Francisco Cuadrado: “Santillana is no longer a content company, it provides comprehensive solutions to schools” | Business

Francisco Cuadrado (Madrid, 56 years old) has been in Santillana for three decades, where he has been president for eleven months. He was appointed in July 2021, at the same time that he took up a position as executive director at PRISA (the editorial group of EL PAIS). With a whole working life in the educational field and in Latin America, he commands the new stage that Santillana inaugurated after selling Santillana Spain to the Finnish group Sanoma. The interview takes place on Madrid’s Gran Vía, at PRISA’s corporate headquarters, but the traditional landscape is not misleading: “We are a Latin American company,” says Cuadrado, who speaks for an hour about the challenges facing the sector and the company, focused on the digitization of education and the transformation to the subscription model.

Ask. You have been in the sector for 30 years, how much has education changed in that time?

Response. The big change is starting to happen now. Education has had a very stable model for a very long time with the physical school model and textbooks. Of course, there have been improvements in the form of these pedagogical models, but I believe that the great revolution is coming to school education. [desde infantil hasta bachillerato]. Technology has changed things a lot. It is the revolution of the coming years: start using data to improve educational processes. Teachers are going to spend more time analyzing what is happening with their students, where they have a problem, than correcting tests as before. And the pandemic is clearly an accelerator in an environment that was struggling to move.

P. And how has Santillana changed?

R. If you did a historical analysis, you would say that we have a content company, which is what we have done all our lives. We are no longer a content company. Right now what we provide are comprehensive and integrated solutions to the school. Today we have technology, we have content, we have training, we have evaluation, we have data, we have a lot of information to transform…

P. How many different products does an educational company offer today?

R. I would insist on comprehensive solutions. The technology at the beginning brought very disjointed elements. You received different tools from the digital world that were useful, I’m not saying no, but what the school is now demanding are more comprehensive solutions. You have different pedagogies depending on what schools are looking for. So, we are having an open catalog, which is no longer a catalog of different subjects, but of different solutions for what a school wants and what families choose.

P. And what role does data play in those solutions?

R. Of course we are using the big data to do much improvement of education. We have a whole digital footprint per student and the great challenge, on which we are working, is what these data can allow you. For example, see the great learning problems. Historically one knew if the exercise went well or not, and now you know in which part of the process the student has had a problem. So far we have talked about the data curricular, but we have some projects, which with the pandemic are in great demand, which are the socio-emotional ones. There are tools that let you know which students have an integration problem and help them. And the data allows us, as a company, to be more efficient. But I also think we are in an early phase. We are going to make a much stronger leap in the coming years.

P. How do you see education in the next few years?

R. Increasingly closer to the needs of the student. It will allow him to recognize what he is doing, even to discover her vocations in advance. If someone wants to do robotics, there are robotics proposals. Another very important example for Latin America is learning English. Asia has made a great effort in recent decades and Latin America has that challenge. Young people today are at home with YouTube, they are playing video games with those who speak English… Things that we used to have very structured, such as curricular learning, have become an element that occurs anywhere and in any moment. The challenge is not only to pass a subject, or get a good grade, but to master the language and improve the social and economic conditions for a continent.

P. And will textbooks disappear?

R. The paper, and there are studies that are endorsing it, still has a value and has a pedagogical utility. We are going to go increasingly to more digital models, I have no doubt, but we are going to follow a hybrid model. We need all schools to be connected and just any connection is not enough. The solutions we give to Latin America are in two versions: on-line Y offline, on the school servers. If 5G is a revolution as they are saying, there is possibly going to be a revolution in schools.

P. Why did Santillana decide to leave Spain?

R. We sold Santillana Spain at the end of 2020 to the Finnish company Sanoma, one of the leaders in Europe. We saw that our focus was to go to a market like Latin America, where the project could run in a fairly homogeneous way. The Spanish market is a market in which we did not see a growth rate. There is strong regulation. The most disruptive technological projects that we are doing, we could not do it here because that regulation prevented us from doing it. Our focus was a growing market, which is Latin America.

P. There his position is very different…

R. I believe that we are the only relevant player in 19 countries in Latin America, with a very important presence in Brazil, which is the most significant market for us. We have many synergies of operations, technological tools, even the use of some content. And in parallel very interesting things begin to take place. The traditional school has been transformed into different needs and we want to be in the new needs. In addition, we do not rule out reaching out to families as well.

