Conversation with Adolfo Aguilar, Marketing and Communication Director, Thales Spain. November 2020
Thales is a French technology company that has been operating in Madrid since the 70s that works in five major business areas: transport, digital security, defense, aerospace and aeronautics. It has three work centers in the Community, of which the headquarters on Calle Serrano Galvache -very close to Arturo Soria and in the Ciudad Lineal district – houses the largest number of employees, 600 out of the 1,100 that the group has in the region.
Its marketing and communication director, Adolfo Aguilar, talks to MIA about the challenges posed by the pandemic in the sectors in which Thales works and about the future of Madrid as a hub for attracting talent and investment.
M.I.A .: What have the last few months been like at Thales? Have you considered teleworking? If so what reception did it have and with what plans for the medium and long term?
Adolfo Aguilar: We work in areas such as transportation, security or defense that, of course, cannot stop. All staff that could work from home did so until June. Essential activities like the production center for payment systems in Barcelona, transport maintenance activities and IT infrastructure support activities operated as normal
The return to the office in June was as follows. We made two working groups: one comes on Monday and Wednesday and another Tuesdays and Thursdays. And on Friday everyone teleworks. This is how we are working now and we are doing well. We had no previous experience: there were some pilot tests, but very small ones. There was initial uncertainty as to whether we were going to be able to maintain production levels, competitiveness, etc. But the response from the team has been incredible and practically nothing has gone wrong. We continue with this formula that we call “COVID work scheme”. We will keep it for as long as it lasts. There is also a crisis committee that monitors the situation and is taking the necessary measures.
Afterwards, and since it works well, the company is working worldwide on different smart-working initiatives. When all this is behind us, each country will be able to adopt the measures it deems appropriate. I think it is a very positive experience, it is turning out well and the quality of our work is not suffering.
M.I.A.: You mention infrastructure and maintenance. You have launched solutions adapted to the pandemic. For example: flow control in public transport, mask use control, predictive train maintenance… Has anything been developed in Spanish centers? And has it been implemented in Spain?
A.A: Our portfolio is immense. We offer technological solutions in five major domains: transport, defense and digital security, aerospace and aeronautics. And in recent years, a lot has been invested in the development of digital solutions, with the incorporation of the Gemalto company, which we acquired last year. In terms of digital security, they bring many connectivity technologies, big data, artificial intelligence…
When COVID broke out, we got to work proposing new solutions to our traditional customers that could be applied to what this complex context demands. Especially in the transport area: maintaining the flow of users, airports, ensuring adequate capacity in train cars, identification of people wearing masks, access to security facilities, etc. We put all of that into a nice package and said: here are our solutions. What happened? It generated a lot of expectations. At first we thought, and especially the clients, that COVID was something temporary. Implementing solutions takes a few months. We have held meetings with our clients: Adif, Metro de Madrid, AENA, etc. And we have found that many of them needed solutions immediately. We said: well, it’s not exactly like that, this requires a development and an implementation phase that will take us two or three months… But of course, in May it seemed that by September this would already be over
We have tried to convey to the client the idea that this type of technological development is not only for use right now. Although they can respond to an immediate need, we consider that they are solutions that are here to stay, whatever happens with COVID
M.I.A.: Thales recently opened a new headquarters in Leganés, a clean room in Tres Cantos… Can you make us a small map of your presence in Spain?
A.A.: We have eight large centers in Spain. And, as we are an export unit with expertise in the area of transport and space technology, we have a presence in two international markets: Ankara (Turkey) and Cairo (Egypt). We have major rail infrastructure modernization and high-speed development projects in those countries. We have many employees there.
If we focus on the eight work centers in Spain, three are in Madrid. The headquarters, on Serrano Galvache street, the center for defense and railway maintenance area, in Leganés, and the center for space activity in Tres Cantos. The three centres employ 1,100 people. Around 600 people work in Serrano Galvache, 280 in Leganés and 300 in Tres Cantos. In Getafe we no longer have anything, we moved the headquarters to Leganés a couple of years ago. In addition, in Leganés we have a production and maintenance center that we call 4.0. We have undergone a digital transformation, trying to interconnect the different applications to the work areas while optimizing processes and production thanks to big data and blockchain technologies. It is the first 4.0 factory that Thales has in Spain. It has another in France and this is one of the most important ones in the world.
We have always had a clean room for developing space technology. We have a center of competence in Tres Cantos dealing with space activity for medium resolution optical systems, especially for Earth observation and for space telecommunications. We had a white area, a clean space where not even a speck of dust can get in, and recently we have expanded it with an annex building. It is a milestone that allows us to carry out other types of tests and assembly on large satellites. Space activity is the spearhead of the company.
M.I.A.: Would it have been possible to open one of these two centers in Madrid city? Did you consider any other locations?
A.A.: Aerospace was introduced to Thales after the acquisition of Alcatel. Alcatel already had its own headquarters in Tres Cantos. The rest of our facilities are rented.
In Leganés we were looking for a larger premises that would allow us to house more employees and integrate the 4.0 facilities. It is also located in the technology park, with which we collaborate closely. And in Madrid we have the location of Serrano Galvache, where we occupy seven stores, which we think is very important to keep. Here we have a very important laboratory linked to railway signaling, a development and demonstration center and recently we have transferred the employees who came from Gemalto, which was in Alcobendas. Last year they joined our facilities. There are more than a hundred and they work mainly on biometric solutions.
