Episode 67: Microsoft Bets Big On Costa RicaJune 18, 2020
With more than 150,000 employees and a market value over $1 trillion, Microsoft is one of the largest and most successful tech companies in the world. Microsoft has been in Costa Rica for over 25 years, with their operation averaging between 50-80 staff members. But, just two years ago, they made a big bet on the country, expanding to over 800 employees. To get the full story behind the decision, we spoke with Ineke Geesink, Country Manager and a native of Costa Rica, and Vanessa Gibson, Director of Investment Climate for CINDE, Costa Rica’s investment attraction agency.
Andy Levine (DCI): With over 150,000 employees and a market value of over $1 trillion, Microsoft is one of the largest and most successful tech companies in the world, and that’s why Patience and I were so honored to learn more about their approach to site selection through the lens of their fast-growing operation in Costa Rica.
Patience Fairbrother (DCI): Microsoft has been in Costa Roca for over 25 years, but their operation was quite small averaging between 50 and 80 staff members. It was essentially a sales office serving Latin America. But just two years ago, they made a big bet on the country expanding to over 800 employees.
Andy: We wanted to better understand why the company chose Costa Rica for its new customer service center that serves the Americas including the United States as well as a global sales and marketing operation. We spoke with an impressive leader named Ineke Geesink, born and bred in Costa Rica and working for Microsoft for the past 20 years. She serves as the company’s country manager for Costa Rica.
Patience: So, welcome to Episode 67 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions”. I’m Patience Fairbrother of Development Counsellors International.
Andy: And I’m Andy Levine also with DCI and Patience is co-host of “The Project”. This week, we are traveling south to Latin America and Costa Rica, a fascinating country of about 5 million people that has done a remarkable job attracting international investments. Hewlett Packard, Procter & Gamble, Intel, Bridgestone, IBM, and Boston Scientific are just some of the corporate giants that have invested in Costa Rica.
Patience: But today we’re talking about Microsoft and its major expansion in Costa Rica. Andy, you did these interviews, would you please set the story up for us?
Andy: Sure, we’re going to hear from Ineke Geesink who is the country manager for Microsoft in Costa Rica. She’s a really smart and capable individual in her early 40s, and we’ll also speak with Vanessa Gibson equally smart and capable. Vanessa is the director of Investment Climate for CINDE, Costa Rica’s economic development organization. But let’s start the ball rolling with Ineke.
Tell me about your background with Microsoft and how long you’ve worked at Microsoft for and a little bit of your career trajectory in Microsoft.
Ineke Geesink (Microsoft): November 2020 will be my 20th anniversary here at Microsoft. I entered the company in a part of marketing role. I journeyed into different parts of marketing positions throughout the first 5 years of my career at Microsoft. And then I went into business operations for a couple of years, and then I decided it was time to explore some experiences around sales. I moved to sales for some years. And then my next step was around marketing and operations director for the region. Eventually, a year ago I was given the opportunity to take on the role of country manager for Costa Rica.
Andy: That sounds like a big promotion.
Ineke: I was very humbled and blessed for the opportunity to have this role. It’s been a great learning experience and an opportunity for me to impact our country in terms of working with different public and private sector entities and really having an impact in developing digital skills in the country and being a trusted advisor to Costa Rica and the whole digital transformation aspect.
Andy: I asked Ineke for a bit of historical background on Microsoft’s investment in Costa Rica.
Ineke: We established in Costa Rica 26 years ago with the sales and marketing operations. We not only had the team that served the Costa Rican market but also the Central America market. It was 2 and a half years ago that Microsoft decided to establish in Costa Roca—for reasons that we’ll go into further in this interview—the customer service and the corporate digital sales area. We looked into Costa Rica specifically for being a country in which talent was a real highlight for Microsoft to invest and prioritize in the country for making this operation which is now the biggest we have in Latin.
Patience: The recent growth numbers have been striking.
Ineke: We were between 30 to 80 employees, and now we are more than 800. Since 2 and a half years ago, we’ve been operating with these two additional sites around customer service and digital sales for corporate companies. Again, we were from 50 to 80 and now, with the no inclusions of these two other sites, we’re more than 800.
Andy: That is a very, very dramatic growth. Can you help us understand the decision to grow your operations in Costa Rica? What were the drivers behind the decision to put these two new operations in Costa Rica?
Ineke: It definitely was a lot about the talent that we see in Costa Rica. If you look into Costa Rica being the country and the region which has 7.4% of the GDP being invested in education, it really reflects a lot in the kind of talent you have. A lot of English-speaking professionals in the region. We also looked into Costa Rica because of the stability in terms of its democracy. Location was another huge factor. Costa Rica is central to both North and South America.
Andy: In our conversation, Ineke kept coming back to the talent picture, so we proved a little bit further on this.
Ineke: Around the digital skills population, Costa Rica is the highest in Latin America. So, really the government has focused on bringing this computer literacy to Costa Rica as being a priority. That’s something that has served not only Microsoft in deciding to make Costa Rica the country for its operations but other technology companies as well.
Patience: Vanessa Gibson of CINDE, Costa Rica’s investment attraction agency, echoed those thoughts.
