He’s a Spaniard—and an outsourcing expert—and fluent in four languages—fine qualifications for the President, U.S. and Latin America for Brussels-based HRO provider ARINSO. HRO Today caught up with the globetrotter recently in his offices near Atlanta to ask about contrasts in European and American HRO.
His classmates in his MBA class at IESE in Madrid could not have guessed that many years later, Ignacio Palomera would end up running a company in Atlanta, home of American cultural icons such as Coca-Cola, CNN, and the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. But they had to know he was destined to go far. Trained as an industrial engineer, Palomera says he was always looking for answers or for a better way of doing things. “Sometimes,” he says, “I would go a long way to find them.” To be sure, Atlanta is a long way from Palomera’s home town of Madrid.
In addition to his wanderlust, another Palomera trademark is his inability to exaggerate or sugar-coat the truth. He has a just-the-facts attitude that he maintains, even if the truth is inconvenient or even unflattering. A recent example was Palomera’s performance on stage as part of the Presidential Debate at the HRO World conference in New York City on April 26. As one of the 13 panelists—presidents and CEOs of the world’s largest HRO firms—Palomera made a point to stress his firm’s strength in serving multinationals such as GM, Sodexho, Kone, and others. This is exactly what the audience expected to hear. But it was Palomera’s disarmingly honest answer to the moderator’s final question—I was the moderator— that caused the crowd of over 800 to erupt in peals of laughter and applause.
My deliberately difficult question to the panelists was, “Which HRO firm would you most like to face in a one-on-one competition for a client’s business?” Several panelists answered before it was Palomera’s turn, many with obviously rehearsed, corporately correct replies. After he heard the question once again, he took a moment to think his answer through carefully.
He stated it clearly, “ADP.”
Then I asked the natural follow-up question, “Do you often win those competitions?” Without hesitation, Palomera gave the only answer he knows how to give—the honest answer. “Not really.”
The assembled throng exploded in laughter because Palomera’s honesty is so disarming, especially on this panel of consummate corporate communicators. Even the next day, members of the audience who saw Palomera’s response, were still buzzing about the guy who was not afraid to tell the truth. One SVP of HR for a multinational firm who was at the conference considering HRO for his firm asked me “Why can’t they all be as straight forward as that ARINSO guy?”
Early in his career, Palomera found facts to be his best friends. At ARINSO since 1998, this approach has served him well as he has risen from heading Iberica operations to leading Latin America and now America as well.
“I have a guiding principle, which is that the facts of a client’s circumstance will dictate the right approach to any HRO or HRIS solution,” he said. “The significance of this principle is that most often it takes an outsider to discover the underlying reality. In complex functions like HR, long-time practices and processes obscure the true facts. I have found that there is almost always a better, cheaper, faster way to achieve an HR goal if you truly understand the reality behind the existing processes.”
In comparing American and European HRO trends, Palomera points out the clear contrasts. “First, due to the underlying complexities of laws, taxes and benefits requirements, in European HRO, payroll is the dominant process,” he points out. “Getting payroll right for a Dutch client who also has employees in France and Belgium cuts out a lot of costs and provides significant value for an HR leader. By contrast, payroll in the U.S. is very much a commodity and not valued highly because the systems of taxes and benefits are very similar nationwide. U.S. HRO clients want many more features and functions beyond payroll.”
Palomera also points out that from 1995 to 2003, Americans were obsessed with “process re-engineering” and Y2K. “As a result,” Palomera observed, “Americans took lots of costs out of their processes already. That is why HRO in the U.S. today is more about compliance and adding value than saving money.”