In this episode of The Path we meet Gabe Orthous, Director of Business Analytics and Product Management for the BI Group at McKesson Business Performance Services. Gabe shares with us some of his passions, including his family, business intelligence, Florida State, and last but not least hand-rolled cigars.
Ken Murphy: Hello, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider, and welcome to “The Path”, a series of exclusive SAPinsider Online podcasts, where we explore the career paths and backgrounds of people associated with the SAP ecosystem. Joining me today is Gabe Orthous, who is the Director of Business Analytics and Product Management for the Business Intelligence Group at McKesson Business Performance Services. Gabe is also the author of an SAP Press bestseller on BusinessObjects Web Intelligence.
Good morning Gabe, and welcome to the podcast.
Gabe Orthous: Thank you. Good morning.
Ken: Gabe, first for our listeners who may not know that much about you, can you just tell us a little bit about what you do?
Gabe: Absolutely. So I work for McKesson Corporation, which is everything healthcare and in today’s world health care is a big topic in the news, with Obamacare going live actually this week. So I’ve been in the Business Intelligence arena for about 15 years. I was a consultant before joining McKesson, so I have a lot of experience in implementation of Business Intelligence tools, methodologies, agile methodologies to increase the use of adoption in big corporations and organizations. More recently, I’ve been very much involved in the ASUG community doing the dashboarding and visualization as a chair, as well as co-chairing the strategic SIG for the BusinessObjects group, taking care of some of the issues that BusinessObjects customers have had with SAP. So I’ve been chairing that as well for the last four years. And as you mentioned, I also wrote the (SAP Press) book on Web Intelligence with a bunch of co-authors, very good friends of mine and had a lot of fun doing that and promoting that for SAP Press. And my day-to-day job is essentially firefighting. I’m a firefighter. You know, taking care of issues – I do a lot of pre-sales in front of a lot of doctors kind of selling mobile BI, understanding what the capabilities are for taking BI to the next level. So that’s kind of the gist of what I do and where I’ve been.
Ken: That sounds like it must keep you very busy. That’s quite a full plate.
Ken: You’re based in Atlanta. Is that where you’re from originally?
Gabe: No, I’m originally from Chile, Santiago – I moved to the States when I was a teenager and lived in Miami for a number of years, then went to Florida State University and then we kind of ended up putting roots here in Atlanta with my wife. Actually, she got a job working for CNN so that’s the reason why we ended up staying here as our home base.
Ken: That’s interesting, and what brought you to the United States when you were a teenager?
Gabe: So I left in the time of the Pinochet era, when there was still a military dictatorship down in Chile, back in 1989 so it’s been quite a while I’ve lived more of my life here in the United States than over in Chile. But essentially my mom had moved to the United States and so I came to live with her.
Ken: Back to a career-related question here, have you always been interested in computers or software and what about business intelligence specifically? I’m curious what peaked your interest in that area, and how did you get involved in the BI space?
Gabe: That’s a great question. Yes, I’ve always been kind of a geeky nerd coming out of high school. When computers first came out of course, everybody was enthralled in this whole idea of getting your computer to work, right? The consumer that was buying these computers, these huge clunkers, and they were actually bringing them to work and taking them home every night, back in the ‘80s. I still remember somebody actually doing that. When I graduated college, there was an explosion of information technology; corporations were spending a lot of money to ramp up their infrastructure. So I came in at a time where kind of the bubble was growing on the IT sector back in ’98. So one of the things that really got me interested is this whole idea of data warehousing and capturing data as information, right? So I graduated Florida State University with an MIS degree – Management Information Systems – which was one of the first degrees back in the ‘90s that actually took business concepts and married them with computer science. Before, those two concepts were kind of separated and people were either a business or a computer science major. But this was kind of the first time where both things kind of came together. And what better way of understanding that than getting into a business intelligence role which was kind of a bridge between the IT and the business; understanding the capabilities of what the business needed and be able to provide an infrastructure and a backend technology to be able to support that. So I fell in love with that whole idea, that’s my passion. I truly believe in this idea of taking information and taking it to the next level for decision-making. The industry’s changing very rapidly, which is kind of cool. We’re kind of maturing from the Kimball approach of data warehousing, to more of an agile analytics or in-memory analytics with HANA. So right now is a pretty special time. After 15 years of being in this industry, things are always changing. It’s very dynamic.
Ken: I’m sure you’ve seen many, many changes over that time. So also, I saw on LinkedIn Gabe, that you belong to the National Society of Hispanic MBA’s. I’m just curious if you can talk a little bit about that; how proud are you in your heritage and what does it mean to you from a professional standpoint?