Vanessa Gibson (CINDE): We tried to build a bridge between the labor market between the companies and also between the academia. Depending on the profile of people they would need, probably there is a specific and, in some cases, as has been the case of Microsoft, you start with a general profile of people that you need because you’re intending to train them on your specific technology and tools and so on.
So, building that network around how to find that talent, where to go find that talent, and then also how to connect with strategic parts of the academia is the role that we play. We facilitate that communication as much as we can.
Andy: CINDE helps companies like Microsoft build a talent network but, according to Ineke, the organization takes things a step further and actually sponsors local job fairs.
Ineke: We’ve had a very strong partnership throughout this journey, and it doesn’t end in Microsoft deciding to establish Costa Rica and the help that CINDE provided, but also CINDE has been a great partner in helping us find the appropriate talent that we have through the CINDE job fairs. CINDE is very proactive in ensuring that professionals are aware of this fair as a centralized point in which they can come and join different companies and find jobs. We’re also now working with them on this project called Bola de Cristal, which is a big bet in really finding the right talent through this AI-infused platform which will be able to connect the skills that the potential employees have to different employers including Microsoft.
Patience: In September of 2020, Microsoft will be bringing all of its different operations in Costa Rica under a single roof for the first time in the Torre Universal, which is a government-sponsored technology facility.
Ineke: So the first time all of our operations are going to be together under Torre Universal which is one of the government’s first bets to turn San Jose into a smart city. It’s a very technological, innovative site within San Jose. We are moving all our operations to Torre Universal, and we’re very excited of that, expecting to happen between mid-2020. And September 2020, that will be our moving month of all our employees into Torre Universal. It’s going to be the biggest operation we have of Microsoft in Latin.
Andy: Earlier I asked you about the decision behind growing your operations in Costa Rica. You gave me a long list of different things that contributed to that. If you had to narrow it down to the top three reasons why Microsoft said, “This is the right place to grow in Latin America,” what do you think of the top three reasons why you chose to grow from 50 to 80 people to 800 people in a very short amount of time?
Ineke: The first would be around talent. It’s about people, what I mentioned around the education that you have in the Costa Rica professionals. The government being one that bets high, investing 7.4% of the GDP in education, making computer literacy a priority for students, it’s really reflecting in the kind of talent that we have in Costa Rica. A lot of English-speaking professionals with really strong literacy in terms of digital skills. That would be the first one. The second of course is political stability that you see in our country. The third being the security. Costa Rica still remains, after Uruguay, being one of the most secure cities in Latin America. That really served as being the top three reasons why we decided that we should invest in Costa Rica as a country where we would impact through these new operations.
Andy: As a final note to today’s episode, I was sort of surprised that Microsoft’s manager was a Costa Rican rather than someone on assignment from the company’s head office in Seattle. I asked CINDE’s Vanessa Gibson whether this was a common practice among large companies investing in Costa Rica.
Vanessa: Actually, in Costa Rica, most multinational companies do tap in the local leadership. There are very few companies that remain to have a relocated ex-pat that runs the operation. Actually, many of the industries that we are familiar with, almost 100% of leaders are Costa Rican because of the maturity of these industries in the country as we speak. But in the case of Ineke, I have to also highlight that, apart from being a great professional and a Costa Rican, being a woman has been a statement because, although we boast to have most of the managers being Costa Rican, we don’t have much of them being women. For us, she was very iconic when she was appointed. She has been a great spokesperson and a great example of what we are trying to address of those opportunities in terms of gender equality as well as the proof of concept of these multinational companies being led by a local, strong woman leader.
Patience: Okay, Andy. I know you’ve spent some time in Costa Rica both for business and pleasure. Help us unpack the key takeaways from today.
Andy: There are a couple of things that stood out to time. First of all is Costa Rica and talent. They’ve taken a very proactive approach. They focus on education and raising the population’s digital skills. Now, the literacy rate in Costa Rica is higher than that in the U.S. Part of that is because the country actually puts most of its money into education. It does not have a defense budget at all, and it allows them to put more and more into education. Their message is we’re going to grow talent, we’re going to focus on computer skills, and we’re going to help you as an investor find the talent you need. That’s number one.
Second point was kind of the debate between offshoring and nearshoring. Costa Rica as well as other countries in Latin America offer you a workforce and, in the case of Costa Rica, a very talented workforce in a timezone that matches the United States. It’s only, by air, about 2 and a half hours from Miami. Very easy to get to. For customer service centers, that’s a tremendous advantage particularly when you combine it with the literacy rate and the English is commonly well-spoken in Costa Rica.
Patience: Both great points. I’ll just add, you know, in this podcast, we interview so many different men in leadership positions so it was really nice to learn about Ineke and her role within Microsoft.
Andy: She is so smart, so well-spoken, so together. Microsoft is really lucky to have her on their team.
Patience: So that is a wrap on Episode 67 of “The Project: Inside Corporate Location Decisions”.
Andy: Our sincerest thanks to Ineke Geesink and Vanessa Gibson for taking the time to speak with us.
Patience: We also want to thank Fabiola Dominguez for her help in setting up these two interviews.
Andy: The project is sponsored by DCI. We are the leader in marketing places having served over 450 different cities, states, regions, and countries. You can learn more about us at aboutdci.com.
Patience: We hope you will keep listening. There are many more projects to come.