P. And do you plan to enter new markets?

R. We have a plan until 2025, which we presented to the market two months ago, very focused on the Latin American environment. It seems to us a market where we can attack with personalized projects, but more homogeneous. We also want to grow with some inorganic incorporation that reinforces this for us. The geographical setting we see in the next four years is Latin America. It is true that we are also going to start seeing things in the future.

P. And can you specify what things?

R. It’s still early to talk about that. All of this will depend on technological evolution, the treatment of big datain agreements with other companies… Today what we have is a focus until 2025.

P. How do you work from Spain for Latin America?

R. We are in Latin America. We are 3,348 people and in Spain we have a small back office that gives service to the corporate, but there are about 40 people. We are a Latin American company that lives in Latin America, our teams are Latin American. We are not a Spanish company, we are a Latin American company with an investor owner, which is PRISA, who is Spanish and European. But we are 100% Latin Americans.

P. Why do you divide the company operationally between the public and private markets?

R. There is a division from a pure business point of view. The public market has certain regulations: the governments issue curricula that have to pass the approvals of the materials and from there there is a commercial promotion job. The private market, which is our main focus of growth, has completely different rates. It represents 60-70% of our turnover and I think that in the next five years it will easily represent 80-85%. In that private market there is clearly a spirit of transformation, it is more open to the proposals we make.

P. In that market, its strategic plan contemplates reaching 3.4 million students on-line In 2025, where will that growth come from?

R. We have the accessible market. We manage more or less 18 million students in Latin America in the private market, of which eight million are in Brazil. The more traditional schools are going to subscription models and our big step is in that transformation. We said that last year we had 2 million students on-line and in the next campaign for schools in the southern hemisphere, those that start the school year in January or February, we are already talking about 2.5 million. We have no doubt that this challenge in 2025 is more than achievable.

P. And outside of school how do you plan to grow?

R. We have a plan for each student to use more than one subscription with us. Our idea is to have 5 million subscriptions in 2025. It is not a minor issue to have 1.5 million subscriptions with other types of proposals that go beyond what is the curriculum and will cover other needs. They are not projects that are being designed, we already have them in the catalogue. And then there is an element for which we are prepared, but it does not depend on us: technology and digitization must also enter public schools. We are ready and eager for a jump to take place there. It is also a very strong opportunity for the group.

P. Are there plans to list Santillana separately?

R. We have a plan that is, in the coming years, to put the company in the numbers that we have said and in the concept that we want. We are going to be a more digital company, we are going to receive more and more data and we are going to have those 3.4 million students who are going to buy us 5 million subscriptions. Regarding that company, the group has to think about what it wants to do in three or four years, but because it will have another value. Today our work, our focus, is to put the company in those important growths and be between 450 and 550 million euros of turnover.

P. By 2030, they promise to be carbon neutral. How are they going to make it?

R. We are going to digitize more and more and therefore paper is going to decrease. In addition, everything that we are going to work on paper is going to be approved. The challenge is for 2030 and, for sure, I don’t know if it can be said, but I think we will achieve it sooner. There is another factor. All the educational projects that we are going to develop will have transversal axes to provide tools and raise awareness of all the elements of sustainability. I value that as much as zero footprint projects. It seems to us that we have an additional responsibility as an educational company.

P. What threats does the sector face?

R. When the technological disruption arrived, they told us: “How are you going to stay the most traditional?”. We have been able to transform ourselves. Now it is said that there startup that they are being disruptive and it is true. Obviously they can take away some piece of that market, but at the same time they are in the same line as us. I feel comfortable having a competition that is also transformative. And the clouds always exist. Latin America is a place that many people see as convulsive. I am a great optimist of Latin America. Right now it is the continent where we have to be and where we have been for a long time and we know how to interpret it. The difficulties are those of a business in transformation where things can happen. The metaverse is there and it will affect education for sure.

P. And are you already preparing for that metaverse?

R. Like many of the industries, now what we are doing is some tests. What we are seeing is what is happening and where it is going. And what we do see clearly is that if the metaverse advances what it seems, it is a very important change for education. This opens up tremendous possibilities for us. If the metaverse is consolidated in education, we are going to be a player in that matter. We have that absolutely decided and clear.

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