This blog was written following a discussion with a UK national newspaper and they asked for information on setting up in a new country.
If it’s hard to compete because of your UK cost base and you’re looking for a new location, how should you decide where to go? Of course, the best answer would be to draw up a list of constraints and scoring criteria before compiling a long list of locations and then systematically scoring them in a matrix and applying an aggregating method to come up with an overall ranking. For our business (Objectivity Ltd), the truth was somewhat different. As Mintzberg says, “strategy can be emergent” and it certainly was with us.
Our company was formed in the early 90s by a dutchman - Rob Helle and an Indian - Susanta Ghosh. Based in Coventry, we delivered bespoke software projects successfully and quickly grew to about 30 people. As we entered the new millennium, UK costs were becoming problematic and after a failed attempt to set up a JV in India, our founder (Rob Helle) met a guy in a bar in London. The guy was from Wroclaw in Poland. Before long, he was singing the praises of the beautiful university city and laying out the reasons why Poland is a great place to do business.
At the time, we didn’t know that Poland is an amazing country. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter with beautiful Christmas markets. It’s in the EU and the people we meet want the same sort of things and live the same sort of lives that we enjoy in the UK. It’s hard to remember sometimes that the country was ruled under a communist ideology until the 90s. People had been hungry and as capitalism took hold, ordinary people realised that education was the key to improving their lot. A new hard working technical elite emerged and they were successful.
It was the early 2000s when we first set foot in Wroclaw and after the serendipitous start, we’d done our homework. Cheap flights from a number of UK airports: Check. University city with a strong technical reputation: Check. Skilled people available with experience in .Net, Java, Business Analysis and Project Management: Check. Relatively low cost of living: Check. Excellent English language skills: Check. Good office space with fast internet connection and reliable services: Check.
Our first Wroclaw office opened quite quickly and we welcomed our first employees soon after.
It was our brave new world. Then the trouble started.
Even though there was a long consultation process for the people in our Coventry office, the fact remained that jobs were at risk. For some of the development team, the prospect of moving into a client facing role was interesting and attractive. They embraced the opportunity. For some, it was not so attractive and they worried that the whole thing could fail. Gradually people found new jobs outside of the company and we started to employ more people in Poland.
I can’t pretend it was easy to get the Polish and UK teams working well together, delivering value for our clients. It was hard. On the surface, it should have been fine but there is huge scope for misunderstanding. Fear and doubt sometimes followed but we knew that it had to work. There were some management changes, some key new recruits and gradually we managed to get on the right path. We tried to be clear with our people and our clients on our overall philosophy. Striving for solutions that are good for all the stakeholders, focussing on people; how to attract, recruit, develop and retain the best we could find. Telling the truth, always; even when it hurts. Delivering excellent work and remaining agile because it’s hard to see what the future holds.
Our right path led to project success. Success breeds success and we started to grow.
The recession knocked us back a bit so we modified our business model to focus more on value for money. Our clients liked it and we grew. And grew.
As we became larger and larger, we became more explicit about the things we believed. Writing it down, running workshops, trying to demonstrate it through our actions. Of course we made mistakes and we will again. But we try.
Over the years many other tech companies came to Wroclaw. The city is host to some of the biggest names in IT: Microsoft, Google, Hewlett Packard, ATOS and IBM to name a few. Many international enterprises have set up their own IT departments. And many more are showing interest in the lovely city.
Today, Poland and Wroclaw continue to be kind to Objectivity. Over the last 10 years we’ve grown by a factor of 10. We have almost 450 on board. Our people are proud to say they work in a values driven business and we came 2nd in the Polish Great Place to Work survey (top IT company up to 500 employees!). With so many global businesses in Wroclaw, the war for talent is relentless. More than half of our people joined the business because they were recommended by someone who already works here. Of the people who do leave, a significant number come back and we welcome them with open arms.
When you’re looking for a new location for your business, of course you should take care of the basics and of course it’s better if your process is structured and methodical. Serendipity can play a part and remember that finding a location that’s good enough is fairly straightforward. The hard work starts when you open the doors.