The Community of Madrid continues to be a very important center of attraction for technology and business. In Madrid city we manage the central functions and in the Community the two centers for space and defense. Basically, due to the need for more room.
M.I.A.: Let’s talk about talent. What percentage of foreigners are there on the staff? Are there expat profiles? What advantages and disadvantages do Spain and Madrid have when it comes to attracting talent?
A.A.: 65% of our workforce is made up of engineers. It is a highly engineering-oriented company, with specific expertise applied to the space, railway signaling, security and defense sectors. There are not many, but there are enough. We try to offer competitive working conditions to attract that kind of talent. We try to get more and more women to join the company, which is not always easy because unfortunately this type of career still attracts less women. In younger generations, gradually, we do see a greater presence of women.
Regarding the diversity of countries. We do not employ many foreigners in Spain. Perhaps this figure has increased a bit with the incorporation of Gemalto, which provides services to many countries from Madrid. What we are is exporters of talent. From Madrid we send people all over the world. Given our activity in Turkey and Egypt, we have many Madrilenians displaced there; likewise in countries such as Canada and Australia. Here we are gradually incorporating new profiles. Madrid is a magnificent location. Also Barcelona, but Madrid if possible even more, for profiles with experience in new technologies. We are very interested in profiles related to big data and artificial intelligence. Madrid has plenty of talent and we hope that in the future it will have even more.
M.I.A.: Does the pandemic change access to talent? Much of the work at Thales is face-to-face, but the pandemic raises the idea of relocating thanks to teleworking: both people who work in another country for Thales Spain and people who, from here, work for other subsidiaries.
A.A.: We have two different work dynamics. One is the need to increase the location of jobs in our country. We have to be close to our clients, develop technical solutions close to them and be able to respond to their needs immediately. The location of capacities in the country is a competitive advantage and is essential to continue generating business. Our clients are companies that demand proximity.
On the other hand, the Thales Group has centers for the development of new technologies around the world that provide support to all countries. In Europe, a software center was inaugurated in Bucharest, with developers for all business areas. In India there is another very large one. France, with 35,000 employees, maintains technology development capacities, specifically in the South (Toulouse, Cannes and Nice), for the aeronautical and space sector, and in the area of Paris for defense. There has been no relocation of activities out of Spain.
M.I.A.: Adif, the Ministries of Defense, Transport, Interior… How is the dialogue with the public sector in Spain and how could it improve?
A.A.: The relationship is very fluid with everyone and we collaborate closely. In the end, it is a relationship in which the client needs the tech developers to define their needs. When we talk about predictive maintenance in the field of transport, the client needs to understand what benefits it brings and what are the processes and steps required to gradually incorporate these technologies into their own infrastructure. That is the way. And that’s the relationship we have with Adif.
The Ministry of Defense, in its modernization process, needs to count on industry to provide its vision and determine the stage of technological development. You can imagine an ideal solution that is impossible to obtain in the medium term or whose cost would be so big that at present it would be unfeasible. Effective communication with the customer has to be established.
We maintain a very fluid relationship with Madrid, specifically with the Community’s Department of Transport. Also at the municipal level. Our presence in cities such as Leganés, Tres Cantos or Madrid means we have a closer link.
M.I.A.: Do you have any relationship with the economic area of the City Council? How could it help an established multinational like yours? Or do you not need them to help you with anything?
A.A.: Of course we do. We communicate with the Madrid City Council through different channels. When necessary we do it directly. Some time ago, different councilors from Madrid visited our development and innovation center. We also maintain a close relationship with them through business organizations to which we belong. We also participate in the association Multinacionales por Marca España, of which I was president. We were one of the companies that used this platform to establish a more fluid dialogue with the administration. Madrid has such a powerful capacity to attract and invest in the country, and the link with the city and the Community must be strengthened.
M.I.A.: From your experience at Thales and as former president of the association Multinacionales por Marca España, what attributes do you think Madrid should enhance in this post-covid reality to attract both talent and investment?
A.A.: It is very clear to me: Madrid must take advantage of its ability to attract investment at an international level, to further reinforce its dynamic character. It has to work more than ever in this adverse moment to promote policies and initiatives that help transform the city, the Community and, ultimately, Spain. It is an opportunity that we cannot waste. Perhaps the most direct impact will come from the recovery funds, from which Spain is going to benefit in the next three years with a package of 70 billion euros. It is an astronomical figure and we must make the most of the money with a clear commitment to strengthening industrial activity. Although Madrid has acceptable levels, I think it can improve, aiming to be at the level of other communities such as the Basque Country.
It has to transform itself. Madrid has to be a digital transformation hub, attracting technology companies linked to new developments and new talent. Not only national, but new international profiles, wherever they come from: Asian markets, Indian, North American and European markets. It is a wonderful city where the standard of living is still reasonable. We are facing a great opportunity to act and not miss the train of modernization that Spain needs and that Madrid also needs. The activity of multinationals is vital and the role they can play is important. They have to participate in the debate with clear proposals. And I think Madrid has a close relationship with them.