Influencer Andrew Solomon
Interview May 2020
Could you share with us some information of your family life?
I have 2 children, one is now studying & living in the Netherlands and one is living in Curaçao. I am happily married and was born in Curaçao. I have a younger sister that lives in the USA. As most of us do, I went to the Netherlands to study and worked and lived there for 20 years. My dad is from here and my mom was born in Holland and she has been living here for 60 years. I was inspired by both of them, my mom taught me values, what is important, and how the world works. She was always at home. My sister and I have always been exposed to as many experiences as possible and even now with her 79 years old, she is still very curious and is on her I-Pad every day. Still discussing the latest developments in the on the island and the world with my dad.
My dad has always worked very hard. He was in the second cohort of students that left to go for their studies in the Netherlands back then in 1955. He studied Electronics in the Hague and started working for IBM Canada and France and he had a great career in IBM here in Curaçao, until he retired. He once took me to the Data Center in the IBM building at the Reigerweg when I was young. I felt like I was stepping into the future, getting into the cockpit of Star Wars or a Star Trek space ship or something. It was really exciting! I got so inspired by this, that I think it influenced my decision to study Computer Science later on.
My father came from a humble background and he rebuild the house for his parents whom were living in a “kas di kunuku” single handedly with his brothers and sisters. That also inspired me. He showed me how a good education combined with dedication can help you achieve amazing things in your life.
Both my parents were very active in the swimming community and they helped bring this sport to the next level, both on Curaçao as in the Caribbean. They were into it day and night. As a small child at the dinner table, I heard them discuss how to further tweak things and organize things in a better way. I believe it has influenced me , in the sense that I’m also always trying to stay critical and think about on how we can improve things in a structural manner.
Could you share with us some of your educational background and past professional experiences as we know that you are an entrepreneur?
After finishing my secondary education in 1984 at Radulphus College and went to Holland to study architecture at the TU Delft. After the first year I concluded that this was not for me and I switched to my first love, Information Technology. I ultimately graduated on the subject of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on how to combine Expert Systems with Neural Networks. Nowadays this is really hot, but back then there were only a few companies active in this field. The company that I started working BSO-AI, appeared not to be viable and transformed into BSO – Technical Automation. When working for BSO I had the privilege to meet its founder Eckart Wintzen. Eckart was one of the first software companies in the Netherlands to start with the so-called “detachering” (staff augmentation). He had a special theory on how to grow the company in an organic way, which made ultimately led to BSO growing to a few thousand employees. This cell-formula is based on the idea that people have a natural inclination to work effectively as long as the group is not larger than 40 to 60 people. Eckart mandated that such a cell needed to split up in to two new smaller business units. He also believed each cell needed to have a lot of autonomy in how to run their business unit as long as they adhered to the company values and branding. It was a kind of an Agile way of working avant la lettre… Eckart Wintzen wrote a book about his vision, “Eckart’s Notes.” He passed away, unfortunately. Working for BSO was a very inspiring period. I went to work for a spin-off company of BSO called Sioux Embedded software, later on. Both Sioux and BSO had inspiring leaders with a strong vision and a focus on strong company culture and values.
What kind of business are you exactly in, and what is your companies name? How many people are employed by your company?
‘ictual‘ is an IT- software company, we are right now exploring also some hardware options, we have 35 employees and we were founded in 1992 in Curaçao. We also have a small business unit in the Netherlands and we used to have a business in Brazil and Philadelphia and there was a management buyout and they are still active. We have a partnership in Surinam Blue Dots and a partner ship in Aruba ICTual-Caribbean and one representative in Saint Maarten attending the Caribbean market for us.
Andrew we were due to interview you in March and then due to the COVID-19 crisis this was postponed until this week. How is the crisis affecting ‘ictual?
