Influencer Oz Eleonora
Interview June 2020
Oz, could you share with us some information of your family life?
I am a husband and I am a father of 3 children. One daughter is 17 years old (born in Curaçao), but I was living in Denmark that time and after my wife gave birth, we returned to Denmark. One is a 13 years old daughter born in Texas and I have a 5 years old son born in Los Angeles. I have one sister that is one year older than me and she is one of the best professionals I ever worked with, not because she is my sister btw. She has a background in Finance, HRM and Change management. My parents are luckily still alive and they still live in Curaçao. My parents were very supportive to whom I have become now. I have lived during my younger years on different islands of the Dutch Antilles. We moved to Saint Martin when I was 2 years old, from my kindergarten I lived in Bonaire, then I came to Curaçao and went to the middle school at MIL and in 1987 I got a unique scholarship from the United World College.
Were you born here in Curaçao?
I was born in Curaçao and my father came from Charo Abou and my mother from Charo Ariba.
Could you share with us your educational background?
When I was at MIL, I won that scholarship back then in 1987 to go to UWC (United World Colleges). UWC is a system of fee-paying independent schools and educational programs with a stated mission of “making education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable future”. The organization was founded on the principles of German educationalist Kurt Hahn. Most of the schools and colleges offer two-year residential programs, for people aged 16–19 years, during which they complete the IB Diploma Programme. The organization emphasizes the breadth of nationalities participating in its programs. UWC consists of 18 schools and colleges on five continents, several short educational programs, and national committees in 159 countries and territories. UWC was chaired by lots of dignitaries like Lord Mount Batton and Nelson Mandela. Its goal is to bring kids between 16 – 18 years together and give them a rigorous training and in doing that they try to create a generation of leaders with a balanced social consciousness that are drawn to each other. When I attended UWC, there were 6 of 7 school in the world in that time. Since then, they have 18 schools, they have never more than 1 in a country.
They helped excellent students with scholarships and they try to find national organizations to help finance the scholarship. I went to the US school at Montezuma New Mexico, which is a small isolated place. The reason for that is to make sure, that you really learn to accept and embrace the other students with little or no other distraction. They have on average 200 students of which 50 % male and 50 % female students from as many countries as possible, offering the opportunity to the students to meet people from all the world. It was by far the most impactful education I have ever had and I still have” real” friends from all over the world dating back to that period in time.
I feel blessed to be able to think of different cultures and the global scale and this was special as in those days there was no internet yet. It is special when I grew up to meet peope from far away countries that made certain challenges we have in the world very real to me. Like we had real Palestinians and Isreali’s; we had Chileans that were Pro and Against Allende; we had white and black South Africans when there was still Apartheid in South Africa. What it really did was, it took things from being theoretical and brought it into real life. It just really sort of jump started my education. It gave me this empathic ability that had formed me and never changes in a time span of only 2 years in UWC.
As I started my bachelors study in Political Science, my ambition was to become the prime-minister of the Netherlands Antilles. During my studies, I don’t know where that came from, I set up an internship in Curaçao that was sponsored by the Central Bank. I was only 19 years old and the Central Bank seconded me out to the union confederation at that time. I became the economic advisor of Kamara Syndical and I went trough a roller coaster as it was a very turbulent time in 1990. The Curaçao Drydock was re-structuring, there was a lot of unrest in the education system and in the civil service as well and I experienced first hand what was going on. Being at the local center of the unions (their sede), you see things like workers crying as they didn’t know what to do if they lost their jobs, I met teachers fed up because the schoolboards and government were not giving them enough school supplies to function well as a teacher and I saw how some bought their own school supplies paid from their own pocket. This made a huge impression on me and how I look at unions, as I noted a big difference between union leaders and the union rank and file members. It would be a disservice to the union memebers not to make that distinction. As part of the internship I wrote a report that got me in a lot of trouble. I had mentioned in the report that there were no proper leadership succession plans in place.
