PEDRO Beitra is a man full of surprises.
Chatting to this distinguished and quietly spoken businessman on a chilly December afternoon, the only indication of his somewhat exotic background was the Cuban accent he has never lost.
And there was no immediate clue as to his meteoric career which involved leaping the divide between computer programming and the world of sales to become an international sales and business leader, and CEO of one of the world’s most advanced cloud computing solutions.
He spoke of his early life in Cuba – a life that was to change forever when the island was torn apart by revolution in 1959.
The child of well-to-do parents, his father was in the sugar cane business, he enjoyed a privileged lifestyle with fishing trips and visits to Florida.
There are memories of endless sunshine and warm seas. But the revolution changed everything. Although guarded about exactly what happened to him, Pedro says: “Nothing was the same.”
However, the changes didn’t stop him excelling at school and progressing to the University of Havana where he studied telecommunications and data transmission.
After his graduation he was sent to work for the Ministry of Communications. “We had no options, we were told where to work by the government,” he said.
His second job there, at the Acadamy of Sciences, involved research, teaching and programming in Pascal, a skill which was to serve him well later.
In 1981 he married his sweetheart Martine, an English girl who had travelled to Cuba to teach, and with whom he eventually escaped to a new life in Europe.
Pedro was becoming increasingly frustrated by the restrictions imposed by the new regime in Cuba, and by the lack of opportunity for him to progress.
Four years later the couple were give permission to visit the UK for one week, and the opportunity to escape occurred. During that week they decided never to return to Cuba.
Without money or even a driving licence in a foreign land, Pedro was quick to set about finding a job. From his base at Halesowen he wrote to Apricot Computers. He was invited to an interview and offered a job near Birmingham, virtually on the spot, on the strength of his Pascal programming skills and its structured similarities for programming in ‘C’.
“The package was good,” said Pedro, “and they even gave me a car – a black Ford Escort. It was a shame I didn’t have a valid driving licence!” Martine, who did have a licence, collected him and the car, which remained in the garage until he passed the driving test.
Pedro’s career progressed rapidly. He wanted to work in London, and was quickly offered a job with Logica, working with Unix.
Within a year his department was sold by Logica to Santa Cruz Operations, where he was offered more attractive compensation by a company which aimed to be bigger than Microsoft.
While Pedro enjoyed his role as software engineer and manager of the network development facility, he wanted to become more involved in the business and decision-making sides of the operation.
He talked the company into offering him a job as a salesman – “Despite my accent!” – and was put through a crash course in sales. “Because it was all new to me, I had none of the bad habits which salesmen tend to acquire over time, and I did very well,” he said.
He achieved quick success in sales, and his big break came when the company needed somebody with languages to deal with the European Community.
“The EC wanted an open system supported by as many OEMs as possible,” he explained.
Pedro’s inspiration was to sell not to the EC, but to the OEMs themselves, the result being that every bid from the OEMs to the EC had SCO on it, and his success was phenomenal.
Dealing with major blue chip organisations including IBM, Digital and Compaq, Pedro’s sales were enormous, encouraging him to set his sights on leadership.
Such was his success it led to the formation of an entirely new deparment, which Pedro naturally wanted to head up.
However, SCO felt his lack of experience in sales meant he was not yet ready for the role, and it was given to somebody else. However he was invited to open an office in Spain, where he spent two years creating a successful operation which eventually grew to around six salesmen.
Later the company launched Tarantella, offering an innovative application delivery tool, and invited Pedro to become the vice president representing Spain, Germany and France with more than 30 salespeople reporting to him. Later he became worldwide vice president for Non Stop Clusters.
His experience with application delivery software ultimately led to an offer from Citrix, which eventually involved a move to Zurich. where he became EMEA business development director.
“Switzerland was clean but boring,” he said.
Fundamental to Pedro’s success in Zurich was taking the company from a single product to a multi-product organisation. “Start-ups and taking companies into new lines of business seem to have been a consistent theme and motivation in my career,” he said.
Pedro has now been appointed CEO of Visual Nexus, a ground breaking young company specialising in software and hosting for virtual meetings. “All you need is to hold a virtual meeting in the cloud,” he said.
It is like being there, with video, voice and collaboration tools always available wherever you are.
“It saves travel costs. improves productivity and provides the highest return of any virtualisation wave we have seen so” explained Pedro. “It means that all the talent in a company is available at any time wherever in the world it is based.
“It enable companies to adapt rapidly and respond better to the challenges they face.”
Very much a man of today, Pedro sees the greatest challenge facing business leaders tomorrow will be the constantly changing world. “Leadership skills will always be paramount, but the way we manifest them will have to change,” he explained. “We will have to re-invent our leadership skills every two years or so, or they will perish.”
The low point of his career? “Being rejected for my first sales job,” he said. “I knew I was better than the other guy, but in the end, it may have been the best thing for me.”
And the high points? “Many; leaving Cuba, making the successful transition from software engineer to salesman, and making Citrix a multi-product company.”
Pedro reads science fiction, politics and a lot of business books. He watches sport, and jogs to keep fit – “But not as much as I should.”
Today Pedro is confident, relaxed and displays the sense of humour which has helped him on his journey from Cuba to the cloud. Who knows what this surprising man’s next step might be?