I am fortunate to say that actually we are as busy as ever. We have had a lot of requests for further digitalization. Of course it has affected us in the sense that we all needed to continue working from home. On the technical level it was easy as we mostly work from the cloud, only needing to set up our VPN and routing our PBX to different phones. People wise it is a different story however. With kids and partners also being at home it of course caused stressful situations, some coping better than others. But at the other hand, it has also become clear that we are more productive working from home. Our employees have a high sense of responsibility, which makes it relatively easy to manage the company. In ‘ictual‘ we have our values at our core and in this situation we saw that everybody doubled up. The down side being that we also saw some of our employees working dangerously long hours, so we had to make sure that they didn’t burn themselves out.
We have interviewed last week Adric Walter the founder of Curaçao Tech Meetups and he – as he is living in two worlds in Holland and virtually in Curaçao as diaspora – has this vision of an accelerated digitalization of Curaçao and he firmly believes technological changes can make Curaçao play a catch up game to reach a next level where education also plays an important role. ‘ictual’was a sponsor of the last Curaçao Tech Meetups event in 2019, what is your opinion on his vision?
Our opinions are totally in sync. In fact, together with some other locally based IT companies, we are currently putting together an initiative to make ICT an exporting, 4thpillar of our economy.
My vision is the other current pillars of our economy are not future-proof. The oil industry is an old, non-sustainable business sector, especially if we are considering fossil fuels as an energy source for our transportation needs. The oil industry is going to pass through a very difficult period. Tesla is pushing us into the electrical cars. As the use of electrical cars is increasing sharply around the world, and as we need to address the climate change challenge, it is inevitable going to keep the use of clean energy on the agenda. We can’t go on like this. There will be used for oil for lots of things, but not as our main source of energy.
Our second pillar, our International Financial sector is also a very difficult industry. It has declined under continued pressure from international competition higher compliancy requirements, black listing, corresponding bank issues , etc… I do not foresee growth in this sector on the short term. It is passed it’s heydays.
The 3rd pillar of our economy is Tourism. It has is of course an important sector but its past record has shown lots of volatility. Just like now with COVID-19 , we have seen in the past that whenever there was an outbreak like Sars or Zyka, big plane crashes, or terrorist attacks like 911, you can see huge dips in world wide travel., meaning it is a volatile business to be in. The other thing is that there are limits to its growth. We can not have twice as much tourists on this tiny island. We are already seeing people starting to complain as thing s get too crowded at Playa Piskado and all those people snorkeling on top of the turtles there. We see the same thing happening in Venice and Amsterdam. The local residents are getting sick and tired of tourists taking over their city. In other words: tourism is not very scalable. Furthermore there are a lot of low paying jobs in tourism. We need those, it is good for our economy and employment. But we also need other higher paying jobs in order to sustain the social security system we have in place right now. I am of the opinion that we need to aim at letting tourism not become more than a certain percentage of our economy, otherwise our economy will become very vulnerable.
So having said that, the question remains what can we do in the island
Worldwide the most valuable companies are IT-companies: Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Microsoft at this moment and some Chinese companies like Alibaba & Tencent. Quote: “software is eating the world”. There is a huge market out there. The beautiful thing about it is also that it is a very scalable industry. You can build software once and sell it 1000 times, thus generating huge revenues with more or less the same amount of people.
Instagram, Skype, Facebook and the likes, generated incredible revenues with only a small amount of people working for them in their early stages. Meaning for a small island like us, it is an interesting sector to be in, if we would be able to sell locally produced software solutions in a specific niche of the world wide software market. Our vision is that we should focus on this sector.
Our vision focuses on digital knowledge, as it scalable. We should enable innovators, new software start-ups as part of our new economy. If we become an island known for supporting this, we will also attract people back to the island.
There is this thing about Curaçao. Sometimes when I’m at the beach, laying on my back in our beautiful blue water’s, I think we are living in paradise. We are living on an incredibly beautiful island. It is still relatively unspoiled. There are not that many traffic jams and the island is not stacked with gigantic flats like Singapore, where you have 5 million people living in skyscrapers. So we are still in the driver-seat and we can still decide on what kind of island we want to become. We can use the digital disruption that is taking place right now and build an industry around it and choose, not to become a second Singapore, but to become a prosperous paradise island. If we do it in a smart way.
