchical database based on HP 3000 systems and with unique modifications to the core SW for each hospital. Thank goodness HP accepted to develop the new SW in a relational database, a fourth generation programming language, and open systems, so we could use parameters to adapt the new SW to different hospitals.”
Q: Sounds a bit like that first big job for the health service was one of the high points of your career. Would you say that?
“If we measure it on how you impact human beings, I think I was very fortunate to be able to develop software that saves lives, and saves time for people. People used to go to the hospital at six or seven in the morning and stay five hours waiting until the doctor could see them; suddenly they could go at 10:15 and maybe wait five minutes. Contributing to Universal health care from the human perspective angle was a job that brought more value, and I feel very proud of it.”
Right now, we are focusing on helping very large IT players manage their life cycles. Midis are very good at the emerging markets and very good at covering for those companies, with what we call local office”
Q: If you were starting at K-Tuin now, at the age of 21 or 22, what advice would you give to the young Ernest Sales?
“Entrepreneurship is not about you starting your own company, where you are the leader. Entrepreneurship means that whatever job you have, in whatever company, whatever assignment you get, you put your brain to work in every possible way to develop the maximum you can get at it. And don’t get limited by boundaries that many times are just perceptions. If I had limited myself on those boundaries, I probably would not have achieved anything in my life. I don’t see boundaries, I just see possibilities and I try to maximize them without allowing any one of them to limit me.”
Q: What’s been the most challenging thing you’ve done in your career?
“The difficult things are not to sell or to reach targets, those things are relatively easy. The difficult things are to manage people, manage relationships with complex organizations, manage egos, and keep yourself humble while you are growing. Focussing on what you have to do independently of your success or your job title or things like that. Fighting yourself, with your own ego and your own values, while around you the people are fighting for power, fighting for vanity - you have to keep focused and not enter into those things. Not having money ambition, but driving business success, people success as the main ambition. For me, that’s the most challenging. Somehow get rid of those toxic people and enable your organization to freely grow with powerful values, respect and hungry for business success, free of politics.”
Q: What do you feel you’re going to bring to Midis with all of your experience and your insights from HPE?
“With Midis, first there is a match between Midis’ values and mine. I look at how important for me it is to just be straight, clear, direct, honest and transparent. I see Midis is about that. I felt we were talking the same language and I knew I could be an entrepreneur in Midis. And that’s what I’m looking for. It’s to be able to use every bit of my energy to maximize potential and help in any possible way the development of people, to grow business, deliver results.”
“Second, I love to work in an international environment, where you have to have the bandwidth to understand different cultural approaches, respect people’s minds, their values and what they care for, and drive people with passion and ambition, but with respect. I know that maximizes the business.”
“Third, developing people is something I care for a lot. Sometimes we become too complex when we start using business language. I take it more to a personal way. I try to simplify everything. I try to be for others what I expected others could be for me. I think, ‘how can I help this person to stretch, to grow, to develop,’ and to get the maximum out of that person even if that would not be in my advantage. I try to push for their own benefits and for their own success, and I enjoy seeing them stretch and develop further. "
“Normally it also delivers great business results and an amazing team spirit… a very powerful one, that feels they can win and that confidence bring success. At least, it is my experience. You give it all, and you receive huge returns in employee and customer satisfaction. For me happiness is the number one thing to have to go to work. So my teams have to be happy. They need to feel secured, they need to feel home. If there is something they don’t know what to do, it does not really matter, they should know they will get 100% of my support and I will be ready to fail with them, trying new things.”
I love to work in an international environment, where you have to have the bandwidth to understand different cultural approaches, respect people’s minds, their values and what they care for, and drive people with passion and ambition, but with respect. I know that maximizes the business.”
After the big health service platform projects in Spain, Ernest went to the US and worked for HP on a multiplicity of projects and in roles that reached right to the top of the company.
Q: Do you think your business experience in the US has given you an insight into how to approach working in other parts of the world with Midis?
“One day, the majority of computing will be sold on the cloud and as a service. Across long careers like mine, IT has gone through different life cycles. And this is the new life cycle. There’s no debate, it’s going to happen. It happened first in US. It’s going to happen second in UK and then it’s going to be happening every other country in western Europe and finally we’ll get into Africa and others.”
“But the older companies are still around. How many times have we said ‘IBM is dying, their mainframes are not going to be there?’ I remember having those conversations in the early nineties, and you know, here we are reaching the 2020s and mainframes are still there. The life-cycle of technology is a long, long one. There’s still many years of work in traditional IT, in huge numbers. It’s still billions of dollars. Right now, we are focusing on helping very large IT players manage their life cycles. Midis are very good at the emerging markets and very good at covering for those companies, with what we call local office.”
Q: How do you think K-Tuin and Selectium should develop from now?
“K-tuin has 16 stores and covers majority of the north of Spain, and I’m looking to increase the number of stores and cover the key parts of Spain while covering more business to business and internet sales. Potentially we will do other acquisitions and grow this company to probably double the size.”
“The Selectium work is about extraordinary execution and expansion. Building yet more confidence with big companies, showing we know how to run them in our special territories, maximizing the business for them. So it’s a big opportunity, and we will be looking for talent, for ambition and for fearless execution. It’s exciting and it’s going to be outside the comfort zone for many, but I am sure we all are going to experience great success.”
“Midis is one of the few organizations that understands how to put itself in the shoes of these big groups and is able to develop local offices seamlessly for them. We run the local office for companies including HPE in many countries and as a 30 year veteran of HPE, I really get it and I want to do the very best for HPE business. They already know me, and I know them, and they know I will do my very best to deliver. We have the core values and practices of major companies, but without many of the layers and bureaucracy that slow down decisions, impede teamwork, and ultimately hurt execution. Midis is one of the few companies in the world that gets it and is capable of operating like this. I am really happy of being part of Midis group and I am looking forward to driving these business to maximize success. I am also very thrilled and humbled for the opportunity. Very grateful.”