Sunday, March 3, 2024

Profile | IBM bright boy returns and makes his presence felt in PH

By Edd K. Usman

The year was 1980 and the family of a 12-year-old native of Davao City was about to migrate to the United States. Although he was ecstatic to travel, he had no idea of what was in store for him in America.

IBM Philippines country manager Luis Pineda
IBM Philippines country manager Luis Pineda

But little did he know that in just three decades and four years later, he would be returning to his native country as head one of the world’s largest tech companies.

That boy, Luisito ?Luis? Pineda, who is due for his golden summer in 2017, is the president and country general manager of IBM Philippines since 2014.

As a young lad, he was clueless of his future but nonetheless excited about his journey to the land he knew only through movies he watched and one that mesmerized him before his teen years.

Did he have any apprehension or hesitation about traveling to the US, practically an alien land to him?

“No,” Pineda recalls, “at 12 years old, you know what to expect. I only knew the United States from the movies, and it is always beautiful with the movies, right?”

“So, we were very excited, my brother (Bom) and I. We were, you know, jumping up and down, pumped up to go to the United States.”

Pineda, the first born, was in a white polo barong, smiling, his eyes lighting up the small room during the interview for this story in his new office at One World Place in Bonifacio Global City at Taguig City.

Tough community

As most newly arrived families, they did have a “few days of honeymoon period” in the US. But reality check soon followed.

“You know, I had to go to school where I was the only Asian kid. That was the start of reality,” he fondly recollects his early days at the Washington Middle School in Seattle, Washington.

At the time they arrived, he said, the US in the 1980s had a busing program. “It was a program to help integrate boys from the black neighborhood with the white boys and the whites with the blacks,” he narrates.

“I was a recipient of that program when I came to the United States, so I was bused to an all-black school. And you can imagine, I was not just the only Asian, I was a new immigrant!” Pineda exclaims.

He was in Grade 7 and it was the time when Bruce Lee movies were in theaters. ?Being from Asia, everyone thought you were a ?Bruce Lee,?? he says.

“They challenged me. That’s how I learned how to fight, how I really learned to defend myself, especially with bullies,” he remembers.

“I was in fist fights almost every week. I was quickly put in a challenging environment at such a young age. Fortunately, I overcame that,” he adds.

Looking back, Pineda said his experience as a 12-year- old new immigrant with school toughies in a black community sharpened his will and survival skills.

Coming to the US

Pineda said his father decided to try his luck and immigrated to the US after getting a visa, as the US was then luring professionals to come to the Land of Opportunity.

Both his father and mother — Librado or Levy and Zenaida or Nedy — were bankers and had more than enough for a four-member family.

In fact, the Pineda couple was quite well-off in Davao and did not have to seek greener pastures in a faraway land.

“They both have really good jobs and had businesses on the side, as well. So, we had a really good life,” the IBM executive says.

What made his father decide to explore life in America was the situation in Davao, which was then rife with violence.

He said Davao was like the “Wild West” then, often disrupted by ?bombings and there were killings everywhere… a problematic place at the time.”

“It’s much different today, much peaceful than those days. But, you know, they (his parents) sought a better future for their kids,” he emphasizes, noting that his father deemed that the environment was not the right place to raise his two children.

His father came to the US first, settling in Seattle. The senior Pineda liked what he saw, prompting him to get his wife and two children soon after. Before that, he went to Alaska and made some money from fishing.

His parents and brother still live in the US today.

In college, he took up pre-med courses because his parents wanted him to be a doctor. He was not comfortable with the program so he shifted to pre-dentistry.

“I was not passionate about (medicine),” he adds. Unfortunately, he also did not like dentistry.

Tipping point

But as destiny would have it, the young Pineda, at last, found his love.

“And then I got closer to what I wanted when I changed from pre-dentistry to electrical engineering course,” he says, adding he found the engineering profession “really fascinating, interesting, and it caught my attention.”

Still at that period in his life, he said he was not yet sure of what he wanted to do after college.

When he was a junior college student at the University of Washington, an opportunity came in the form of an internship at tech giant IBM. His life would never be the same again.

Once the gate was opened to him, Pineda took to technology like a fish takes to water. Today, at IBM Philippines, he is still swimming in the digital ocean full of waves of innovations.

He had to move to Kingston, New York for his internship with IBM where he did a combination of computer science and electrical engineering work. There, he co-wrote an error detection and error correction software for a hardware system used to design airplanes, among others.