I am really passionate about this, and I firmly believe that we should make the decision as in island to move in that direction. We shouldn’t leave it up only to our private sector. As we have limited resources on the island we should make conscious choices to implement such a strategy in close collaboration between the private and public sector. We cannot enact this strategy on our own as private companies, we need alignment with the government. Only together with the public sector we will be able to create the conditions to make this happen. Think about revamping our educational system, think about creating the necessary legal frameworks, the labor market and creating the infrastructure needed to realize this vision. We need the public sector being involved in that. We can’t go in 10 different directions at the same time to develop our island economically, we need to focus. And spend the limited resources that we have based on a clear and viable vision.
We should make a conscious decision, considering the prospects and potential, and choose to make the ICT sector the 4th pillar of our economy. This is what I want to focus my energy on these coming years.
The strategy is a also double edged sword, because if we do it right and join forces, we can not only offer locally developed software products internationally, but also apply the same knowledge and solutions locally. Increased digitalization will benefit the whole island. Improving service of our local companies to their customers, our government to our citizens, tourists. We could improve tax collection if we would have automatic remittance of taxes with each e-payment. We could lower the red tape. If we become an efficient, digitalized island, we will also become more attractive to (international) investors.
Is ICTual a company with foreign markets and workers that live elsewhere in the world as I know through my interviews some other companies have?
Yes, as said, we have sold our solutions to many islands in the region, ranging from the Dutch Caribbean to Belize and the Bahamas for example. And our business unit in the Netherlands caters the Dutch and Belgian market.
How important is having a “change mindset” to embrace the inevitable changes that this COVID-19 breakdown is causing?
Extremely, because the only constant is change. It is not survival of the fittest but survival of the one that is able to adapt. Of course mindset is very important and believe the educational sector is the best place to enable and bring about these mindset changes. We need to focus having our teachers teach these new mindsets, so that they can educate a new generation of children with the skill sets necessary for the future. We sometimes offer short programming internships to kids in high school, ranging from a few days to 2 weeks. It is fascinating to see how interested they become in building software and even start contemplating pursuing a career in Computer science. So it is extremely important to expose our youngsters to the digital world from an early age, so instead of thinking only about becoming a lawyer, doctor or accountant, some of them will also consider becoming a software engineer.
When do you consider that you have been successful in your personal and business/professional life, let us say 5 years from now?
Business wise, that our employees keep working with lots of enthusiasm, that we were able to have the younger generation to pick up this challenge of building the 4th pillar and that we started to export more and more of our locally developed software products. Personally: if I have managed to balance work/life in an acceptable way. Combining being there for my family, doing voluntary work for the Rotary and coaching the youngsters in our the swimming team.
Where do you want to be 10 years from now with your career?
To still have the great job I have now, in working with such wonderful colleagues. I would like see that we have enabled some spin-offs, so they can offer new paths for growth to their employees and exciting solutions for their customers.
We know you to be a very pro-active, businessman, where did your business and pro-active mindset come from?
My parents taught me to be positively critical, curious and proactive. Sports taught me to work with goals and to focus on achieving them. It taught me what it is like to win and lose, and learned to deal with setbacks.
Also I took a lot of inspiration from Steven Covey book “The 7 habits of highly effective people”. One of these habits is “be pro-active”. The well known Dutch leadership trainer, Remco Claassen, brought me on this path.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
We live in “almost paradise…” here in Curaçao. The people, the weather, the beautiful island the beautiful ocean we are surrounded by. There is so much potential. ICTual has so many clever and intrinsically motivated employees. It is inspiring and a privilege to work with them… The dream is to mobilize this potential and to transform Curaçao from “almost paradise” to a truly, socio economically prosperous, paradise island…
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
First of all: Finding good employees. We used to recruit a lot of employees through the FRED event in the Netherlands (formerly known as the Carriere Orientatie Dagen, or Passaat Recruitment Days) but of late it has become more difficult because of how well the economy was doing in the Netherlands. This makes it extremely hard for our Dutch Caribbean people in the Netherlands to decide to come back and work here. Second of all, the COVID aftermath challenge: how to get people back working at the office in a safe manner. It is very important for the culture of the organization..
