Brazil’s broad IT talent pool, high-quality educational institutions and compatible business culture have made it the go-to destination for a New York’s Think International human capital boutique for 15 years now. As demand grows for agile applications development and Big Data solutions, Think’s strategic alliance with Brazilian IT services provider BRQ has proven increasingly valuable, Think co-founder Joanne Diehl told Nearshore Americas.
The result of a merger between the two companies, ThinkBRQ offers IT consulting, application management services, staffing and recruitment solutions. The New York-based firm has over 4,000 professionals working at 12 delivery centers in Brazil, an excellent source of talent first identified by Diehl, who now serves as president of ThinkBRQ.
Nearshore Americas: What led you to start Think International and when did the union with BRQ take place?
Joanne Diehl: I had been in the industry since ’87 and I started out with two pioneers in the international recruitment industry. We’d go abroad to find talent. So my experience from then was of using the globe as a resource pool. I’d already been working in Brazil before starting Think International. That was just the next step for me. I started Think in 1999 and in 2008 (BRQ) purchased a significant portion of Think, so I still own a piece.
NSAM: Had you known BRQ CEO Benjamin Quadros for long before then?
Diehl: I had met him through employees of someone that we recruited from Brazil who was working for BRQ. We were introduced and then after one or two years we did a couple of things together as unofficial partners to make sure that the affinity was there. I felt very good about Benjamin’s philosophy. We shared similar philosophies of how you grow a business in this industry.
NSAM: Where did your interest in Brazil stem from? What made you choose Brazil over other markets?
Diehl: I had recruited literally all over the world in many, many countries throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, everywhere. We started to dabble in South America, in Argentina and Brazil about 18 or 19 years ago … and we found Brazil to have value in scale and there wasn’t much competition at the time so we started growing the business that way. I initially started going to Brazil more to find talent to bring to the States and that was about 18 years ago … before anyone was there. The BRQ partnership was really a natural evolution that worked perfectly. Both companies still have the same clients that we had when we started the firm, on both the US side and the Brazil side. And we’ve grown significantly. I think what Brazil offers is very unique when you compare it to any other country.
NSAM: How has working in Brazil changed since you first started going there?
Diehl: Well as you start to bring the talent in and then you find the balance of clients demand an offshore model for cost savings. The BRQ partnership has proven pivotal in that it was time that we needed to be able to offer on offshore. So we utilized that relationship and their skills and the ability to have visas on offshore so you could bring people in and share employees. So it opened up the door for using the talent in Brazil to keep within both cost savings and visa restrictions and then enable us to bring the talent to the team when we had to. So it really opened the doors for us to nearshore with Brazil. And our clients have been very happy, the number of clients that have utilized that have been very happy. And they use it for a myriad of skills, they use it for nearshore, they use it for local consulting, high-level consulting and project work.
NSAM: What are the main advantages that Brazil offers over other nearshore destinations?
Diehl: Well to go back to scale you’ve got a large talent pool to choose from. For us we’ve got a real niche in that the network we’ve developed from the US to Brazil is very, very strong. So we don’t have to cold call or run ads in Brazil when we have a large-scale project. From the US side it’s about us cherry-picking thebest talent. And they have an incredible training ground, the educational system is excellent and the work environment is something similar (to the US). That helps with the way we work here.
NSAM: What are the biggest risks or drawbacks of working with a Brazilian IT services provider?
Diehl: One of the biggest problems I had was what the government takes in Brazil when you employ people there. So the cost is a factor. And if we’re competing with let’s say India for example, the cost is a little bit higher than it would be in India. However, you’re on the same time zone (as the US) and if the manager in New York picks up the phone it’s as if the employee’s in the next office. I think that’s huge in terms of the client’s team management, that low-level interaction as we’re moving toward a much more agile environment, which is all about communication. I think there’s much more trouble if you’re not dealing with the same time zone.
NSAM: Are most of your clients in financial services and banking or are they evenly spread across other sectors like insurance, retail and government?
Diehl: We’re heavily entrenched in the financial sector. That’s the majority. I grew up in New York in the financial sector. The New York Stock Exchange is my oldest and biggest client. However we do serve other industries as well. The next largest would be telecoms.
NSAM: What factors drive the requirements of your clients? And how have their requirements changed in recent years?
Diehl: That’s a good question. We have to bend to what the clients’ demands are. So we have a flexible model. My philosophy is to build a true partnership with the client. That’s the first and foremost: you have to become a part of the client. You’re a partner, not a vendor. It’s not a formal vendor relationship because that kind of treatment doesn’t work well. So we get to know everyone, we work very closely with what their demands are, whether short-term or long-term. We’ve got a flexible model that works according to what their needs are, if they have any onshore needs that’s fine, if it’s a high-level architectural review we can do that, or if you need someone to come in and do maintenance we can do that … so it’s a very flexible model and the clients’ demands have changed significantly. As I mentioned earlier, the methodology is moving much more toward agile solutions. The whole demand in the New York area has fluctuated very significantly, especially since 2008. Now it’s been fluctuating, there’s a big cost concern and it’s very specific tactical needs that we’re finding. Clients seem much more selective these days.
NSAM: So what kinds of services are most in demand right now?
Diehl: Applications development. There’s big demand now for programmers. And we also have a high demand at a senior-level for very specific, executive technical talent.
NSAM: Can you share with us any plans of ThinkBRQ’s plans for future growth?
Diehl: We’re still looking to keep our place in the financial sector and the telecoms area has grown significantly over the last decade so we’ve got this niche in telecoms mobile computing and that’s a niche we want to continue to grow. In addition, we’re doing more architectural reviews, high-level reviews, and then helping people with architectural plans, and including Big Data, which is a huge trend right now. Many of our clients are looking to move into the framework of Big Data and we’ve done a significant amount in that area. So there’s growth in that area.
NSAM: Do you have any plans to open delivery centers in other parts of Latin America or will it just stay in Brazil?
Diehl: I think we do plan on doing that and we’re actually navigating different locations that we’ve found. We’re waiting for the right timing in terms of our clients’ demands because if we’re going to do this then we’re going to do it long-term.