“I really discovered my love for writing software for programming. I found that I was very good at it,” he adds.

In high school, he said he had an Apple 2, Commodore, and Texas Instruments computers. “I discovered that I really like computers and it was not hard for me to learn.”

Luis with wife Patricia with their three kids. Photo credit: Facebook page of Luis Pineda
Luis with wife Patricia with their three kids. Photo credit: Facebook page of Luis Pineda

Productive years

His internship position with IBM “really uncovered my talent.” So, he found himself co-writing half of the software of the product, Catia Aero Detection System, which is still being used by aircraft maker Boeing.

After his internship, he changed his major to computer programming. Upon graduation in 1991, IBM came knocking again and offered Pineda a job in six different locations.

The young graduate opted to change environment, so he accepted the post at IBM Sta. Theresa Labs (now Silicon Valley) in San Francisco, California. At Sta. Theresa Labs, Pineda’s first job was testing an information model.

As an IBM intern, he credited two of his superiors, Frank Norris and Peter Beasas, a chess grandmaster, for his quick learning process in the company.

He said he was very fortunate to have started his career at IBM with his mentors nurturing his talents, giving him valuable advice.

“The thing that catapulted my career was that within three months of starting in IBM, I invented a product called a Repository Manager Work Bench,” he says.

Pineda said he and his team completed it in just six months, a far cry from the usual at least a year product completion cycle.

“That really gave a lot of acclaim and great rewards, financially as well for the company,” says Pineda. “They gave me a big chunk of the proceeds.”

To make a long story short, his IBM journey soon took off in dizzying speed. He also started after six years what he called an IBM “services software franchise” modeled after the McDonald’s fast food chain, where he worked in many various positions as a young immigrant.

“In McDonald’s everywhere in the world, you get the same kind of hamburger,” he says.

In simple words, he meant the fast-food chain has institutionalized its processes in every location and that he wanted that to be done at IBM, putting into science every process of creating products and adopted in every IBM location around the globe.

Using that ?services software franchise? model, he then put up offshore delivery centers in China with a $2-million budget. He adopted the same tack in India, Belarus, Egypt, Jordan, Latvia, and Russia, delivering complex enterprise solutions to clients around the world.

He was so successful in creating innovations even while employed as an IBM employee that he managed to buy and fly his own airplane. Yes, he is also a licensed pilot.

While busy racking up these achievements, he still found time to court and eventually marry a Filipina nurse, Patricia, who has given him three adorable kids ? two boys and a girl.

Despite his crazy schedule, Pineda has also dabbled in triathlon events to stay fit.

Home calling

In 2014, what he never expected nor wished for happened: He was appointed to head IBM Philippines, replacing fellow balikbayan and Davao native Mariels Almeda-Winhoffer.

Before being tapped to lead IBM?s local subsidiary, he was vice president for client support and success for industry cloud solutions at IBM Software Group.

So far, he is relishing his return to the country of his birth.

“We are such a good place, the Filipinos and the Philippines. We need to take advantage of the opportunity. We need to take advantage of it by becoming more competitive, taking advantage of technology to provide us competitiveness, not only for our business but also for the individuals.

Saying “the future is bright,” Pineda adds that the Philippines should not only be a consumer of technology, but a producer of technology, too.

Of all the myriad accomplishments of IBM Philippines, he considers “being essential to our clients, our country, our people and our business” at the top of the heap.

He said the company has successfully ushered its clients in the Philippines to the ?Cognitive Era,? enabling and delivering solutions based on the cloud, analytics, mobile, social, and security.

?When IBM talks about ?the workforce of the future,? we make sure we are walking the talk. We are employing design-thinking and agile methodology in the way we work,? he asserts.

He also takes pride in the fact that the Philippines is one of the first to implement IBM?s partnership with the Peace Corps through the Corporate Service Corps where top talents from IBM share their expertise to various organizations in emerging markets.

The latest batch of volunteers recently worked with the International Rice for Research Institute (IRRI) and Southeast Asia Regional Center for Graduate Studies and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), two global organizations based in the Philippines.

As for the company?s business in the country, Pineda says that ?with its continued growth, IBM Philippines has maintained being a bright spot in Asia Pacific.?

For someone who is now halfway of a usual four-year term as country manager, Luis Pineda is certainly happy that he has returned to contribute to the place he once ? or still — called home.

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