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up? How does that work for you?
Yes I do. I try to listen to my intuition, my core values, and use the “always put people first principles”. Seek to understand what drives and motivates and then decide what action to take.
How are you trying also to keep up with your personal knowledge and skills levels?
I have read lots of books in the past. Of late I am more into watching You Tube’s and reading articles and doing courses online. The number of distractions makes it rather difficult to keep up with the nook reading.
What are your strengths?
Strategic thinking, assessing risk’s and act upon what we decide on. I try to measuring our progress and adjust when necessary. I like to think that I’m a good listener also.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I love to play music, I play oboe every Thursday evening and off and on we offer concerts.
If you as Andrew would meet a stranger in the bus (let say in Holland or the US) and they would ask you to introduce yourself what would you answer? How would you describe Andrew in one word or one sentence?
Well, it depends on the person I meet. I would say, my name is Andrew and I am an idealistic realist that lives in Curaçao.
Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
There are so many, but to mention a few: Eckart Wintzen, Andre Fruitman, Anthony Robinson, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and Remco Claassen.
What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
Well, I am a forward thinker and I leave execution over to others. So with this comes that I have a tendency to dive into everything and this may cause me to lose some focus.
What was a defining moment in your life?
The death of my older brother when I was 8 years old. I later realized it changed how I behaved, as I didn’t want to be a burden for my parents,, seeing how much pain they were already in. It also made become more aware of what is important in life. It made me aware of how transient life is. Children get born, new souls enter into this world, people die of old age, illness or tragic accidents. Still life goes on in a never ending circle.
Another thing I want to mention is the importance of sports, swimming in my life. I continued swimming competitively when I was studying in Holland and made it to the finals at the National Dutch Swimming championships. I think it ultimately made me realize that with perseverance and hard work you can achieve many things. It helped me gain a lot of self-confidence and contributed in defining who I am today.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now on your birthday?
He is a warm, friendly, humoristic and inspiring person?
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?
We have a great potential, especially if we include the knowledge and wisdom and connect with the people in our diaspora. We can still decide what the future of our island looks like in 20 years from now. We should do a collective thought experiment and work it out. I firmly believe in the (digital)-potential of Curaçao.
Btw why not work on the thought experiments as part of the Vision Curaçao 2030?
Yes why not.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Let ‘s make Curaçao part of the future digital economy connecting those living here with those in diaspora. Let’s apply forward-thinking: learn from the past but don’t look back too much. Let’s team up and collaborate, that is our local and international talents.
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One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Andrew is a visionary whom’s focus for some years aims at creating a solid IT sector as the new 4th economic pillar of the Curaçao economy. Focusing on the IT sector is a knife that cuts on both ends, as Andrew believes that we can digitalize the island, offering better services to our citizens and tourists. By doing this, it makes the island more attractive for investors to come to the island because of its relative unspoiled state and beauty. By combining the forces of local IT-companies, the diaspora and the government, Andrew is convinced that together they can make it work. We are still in the driver’s seat to determine our future as we have an unique opportunity now, to set clear priorities and direct our scarce resources and attention to realize this ambitious goal. Andrew, due to his past in competitive sports Andrew is clearly result oriented. This, combined with his high ethical values, his employees’ centeredness – he values the need of his employees to have a balanced work-life – he is convinced that we can leverage Curaçao’s potential to attract others to come and help us make this happen. For his resolve, his clear vision and efforts to make this happen, we deeply respect and love Andrew. We definitely consider him one of the 250 Influencers, representing the business (ICT)-sector.