This was not appreciated back then but now the relationships have normalized again. The side effect of this all was that this experience convinced me that I no longer wanted to be a politician. Look I have experienced the most tense moments up close . For me at a very young age, a lot of what I saw made me disappointed about the ability to change things as a politician. So I decided to go to business school next. I thought that if I can be successful as a business owner, I can be more usefull to the world. Political coalitions are built on compromise and it becomes ugly when you dig into details. I saw things at that age that I knew I would not be willing to compromise on, but that were necessary in order to be able to win an election or maintain a coalition. This made me feel that in politics I would not able to lead from the heart. So I turned my back on politics even when I was asked to join several parties. Specifically, I believe unions should remain separate from political parties and in Curaçao we have an example of how this can go wrong. While the PLKP was initially successful, it has since ceased to exist and the negative impact on the unions (due to lack of leadership continuity) continues to be felt today.
I attended graduate school in the Netherlands at Erasmus University, where I completed a double Master’s Degree in Management of Information Systems and Strategic Management. In 2000, when I went to work in the telecommunications industry, I went to study at TU Delft and earned a Telecom degree as well.
Can you expand on your professional experiences as we know that you are an entrepreneur?
At 9 years, I got my first job as a deck hand that ran errands for the tourists. It was at the best hotel and beach in Bonaire at the time, Hotel Bonaire. It took me through the certification program for diving and I was less interested in the pay than in the benefits I got working there. I was allowed to swim any day I wanted at the hotel beach. I could bring a long one person so I brought along a friend of mine and we had a great time.
After finishing my College years, I worked for a year on Wall Street at what was then Solomon Smith Barney (later this became part of Citi Group). I experienced this as being extremely boring. I couldn’t understand why others found it so glamorous as literally everybody wore the same suits, three different versions of a shirt and tie and I thought it to be the worst job I ever had.
Since I had deferred my entrance to Erasmus University, I matriculated into graduate school following my year on Wall Street. After completing graduate school I came back to Curaçao and worked at a small Accountantsbureau, Van Ramshorst & Co in the advisory side of the business. We later sold the business to Deloitte and I returned to the Netherlands to join my girlfriend who had continued her law studies at Erasmus. This turned out to be a good decision, as we have now been together for 24 years (married for 20). Initially when I returned to the Netherlands, I worked for a bank again, MeesPierson. Unfortunately, it was again not a good fit. I had to accept the fact that I was not a traditional banker type.
I believe the culture in the banking sector is one of the reasons why economies are like they are.
Banks tend to control the capital that businesses need to create value and it is a real big problem as this banking culture is not visionary. They are very robotic in doing what they do and, while this may be appropriate for their own business, it ends up having a stifling effect on innovation in general.
I left the banking sector again and went into Telecom business full time. My interest in telecommunications comes from my father, who is a telecom engineer and spectrum specialist. When I was little, I was always fascinated by the complicated instruments and equipment in his workshop and he taught me how to use and understand some of it. I joined CMG in 2000. CMG was an Anglo-Dutch leading IT advisory firm that had 1 product division, the telecom products division. As CMG evolved and went through several mergers, I also grew with the company. From 2001 to 2004 I was CEO of a joint venture between LogicaCMG and TeleDenmark, where we executed the first ever live service link between the web and a mobile phone via messaging. In addition to the technology learning, I also learned a lot from the 6-month long process we went through to obtain EU approval for the service.
In 2004 I attempted to return to Curaçao. My wife had given birth to our first child in 2003 and we missed being able to raise our child surrounded by family. Unfortunately, it turned out that I was simply not ready to return to the island. I took a job at the local office of a ‘Big 4’, but I was soon feeling stifled. LogicaCMG had been very disappointed in my departure and continued trying to convince to come back. I ended up spending less than a year in Curaçao, returning to LogicaCMG in 2005 to run their North America commercial operations out of Dallas, Texas. We were able to build that business from a $20Million annual revenue rate to $183Million annual revenue rate by the time I left in late 2010.
I left to join DIRECTV USA, who headhunted me to run their telecom partner division in the US. At DIRECTV, I got promoted and ultimately ended up managing over 4 million customers, over 1,500 employees and over $4.3Billion in P&L. This was a massive learning for me. One of the most important things I learned was the difference between running a subscription business versus running an innovation business. A subscription business is about keeping things the same as much as possible. More importantly, when you are a key executive in a public company, a very large portion of your time is spent on reporting to the market. As incredible as it may sound, that is not very exciting. I had gone from being in an industry where things constantly changed and we were at least 3-4 years ahead of the market at all times, to an industry where what was expected of me was to keep things as calm and unchanged as possible in order to collect subscription fees.
