Miguel Mier began his career at Cinépolis straight out of college, in 1994, joining the circuit at a time when it was still a family-owned company in Mexico. The timing was fortuitous. The start of Mier’s tenure coincided with the entry of multinational circuits into the Latin American exhibition market, creating a dynamic competitive balance that also saw the introduction of the multiplex in communities across the region.
Mier’s role at Cinépolis grew as the circuit established itself in its domestic market and began to look at expansion opportunities abroad. He oversaw the launch of the company’s international operations in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Panama before a stopover at Stanford University to pursue a business degree in 2006. He emerged from Stanford with a business plan that Cinépolis would use as the blueprint for further expansion to India, Brazil, Chile, Spain, the Middle East, and the United States. In 2014 he was appointed as a nonfamily board member of the company. Today, the circuit comprises 6,694 screens in 19 countries across four continents.
Boxoffice Pro spoke with Mier ahead of ShowEast about his long career.
You’ve been at Cinépolis for nearly three decades. How has the company changed since you began your tenure?
I joined the company in 1994. I was 21 years old and just getting out of college; it was my first job—to manage the technology within Cinépolis during a time when there was pretty much no technology at all. Back then we were a regional Mexican company, family owned, privately held. In the years since I joined, we’ve evolved from a company of 320 screens in a region of Mexico to 6,700 screens in 19 countries across four continents. The company has enjoyed 50 years of history, growth, and discipline by always putting the consumer at the center of our decisions.
That has been the DNA that has made us innovators within the industry. We were the first in bringing stadium seating and Imax to Latin America. We introduced VIP auditoriums well before other, more developed markets. We were the first to live stream soccer games in our auditoriums. The first to sell reserved seating tickets via our app, something we’ve been doing for over a decade. We like to think of ourselves as innovators, in spite of our industry being 120 years old and maybe not considered as particularly innovative. We’ve grown thanks to bringing innovations to our customers.
Part of that growth has been the international expansion you mentioned. That includes two markets that are notoriously difficult for any foreign player to gain a foothold in: India and Brazil. What was different about the Cinépolis approach that has allowed it to enter those markets and maintain a leadership position there?
I came back from Stanford in 2007 with an expansion plan for Cinépolis to enter India. I presented the idea to the board, they accepted, and today we’re the third-largest multiplex circuit in the country.
It was a year of developing the business plan and doing research in the Stanford–Silicon Valley community, where there are a lot of Indian academics who love movies. Their input was really helpful. When talking about both markets, we were able to build an amazingly talented local team in each of those countries. We knew what we were trying to accomplish and the skills that were required to do that. At the same time, we were hands off enough to source a talent pool with the right skill set from each local market. It has always been about building a very strong local team. Those are the two ingredients that helped us in India. We did a similar analysis in Brazil—shorter, faster, but with the same framework.
As you look back on your tenure at Cinépolis, what have been the biggest achievements and the biggest challenges?
I would start with the latter: Covid has been, by far, the biggest challenge our industry has ever seen. I never expected to deal with a crisis as deep as Covid. But we strongly believe that our industry will recover. We don’t have a doubt about it.
In terms of the successes that we have reached, I would list our international expansion. In order to get there, we first had to be really good in our domestic market. Paraphrasing Stephen Hawking, our brief history of time in the industry would start in the mid-’90s, when Latin America opened up to international exhibitors jumping into the market. It was a tectonic shift in the competitive landscape of the exhibition business in Latin America, and many local companies died in the evolution process. Some, like ourselves, were able to rise to the challenge.
In Mexico, during the mid-’90s, four large, multinational circuits entered the market. At that time there were many local and regional circuits. Some of those players are no longer in business. Those of us that prevailed were able to not only be competitive in our homeland, on our own turf, but also when going out and expanding those capabilities that we built through the decade that ran from the mid-’90s to the mid-2000s. Once we established ourselves within the Mexican market, we started expanding to Central America and to the northern half of South America. Then came the big leaps: Brazil, Spain, India, and the Middle East. That international expansion is what I say stands out as the most relevant achievement for Cinépolis over the last three decades.
We’ve been able to accomplish this through a very disciplined, conservative financial management that has allowed us to grow without being heavily leveraged. It has given us enough resources and confidence to strongly believe we have a solid future ahead of us.