Gabe: That’s a great question. Usually, Hispanics in general in the United States don’t go into many of the technology fields, and you don’t see many especially in the business intelligence arena. I graduated from my MBA in 2008, and as part of the honors I was able to join the National MBA Society for Hispanic students. So I’m always very involved in the community, especially here in Atlanta, trying to bring up the Hispanic population especially during high school years; to be able to learn that math, to be able to learn that science, so that they can have a broader view of the type of careers that Hispanics can open up and go to college for. In general, we don’t have much of a footprint here in the United States as Hispanics; there’s a lot of Hispanics in the technology field, but more hardware or maybe cloud-based type services. But in my opinion Hispanics bring a unique cultural heritage to the business, to these organizations. Diversity to me is very important, especially on your teams there’s been tons and tons of books written about diversity in your work teams. When you bring somebody from a Hispanic background some of that flavor that the Hispanics bring into the business I think it’s important and we need to foster it more. I wish that 15 years from now we’ll be talking about how Hispanics have gone into this field, because it takes a lot of soft skills to talk to the business, to understand where they’re coming from, to understand their pain. And at the same time be able to translate that into technology and how those technology solutions are going to help that business. But you need to align with the business and you need to have what I call soft skills, be able to collaborate, understand where you’re coming from and create a partnership. And in order to create a partnership you need a relationship. In order to create a relationship you’ve got to understand where the relationships come from. That’s kind of my approach. To me, it’s been of course an asset to be able to speak Spanish, speak Portuguese. I’ve worked in Brazil for a number of years, and so for me to bring this passion of being a Latino in the United States I think it’s important and it’s been very rewarding for me.
Ken: That’s great. And you mentioned talking to young people, and the next generation. I’m curious, overall what advice would you have for all of young people who are interested in breaking into the field. You mentioned soft skills is that some of the top advice you could impart to others?
Gabe: Yes, most definitely. I talk to the Latin America Association here in Atlanta often and volunteer for that organization especially when it relates to high school students. Some of the highest percentage of dropout rates are by Hispanic students from Latin American descent. And that’s a sad number and sad story, at the same time there is hope in the sense that I see a lot of analytical skills coming out of this community, especially here in Atlanta. They’re very technically engaged, and very good. And I always tell them that they have to balance that technical knowledge with the soft skills. To be able to speak very fluently, to be able to engage your community and engage your user community. Plus, there’s another area that I’ve seen personally and I don’t want to equate this to essentially the entire population, but there’s a very artistic way of looking at things. So when you think about visualizations and you think about how people perceive things on a computer monitor or an iPad, the ability to have that artistic way of looking at the world outside the boundaries of mathematics and more into how people perceive data, that’s a very good skill that I think Latinos or Hispanics in general have that ability. Not to say that nobody else does, but I’ve seen that in Hispanic students here in the United States, second and third generation. And I think the reason for that, and I’m not a sociologist so I’m not trying to tell you that this is it, but I think the reason for that is the ability to have a bilingual household that speaks Spanish and English in a very Anglo or American setting. It brings certain levels – the way you speak Spanish here in the United States is different from the way you speak Spanish in Latin America, especially in South America. Whenever I go back to Chile, they say “Oh, you speak Spanish like a Gringo.” And whenever I’m here, they’re like, “Oh, you speak English like a Latin.” So I never belong anywhere pretty much. But having that duality and the dichotomy of that language opens up different ways of looking at things and I think that’s important in business.
Ken: That’s very interesting. Conversely, I’m wondering – you’ve had a fairly long career, is there any piece of advice you’ve been given that really sticks with you as having been very important to you throughout the years?
Gabe: Yes, I’ve had really good mentors throughout my career that have steered me into the path that I’m on today. The number one thing is kind of the Steve Jobs idea that when he died I think it became more globally acceptable this idea of passion. Before, we didn’t talk about passion in that regard. We talked about people that were eloquent, or that were good at their business or were professionals. Today, I think business is changing this idea of passion and passion is actually a good thing. And coming from a Latin background, I use my hands a lot when I talk and so people are like “Oh, you’re very passionate.” And I’m like, “No, I’m just talking.” So one of the things I got very early on in my career was this idea of finding your passion, find what it is that you want to do because then you’re going to do it out of love instead of out of having to get a paycheck every month. So that was my first thing. And then the second thing I really learned very early on how to align with people’s expectations or with people in general and I actually understood the importance of human relationships in our business. People will say the cliché of “Don’t take it personally, it’s business” which I hate because I think it’s the opposite, I think you have to take it personally because it’s business. So that was something that kind of catapulted me to really understanding relationships, to really having good relationships with the people that I work with and be able to take that and take it to the next level to partner up and be able to do great things in the business world.
Ken: You mentioned passion; I’m just curious what you set time for outside of work? Any passions or interests or hobbies you engage in outside of the workday?
Gabe: That’s a great question. My passion always has been my family. I think that playing with my kids, teaching my kids mathematics or doing homework with them, that’s the kind of stuff that keeps me alive on a day-to-day basis. Aside from my family, though, I’ve been rolling my own cigars for about 10 years now and so I’ve picked up that hobby and so to me everything tobacco related in the cigar industry is very neat and so you’ll always see me with a cigar in my mouth I guess.
Ken: Well, that’s interesting. When I see you at an SAPinsider conference, I will come looking for you and ask you for one of those hand-rolled cigars.
Ken: Again, this is Ken Murphy with SAPinsider, and I’ve been speaking with Gabe Orthous for the Path, a series of podcasts at SAPinsider Online where we talk about career backgrounds of people in the SAP ecosystem. Gabe, thanks for joining us.
Gabe: Thank you very much.