Influentials Q&A: Juan Cento

Published by Hispanic Business

Juan Cento is the president of FedEx Express Latin America and Caribbean Division. He has been with FedEx for 22 years and is responsible for the more than 8,000 employees who work in the Latin America and Caribbean Division.

A native of Cuba, he moved in 1960 to Miami, where he attended Miami-Dade Community College and graduated from Florida International University College of Business Administration. Mr. Cento resides in Miami with his wife and family.

Hispanic Business reached out to Mr. Cento and asked questions about his career, his entrepreneurial spirit and how the U.S. Hispanic community affects the business world.

Hispanic Business: Briefly share your upbringing, and tell about your place of origin.

Juan Cento: My family was the pillar of my upbringing and we remain extremely close to this day. Our exile from Cuba to the U.S. was a clean start and we learned to stick together and support each other in all situations.

HB: What has been your proudest accomplishment?

JC: My proudest accomplishment has been to lead such an incredible team within FedEx. The FedEx Express, Latin America and Caribbean Division is made up of the most talented and committed people with whom I have ever worked. The people at FedEx are not only committed to their customers, but also to the communities we serve. I am proud of their passion for volunteerism and the spirit of service ingrained in the corporate culture of FedEx.

HB: What has been your biggest challenge in your professional career and how did you overcome this challenge?

JC: My biggest challenge was when FedEx acquired Flying Tigers, and I was managing the Latin America operations in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was the biggest opportunity in my career—the chance to become part of a large multinational company. I was made managing director for South and Central America for FedEx, where it was challenging to adapt to the new corporate culture. However, I successfully managed this transition with the support of the FedEx family. At the end of five years, we had opened a FedEx direct-serve operation in all key countries within the region.

HB: What impact is the U.S. Hispanic community making on the business world?

JC: Hispanics have significantly contributed to the business world, and the contributions to the American economy are indeed considerable. Hispanics tend to invest more in their own businesses and are among the fastest-growing business sectors in the nation. Hispanic (enterprise) owners are helping drive the economic recovery in the U.S.

The affluence of Hispanics is significantly growing since Hispanic (enterprise) owners are helping drive this segment of the population to new levels of financial attainment. As entrepreneurs and small-business owners, they often create new jobs in their local communities.

There has also been a boom in Hispanic (enterprise), the fastest-growing segment among U.S. small businesses. For instance, between 2002 and 2007, the number of Hispanic-owned companies grew by nearly 44 percent to 2.3 million. There are currently about 3 million Hispanic-owned companies, according to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

HB: What do you admire most about the entrepreneurial spirit?

JC: To me, the entrepreneurial spirit includes several characteristics such as creativity, confidence, risk taking and business savvy. However, what I admire the most in an entrepreneurial spirit is the desire to find differing solutions to a business problem and determination to produce the most successful outcome.

At FedEx, we see that quite often, and we partner with our customers to find the best solution to fit their needs.

HB: You have worked with clients throughout Latin America. Although Hispanics share many similarities, they also have many different interests and values. This is especially coming to light as the presidential election approaches. What are your thoughts on this?

JC: I do believe that even though we have similarities and differences, our values are still the same. We care deeply for the well-being, not only of our families, but also for the communities to which we belong.

We are very entrepreneurial, since many of us are survivors of social and economic conditions. We see problems and issues as opportunities.

What I see from small- and medium-business owners, not only in those from Latin America or those who are Hispanics, is a drive to achieve goals and grasp the opportunities presented to them. They are focused on moving forward strategically and serving their customers. Their attitude is optimistic and confident in their abilities as they seek innovative, creative and ambitious ways to carry out their goals.

HB: Our readers like to know more about social media and technology. How do you use social media on a personal or professional level? Please explain.

JC: I am a big fan of social media and technology and use it daily to keep up with everything from sports to stocks.

FedEx is also a leading innovator in this regard. We have a mobile app that customers can use to track packages, get shipping rates and schedule pick-ups with their smartphones and tablets. We’re proud that these apps are available in a variety of languages for the many countries we serve, including all 50 markets in Latin America and the Caribbean.

HB: Tell me about any mentors you may have had.

JC: I truly look up to my father. He overcame many obstacles, especially in bringing our family from Cuba to the U.S. He always encouraged me to strive to do my best at everything I took on, not only in business but also in my personal life.

He challenged me to be receptive to others’ perspectives and ideas and push myself to learning new things every day. However, the most valuable life lesson my father taught me was the importance of respect and family; he is still to this day my role model