At Direct TV in USA I was first in charge of 12 people in Texas and from there expanded to about 46 people. At Direct TV the P& L was 3 billion USD and they had 1 million subscribers, which for me was a very big thing to achieve.
But being whom I am, after a while this also became boring. The subscription business is quite boring and your goal is to have increase in net subscribers but that didn’t inspire me enough. It did trigger an awaking to me. I got promoted quickly and from managing 46 I started managing 1500 people. I had all the commercial business of Direct TV under my responsibility. I had 11 direct report 11 people, which normally is 10 and this was an interesting experience, as I was a key employee in a company that had 45.000 employees.
It was an interesting learning process, as I was spending just as much time reporting to Wall Street as managing the business and employees. I was responsible for 10 % of the 50 billion that Direct TV was making in those days in turn over. But I came to understand why large companies don’t innovate. They have no incentive to lose their revenues, so they don’t innovate as much as they should.
By the way the money I was making doesn’t equal by far the salaries being paid by some executives in Curaçao earn, that is to show how outlandish these salaries are.
After 2 years at Direct TV, I was approached by a private equity firm to be a member of the C-level team of a company they wanted to purchase and take through a controlled bankruptcy (chapter 11 in the US). I was an entrepreneur and I wanted to do new things and be involved in business development. In big companies, more than 50% of new initiatives are turned down in favor of protecting existing revenue. So, I accepted the challenge and became the Chief Revenue Officer of Sonifi Solutions, a $350Million annual revenue company that provides entertainment and communication technology solutions to the global hotel industry. We were successful in turning that company around, including switching out 50% of the commercial organization, introducing bid and pricing procedures, rebuilding marketing and regaining market share with new products despite increased pricing.
Mind you, this was a company based in the mid-west of the USA. I don’t know how familiar you or your readers are with the MidWest of the USA. It is different from the East and West Coast of the USA. I was the highest ranking executive of ethnic minority descent and had to fire mostly white males and I will tell you it wasn’t easy, but the company became profitable again. In 2016 I left that company and started my own company because my team and I decided to build wealth for ourselves.
So, in this new company we started in a new business area and we wanted to run the company the way we wanted to run it, treating people from all walks of life with respect and we wanted to make sure that we gave back to the region where we were born. We settled on blockchain as we were aware that, despite the excellent potential and promise of the technology, there wasn’t enough work being done on the compliance side. We wanted to tackle that problem, focusing on Curaçao, as after our field research, we knew that the US and the Netherlands were not going to be the pioneers. But Curaçao was interesting as it still has a link with Europe. I came with my two partners and they were incredibly impressed by the professionals in Curaçao and they fell in love with our Curaçao ambiente!
In Curaçao a small team of professionals can handle different languages, business cultures, jurisdictional rules and compliance. We are very agile, much more agile than we think we are. We have undersold qualities, we have as our starting point qualities that I don’t see in any other place I worked and visited. I have worked in 42 different countries, and when I say that, I don’t just mean that I visited those countries for meetings. I mean that I have negotiated contracts, managed people, led businesses, interfaced with regulators and public officials, and worked closely with legal and financial advisors in 42 different countries. Curaçao has an excellent competitive foundation and the sooner we realize and build on that, the faster our economy will evolve to the next level.
The goal of our company, Zinica Group, is to make Curaçao a hub within the future digital fabric of capital movement in the world. This refers to major capital movement across borders. Currently, global capital movement is centered around a small number of major financial centers, namely New York, London, , Hong Kong (Singapore may replace Hong Kong depending on certain developments) and Japan.
The interesting thing is that there is not a true major financial center in South America. Brazil has been the intended hub for decades, but its continued instability presents an ongoing problem, as does the continued instability of other large countries in the region.
We believe this vacuum, combined with technological advances (including blockchain), represent an opportunity for Curaçao to become the major hub for the region.
Blockchain changes the dynamics of capital movements around the world such that more freedom of capital movement is possible and smaller hubs can play a much larger role.
More importantly, Curaçao has done this before. Think of the Global Trust industry, Eurobond industry and the Hedge Fund Industry. Technology gives us the opportunity to it again.
I am quite encouraged, that the market is very close to what we expected 4 years ago. It is not something that the public will see right away, but it is coming and the opportunity will be significant.
