From the ground up

VOICES From the Top


For global energy titan GE, Latin America is more than a staging ground for a few wind turbine and geothermal power projects. It's the base for a whole new renewable energy industry.

There's little doubt of the opportunity: The region was recently ranked one of the sector's fast-growing markets by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Of course, even in that region, GE won't get very far without powerful project management talent.

“The biggest challenge with Latin America is rapid growth,” says Tod Hubbard, general manager of global projects operation for GE Energy in Latin America.

The company needs to quickly ramp up a core of local project teams that can tackle a backlog of projects in the region that is growing by more than 20 percent a year.

What are CE's strategic goals in Latin America?

The GE Global Projects organization is new to the region, so my primary goal is to build the local team and bring them up to speed on GE processes and culture so they can handle these projects locally. We're currently searching for project managers and team members from Mexico to Chile, and working to transfer our project management knowledge and processes from the United States and Europe to Latin America.

What are the obstacles to building Latin American project management teams?

It's always difficult to build a team from the ground up, and in Latin America, it's especially challenging to find the right people with the right skills and to make sure they're put into the best roles to enhance those skills.

We have to have a local presence. We need local experts on the ground who understand the regulations, policies and routines needed to get things done. Just understanding the logistics—for example, what it takes to get equipment moved from Point A to Point B—is challenging, because it's a different process from how it works in the United States or other regions.

Why is it so important to use local project management talent?

The best example is in Brazil, where we are executing a large custom thermal power generation project. To make sure it went smoothly, we brought in a project manager who speaks Portuguese and had him embedded at the customer site throughout the project.

He built a relationship with the customer and the local officials, and was able to identify the issues up front that would impact the success of the project. For example, he recognized that the poor quality of the area roads would create problems when it came time to deliver the giant turbines. So as part of the project plan, he committed teams to upgrade the roads and bridges that the equipment would have to travel on. It was a huge success for GE and our customer. We couldn't have done it if we hadn't had a project leader who was local.

“We've taken lessons learned from projects executed around the world to enhance our project management practice.”

How do you transfer CE's processes to new teams?

Not all of the companies in this region place the same value on environmental health and safety as we do, and they don't all have the same expectations that GE does. New team members have to adapt to our approach and to our fast-paced project management rhythm, which is focused on execution.

We have project management development programs designed for early and mid-career employees, and strategies to move people into more complex projects as they mature in the organization. So they have plenty of opportunities to stretch.

What advice do you have for organizations launching projects and developing teams in new markets?

You have to be local and have boots on the ground. But at the same time, you can't start from scratch. The best approach is to bring your global project management processes to the new market and don't change them unless someone can prove that change is absolutely necessary. PM




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