Steve Smith adapts to leading a global business at Plus Consulting

Smith would take more time to understand cultural differences before another international acquisition. For example, a handful of Plus’ customers operate in Australia, so Smith admits he should have leveraged those relationships to learn what it’s like to do business there.

“I’d have a more intelligent set of questions to ask people now in hindsight,” he says.

That’s what happened with a Brazilian company.

“We listened to my own preaching on doing the research, so we did extensive research of what the culture of business was like in South America,” Smith says. “As a result of that, we decided for our business model at Plus, we could not make it worthwhile in a financially viable way and so we passed on the acquisition. Not because the acquisition on paper didn’t make sense, it’s because the long-term impact of the business culture would have made it difficult for our business model to work within South America.”

Investing in relationships

Within the U.S., Plus’ geographically dispersed team comes together annually in the spring. Smith considers it money well spent. Internationally, he tries to bring the leadership together and U.S.-based leaders go to Australia four or five times a year.

“Those are investments you have to make in order to make it all work,” Smith says. “It’s expensive. Flights are expensive. Travel is expensive. The time to get there is expensive. Those are all things you need to plan for.”

Plus has been growing about 20 percent year over year. The growth has come from business development, a handful of acquisitions and investing in partnerships. The company has people dedicated to solely managing certain relationships.

“Every company you partner with, they have their own way of doing things and we need to adapt and blend with it as best as we can,” Smith says.

Plus focuses on the long term, what Smith calls the “get rich slow” method. With regards to sales, he wants people to either call Plus first or already be familiar with the company.

“It’s investing in our community and working hard to be viewed as thought leaders,” he says.

Plus creates networks like the Greater Pittsburgh CIO Group, which consists of CIOs and IT professionals, both customers and noncustomers. Plus doesn’t use this to sell; instead it builds trusted relationships, a good reputation and learns about industry trends and challenges.

It takes decades to build networks and is difficult to do internationally or in areas where a company has fewer people.

“In Australia, our partnerships get a lot more of our focus and attention,” Smith says.

Employees focus on the Microsoft and Infor relationships, not being community thought leaders.

“You need to have a certain breadth and depth in terms of human capital in a geographic location in order to have a legitimate impact of being viewed as thought leaders,” Smith says.