Sometimes when I look at the amazing accomplishments in our past and the vast opportunities I see before us, I am intrigued by why we as “Yu di Kòrsou” are so conflicted about our place in and value to the world.
Basically you live in two worlds, right? We Googled you and we understand that you are often on the island as you are in the supervisory board of some local (government) enterprises/ institutional Investor. Is this a deliberate choice, living in two worlds?
It is deliberate and it is where life has pushed me to be and go. My parents taught me to never be afraid of where opportunity take you. I have moved a lot since I was a young child. What I do is I follow the energy in my gut, I trust that and when I do, things pan out.
If things would have moved faster I would have returned to Curaçao in 2017. Due to the age of my children, the next window of opportunity is about 3.5 calendar years away. But on the other hand living in different places is valuable. I recommend to everyone to go live and work somewhere else, think at a global level instead of projecting what the world would be like while staying in the same place.
Where did your business and pro-active mindset come from and what make you land in this innovative world?
My father was an entrepreneur and at first extremely successful, followed by tough failures and then followed again by smaller but sustained success. My mom helped my father, but before that she was a civil servant. She taught me especially not to mess up. Don’t be reckless, think things through.
There is also a completely different side of me, my creative side. The artist in me that always wants to create. To me, innovation and creativity are the same. I am a hunter, not a farmer. The combination of inspiration by both my parents means that when I do things, I have thought about a hundred scenario’s. That way when things happen, I have thought about at least a similar scenario before, which enables me to react more fluidly to the situation. I am not the kind of person that is capable of doing just that one thing. I have tremendous respect for people who have that capability, it’s just not how I am built.
In my view, a true entrepreneur is an artist. The minute we lose that element, the artistic side within ourselves, the visioning of the business also dies. It is not the numbers that give birth to the business, it is that artist that creates the business and then the numbers follow.
When do you consider yourself as being a successful?
Success is a mindset. If you can combine the natural talents with which you are blessed, with your education and training, and then also add your passion, all in one, then you are a success. You are living your full potential. If one of them is missing this makes you feel unfulfilled. You can be financially successful but without passion or you can be an artist that is super creative but lack financial skills…it won’t work.
What is you BIG WHY?
I wanted to become the prime minister of the Netherlands Antilles and I considered Maria Liberia-Peters and Don Martina as my role models back then. Now I have evolved as a person and businessman and I want to help my country and the people of my country in my own way. Right now, I am blessed to be doing exactly that. I mentor, I help connect, I am on two supervisory boards of local companies and more then 2/3 of my companies are located in Curaçao. I promote Curaçao wherever possible. I support every positive initiative that is to the benefit of Curaçao. I am living my Big Why. Hopefully I can contribute more, but I am living it, I am not in search of it.
So you are living your Ikigai? Meaning using your strengths, passion, earning a living out of it to the benefit of the society.
How do you keep educating yourself?
I’m not going to pretend like I read a book every week, I simply don’t have the time. The older I get, the more I figured out that the best way to learn is to make learning an active part of your life. I do these three things:
1. I surround myself with smarter people or whom are better than I am in something.
2. I am not afraid if I don’t know something to ask questions about it and to listen to what was said, there maybe people with a different look at a subject matter;
3. I listen and process then I ask again and process. It is how I continuously learn.
I am not too formalistic in learning. It is not 100 % experiential learning as I would also say that it is emotional learning. One of the disservices to humanity is the separation of our emotional self from ourselves. The notion that emotions are bad or women are weak because they are emotional is all incredibly ridiculous in addition to being misogenystic. Emotions warn and alert you and guide you in certain ways better as a human being. It is really an important thing. We have to open ourselves more and give more value to this.
What are your strengths?
1. My ability to see somebody else’s potential, help them see and believe it, and then help them achieve it. The people I gave opportunity to develop I still have extremely good relationships with every one of them I worked with closely. I have the gift to see more in them than they saw in themselves or others saw in them. I don’t believe in the single dimensionality of valuation of a person. I once recruited a salesperson that everybody else disqualified. I believed in him because, while he did not have a formal education, he was a very successful door-to-door magazine salesman. Door-to-door sales is one of the most challenging sales jobs in existence and a successful door-to-door salesperson can be taught to sell pretty much anything.
