Steve Smith adapts to leading a global business at Plus Consulting

 

Plus Consulting was no stranger to international work, but it didn’t add a foreign office until a 2014 acquisition.

The Microsoft National Solution Provider has offered technology consulting services for 18 years. Plus also customizes Microsoft, Salesforce, Infor and SugarCRM customer relationship management products, and has a security and strategy consulting practice.

Many of the 125 employees are in Pittsburgh, but its North American customers often work around the globe.

CEO Steve Smith says Plus even consulted for the Macau gaming industry — setting up a legal entity there — before changing Chinese government policies choked off that business line.

“In an international situation, there are things that are beyond Plus Consulting’s control. It’s difficult for us to even stay on top of what’s happening and why it’s happening,” Smith says.

Today, the technology consultant has about 50 customers in Australia and New Zealand through its Melbourne office. Smith says one-fifth of the revenue is tied to Australia. Even more impressively, its profits are on par with the North American profits.

Culture is king

From the start, Smith expected time zones to be a challenge.

“You need to have great leadership built into your business plan cost model from day one, in order to be able to have a life,” he says.

For the first two years, Smith or another leader would be on the phone every night. Now, strong Australian leadership requires less U.S. management.

Another lesson learned was the challenges of currency fluctuation. An international acquisition might be worth 80 cents in local currency to one U.S. dollar at the time of sale, but when it’s time to repatriate profits, that disparity could have increased.

“Everybody in the banking industry can do banking within a country; not all banks are equal when it comes to doing international banking,” Smith says.

He thought all banks could electronically convert currency in a millisecond. Instead, Plus had to change banks in Australia twice.

What Smith truly underestimated, however, were the cultural differences, even in an English-speaking country. Australians are consummate professionals who work hard and dress much better than Americans, but some differences require planning.

In the U.S., 40 hours is typical. Smith says the typical Australian’s workweek is in the low or mid 30s and company hours must include room for things like filling out timesheets.

Americans rarely take more than two weeks off, but with Australia’s history of the “walkabout,” workers may take large chunks of vacation.

“They have no professional qualms with taking every drop of vacation all at once and leave for a month at a time,” he says.
Smith says it’s also strangely common for long-term employees to quit for six months or a year to attend to another aspect of their life.

“So, we need to plan for the possibility of someone coming back, maybe, in a year,” he says.