All the Planets in a Row

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I WAS born in Cuba, and I was 2 when my parents brought me to the United States in 1962 with my baby brother, Jorge.

We passed through the Freedom Tower, an assistance center in Miami for Cuban refugees, and a year later a religious group, the Damas Catolicas, moved us to Dallas and helped my mom find work as a nurse. My dad, who had a fifth-grade education, was a mechanic. My mother would work the evening shift at a hospital, often followed by the night shift, and my dad would work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. so that one of them could be home with us.

We couldn't afford laundry detergent, so my mom used gasoline to clean our clothes. One day she was using a space heater at the same time. We knew nothing about the danger. The gas caught fire, and my mom and brother were burned. They still have a few scars.

My parents eventually bought a house, but they divorced when I was 9 and my mother moved back to Miami with Jorge and me. In high school I worked in a hospital lab after classes as part of a research program. I won a community science award and several science fair awards as a result of what I learned. On the weekends, I apprenticed as a machinist in my uncle's production shop, which sparked my interest in engineering. I was high school valedictorian and attended the University of Miami for a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering, graduating in 1983.

In 1984, I started at Florida Power and Light in an entry-level engineering position. One of my responsibilities was to put into practice the business process improvement techniques of W. Edwards Deming. My training for that led to my moving to the company's call centers, and within six years I was managing the largest one.

In 1994, I moved to MCI Telecommunications. By the time I left, two years later, I'd risen to regional director of the customer service support division.

I was a vice president for the customer care call centers at ADT in 1997, the year it was acquired by Tyco, and the next year I served as president for another home security company.

A headhunter called about a position at Dell as director of its consumer sales operation. Because it was an international company, the job would mean that I could leverage my bilingual skills and learn more about the global marketplace. I accepted, and by 2003 was promoted to vice president of the international services division.

I had been planning to take a sabbatical for quite a while, or perhaps start my own business, and the planets aligned when there was a reorganization at Dell. I left the company in 2006 and my wife, Alicia, and I sailed around the Bahamas and explored the islands on our 43-foot sailboat. We also started fixing and selling homes in Key Largo, where we now live part of the time.

In 2009, another headhunter called about the position of chief operating officer at Sitel. When I was considering whether to take the job, I asked one of the company's major investors what winning looked like to him. He described it as having someone help him build a company he could be proud of. That response persuaded me to take the job. In 2010, I was appointed president and, in 2011, C.E.O.

While on sabbatical, I mentored former colleagues who asked for advice. My wife said my eyes would light up whenever I talked to them -- a sign to both of us that I wanted to get back in the game. People talk about passion, focus, balance and making a difference as the definition of success. I feel as if the planets are aligned for me again.

As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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