2. Secondary strength is “social cameleon”, I can feel at home pretty much anywhere, in any place I go. More important than the formal stuff, I know how to find common ground with other people and I firmly believe this is rooted in the fact that I’m a YDK.
3. Thirdly, I am an optimist. It is a waste of time to be a pessimist.
What are your hobbies?
I am an artist and I feed my soul with art to create balance in my life.
If you as Oz would meet a stranger in the bus (let say in in China or Germany) and they would ask you to introduce yourself what would you answer?
Well not in a bus but a lot on airplanes. I meet people regularly where I have to introduce myself. I would tell them that I am a father, a husband, originally from Curaçao and that I speak different languages. That is a great conversation starter and some do test my language which I shock them by showing them that I do speak different languages. Everything else follows from there.
How would you describe yourself in one word or sentence?
I am an emotionally charged piece of graphene (the strongest element on earth).
Who influenced you the most in your life?
My parents. The internship at the union and my soft skills was inspired by my mother.
My tech, entrepreneurs side and being a rock was inspired by my dad.
What is a trait that is still work in progress?
1. I have many as I am in constant development and I hope that I will keep doing that as long as I live.
2. Trusting my gut, which is much easier to say than to do. Following your gut can mean, avoid the money your brain wants you to accept and wait for the right money to come from somewhere else. It requires trusting the unknown.
3. Balancing passion with aggression. We as human beings tend to confuse these two things, I certainly do. I hope to become better at it.
How does your inner voice work for you?
Three things I would like to mention.
1.Walking always help, the positive effect of the pandemic is that I exercise regularly again;
2. Enough sleep. I agree with that, it removes the barrier between the conscious and our subconscious mind. I am clearer when I rest well
3. Actively following my gut, requires listening to other people as well. Me and my co-founders have only rule we have not written it out even, but we live by it. If someone is to be a partner with us, one of us need to have know him/her for at least of the founders for at least 10 years and shared the inevitable successes and failures we all go through. You get to know everyone when it is not going so well.
And all three of us have to be involved. We will have a conversation and ask the question: what does your gut tell you? If one of us has a bad gut feel, the deal and that person is rejected, without hesitation.
What was a defining moment in your life?
Well in fact there were two moments, one is watching my mother fight for her life for 4 months in the ICU with a potential cancer diagnosis, even receiving her last rites 3 times. She survived.
The other is watching my mother in law die only 4 months after her initial cancer diagnosis, even though she had previously never been sick in her life.
Both things happened in a relatively short time period and this has left a mark on me and it is constantly on my mind.
Where do you want to be 10 to 15 years from now?
I am not striving for a destination. I enjoy the blessings of life today. I aim to reach my potential for catalyzing good throughout my sphere of influence. This will require fully trusting my gut, continuous learning and leveraging that learning, never shying away from the challenge at hand and a commitment to positivity and love.
What would your family, Loved Ones and friends say about you 20 years from now?
Wherever they choose to. There is no need for a prescription for that.
Why are you optimistic of the future of Curaçao?
Optimism is the foundation of the future. It doesn’t need a reason, it is the reason.
To the reader: You are more interesting than any role that your fear to conjure up for you. Be unapologetically YOU. This is just my story. It isn’t more interesting than yours. In fact, what is YOUR story?
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Oz Eleonora, is a talented and driven, passionate business owner that has gone through many diverse experiences and earned different degrees. At a young age, he attended UWC (United World Colleges) teaching him how to accept and deal with diversity in the world, as an intern with local unions he learned about politics, he has held different types of high ranking jobs in Banks, as a consultant meanwhile living in different countries following the steps when he was young, as he lived on different island of the Dutch Antilles. After a very successful career as the highest senior positions in big companies, he decided to start his own company and focus on developing what he considers Blockchain Compliance Services via his company in Curaçao. While an internationalist at heart now living in New York, Oz can live anywhere in the world. Of late, he is dedicating lots of his time in Curaçao, focused on leveraging his knowledge and skills to use the potential that he sees in Curaçao. By doing that he is living his Big Why, his “Ikigai”. Meaning using his strengths, his passion, the ability to earn a living with his willingness to serve others, in this case Curaçao. In that sense, we deeply respect Oz and definitely consider him one of the 250 Influencers of our island and a representative of the Business (Financial) Sector living in two worlds.