Maria Luisa Marcano – Ricardo Perez
While the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down the world, it helped accelerate the digital and cultural transformation at Ricardo Perez, S.A., an automotive distributor and dealer based in Central America.
According to Maria Luisa Marcano, since 2014, the company has been reinventing how it interacts with its customers—and its employees. The pandemic simply accelerated the process; it reminded Ricardo Perez, which she says has held an excellent reputation in Panama for more than 65 years, of how imperative employees are to the company’s success.
She adds that the human resources area in particular has been transforming since 2015. By 2018, the company began incorporating technology to enhance HR administrative processes. This included introducing self-service tools for obtaining job confirmation letters, pay stubs, social security records and to easily update personal data.
“A world class time keeping system as well as other self-service tools are part of the initiatives that I’ve led to revolutionize the employee experience,” Marcano says. “Thankfully our corporate and human resources platforms were migrated to the cloud before the pandemic, so we were able to stay active and quickly establish contingency plans.”
Engagement is essential
One of Marcano’s immediate goals was to gauge employee engagement, especially while the operations were shut down. She worked with an external tool to administer digital HR surveys in September 2021. The survey questions covered five areas: Pride, credibility, impartiality, respect and camaraderie.
The digital aspect allowed Marcano to track answers, and she found that more than 89 percent of employees said they felt pride at working at Ricardo Perez—up from under 70 percent in 2018, when she last administered surveys. A similar number felt respect that they were treated fairly, regardless of their age, race, gender and-or sexual preference.
“This past year, 92 percent of our workforce participated in the surveys—a significant jump from 2018, when only around 70 percent participated,” Marcano told Vision.
She partially credits this increase to her support of employees with efforts like improving working conditions and benefits such as collective health and life insurance plans in accordance with market standards. She also implemented a medical surveillance program for risky diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes.
To better appreciate employees, she created recognition programs, which she considers as imperative as providing health benefits.
Marcano held regular meetings with the different departments, helping employees manage their feelings of employment insecurity and other stress related to the pandemic. She also helped ensure proper integration of cybersecurity for those working from home, meditation and even physical work activities. Through her efforts, the virtual learning campus was upgraded based on the latest learning trends to promote workforce self-development.
“Our efforts paid off, and the Corporate Reputation Business Monitor recognized Ricardo Perez as a company with the best labor practices in Panama during the pandemic in the automotive sector and sixth in general ranking across all sectors,” Marcano says.
Locking down a new digital future
Once the lockdowns lifted, Marcano and her team trained on biosecurity protocols and biosafety equipment. They then virtually trained employees and started a campaign to encourage employees to become vaccinated. These courses were taught via Teams and Ricardo Perez’s internal learning platform: Virtual campus.
When speaking with Vision, Marcano said that 80 percent of the employees were vaccinated with two doses, with the company using awareness campaign to reach 100 percent of both doses and the booster.
Also, in response to the pandemic, Ricardo Perez is evaluating the formalization of a hybrid work environment in 2022, with employees coming into the office around twice a week. For her part, Marcano will equitably provide tools for this in the office and those working at home. This includes subsidies for internet costs and ergonomic tools—think comfortable desk chairs—to prevent musculoskeletal disorders.
“We want to put the employee at the center while also focusing on shareholders and ensuring that we are designing guidelines that comply with all the country’s labor and social security laws,” Marcano says.
In conjunction with the hybrid work model, the business will use customer relationship management tools to centralize communications with current and prospective clients. Using the website, e-mail, WhatsApp, texting and phone calls through the call center, the company aims to proactively build customer relationships.
“We’ve also brought in a strategic partner to develop trainings for our Salesforce and sales channel to leverage online platforms and shift towards a digital mindset rather than in-person sales,” says Marcano, who adds that providing digital tools is of little use if employees don’t use them.
All about growth
Throughout her career, Marcano has taken pride in helping employees grow. It allows her to apply what she learned when obtaining her Bachelor in Industrial Relations, Human Resources from Universidad Católica Andrés Bello in 1999.
Even while working full time, she’s continued expanding her knowledge to better help employees. In 2015, she completed a coaching certification; a year later, she completed a change management certification—and is continually updating her knowledge and following hiring and managing trends.
She’s also had a chance apply her skills in different Latin American countries: Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Argentina and Panama. She moved Venezuela to Chile and finally, in 2010, to Panama in for job opportunities. To reconnect with their home and childhood, she and her husband often cook Venezuelan food, which they enjoy with their two children.
She also likes spending some time alone, painting mandalas or gardening.
“I hope through my volunteer coaching and working in corporate environments, I can continue changing mindsets so that business strategies include empowering employees,” Marcano says.
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