“We’ve never had an expat run a country operation. We’ve never relocated somebody from the US”, said Raul Vega, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Auxis, a Nearshore outsourcing and consulting firm that has been gaining more and more traction with US clients over the past couple years.
“I don’t believe in the model. I think there’s highly capable people in Latin America, and I don’t need to have someone in the US going down there to operate,” he explained in an interview with NSAM. “I think it can work [hiring expat executives], but I just believe in building the local teams and integrating them. And I think it has worked very effectively.”
Vega is a long-time player in the business of Nearshore outsourcing services. His work began almost 30 years ago, as part of PepsiCo’s Latin American team. He was one of the architects of the company’s global services infrastructure for its operations in the region.
He launched Auxis in 1997, and has been pushing the firm forward ever since. Today, Auxis –headquartered in Florida– has Nearshore delivery centers in Costa Rica and Colombia, from which it has serviced clients in the five continents, though most of their business comes from the US.
Co-Founder, President and CEO at Auxis
- HQ: Fort Lauderdale, FL
- Influential business figures: Juan Figuereo, Bill Pruitt
- Advice: Don’t underestimate value in the Nearshore
Vega’s preference for local executives is but one piece in the larger puzzle of what he considers to be among the main drivers behind Auxis’ success and one of the company’s major challenges throughout its 25-year history: building culture.
“We always felt that, as a professional services firm, your culture is very important, because it’s a people business,” he said. “Driving culture as you grow the organization, and building it across the enterprise, it doesn’t happen overnight […] Building that culture has always been the most challenging thing.”
With almost 30 years of experience as an outsourcing partner, Vega has been a first-hand witness of the industry’s evolution even before terms such as “nearshoring” existed in the business vocabulary. Though there has been considerable change in how the industry operates and its acceptance among potential clients, some of the old stereotypes remain, he said.
That’s where company culture comes into play as part of the sales process, changing clients’ perceptions about the business as a whole and easing up any concerns they might have about letting a foreign company handle part of their operations.
“The service business is not a software business. […] It’s about people and interactions. There are thousands of interactions happening with our clients every day”— Raul Vega, Auxis President, Co-Founder & CEO
Building a culture isn’t easy, however. It can’t be done entirely organically, nor purely by design, Vega pointed out. It requires a careful balance of both approaches and a precise handling of an equation that involves leadership, talent and the clients themselves. In short: it all comes down to people and their interactions.
“My product is my people; my product is how we do things. Urgency and expertise and collaboration and how you handle clients and quality,” he explained. “The service business is not a software business. If I have great software, I have great software. Here it’s about people and interactions. There are thousands of interactions happening with our clients every day; little interactions.”
One Picky Vendor
Although Auxis’ footprint as a vendor extends all over the world, that doesn’t mean they’ll service anybody. One could say, in a way, that they’re quite picky when it comes to their clients.
Auxis is not into the business of “high-volume, transactional clients”, explained Vega. The firm counts multiple Fortune 500 companies among its clientele, but they tend to focus on delivering services for firms with annual revenues between US$500 million and US$ 5 billion, or specific divisions for large global organizations, such as their Latin American or North American operations.
Vega recognizes that the approach can come at the expense of a higher influx of clients. Nevertheless, he explains, the company aims for a quality-over-quantity approach when it comes to its business relationships.
“That’s not our business. We work with clients of a certain size and in terms of how our relationship is going to be. So, by definition, yes, it’s a smaller group of clients, and its a more material relationship between us and the clients,” he said.
“We work with clients of a certain size and in terms of how our relationship is going to be […] Yes, it’s a smaller group of clients, and its a more material relationship between us and the clients”— Raul Vega, Auxis President, Co-Founder & CEO
In the end, it all comes down, once again, to a cultural equation. Auxis aims at developing deep, long-term relationships with clients. The approach comes in handy when delivering projects that involve processes as complex as the technological transformation of entire divisions. The more you know about who you’re servicing, tech choices become easier.
“You can’t try to serve everybody. We try to serve certain sized clients, from certain industries,” commented Vega. “We try to understand their business and then we make tech decisions based with that filter in mind.”
Mind Who You Bring Onboard
“I don’t lose sleep over it,” assured Vega when questioned about the challenges of the tech talent crunch that still keeps a stranglehold on most IT service providers over the world.
The CEO of Auxis recognizes that the supply of talent should concern anybody working in tech right now. Nevertheless, he trusts that there’s enough quality talent available in the Nearshore and believes that his company will be able to attract the top crop. The tricky part is letting the right talent on board.
“As I grow the company and I add more people, the trick is maintaining the quality of service and the focus on the client, the way we do things with more and more new people coming onboard, and making sure we’re scaling in a way that we can maintain the quality of our service. To me, that’s the bigger issue,” he said.
“If you bring an expat and you treat him as an expat, it creates a division”— Raul Vega, Auxis President, Co-Founder & CEO
Auxis has grown quite thorough in their hiring processes, assured Vega. From databases, prospect profiles and robust interviewing proceedings, the company takes recruitment quite seriously.
“We basically have a recruiting organization within our organization. Talent attraction and development is at the heart of our business,” he said.
Ideally, the company hopes to attract and retain talent that’s energized by a combination of intellectually challenging work but that also enjoys the entrepreneurial aspects of it. And when it comes to leadership, they try to avoid what Vega described as “El Jefe Syndrome”, a hierarchical structure that can become too rigid and affect operations and overall company culture. That’s another reason why they don’t put US expats in charge.
“If you bring an expat and you treat him as an expat, it creates a division,” he explained.
A Very Latin Company
Of Cuban and Spanish descent, Raul Vega thinks of himself as a third-generation “professional immigrant”. His grandfather moved from Spain to Cuba, and from Cuba to the US once the Revolution exploded in the island. His father also made the jump from Cuba to US shores. Both made a life out of entrepreneurship, and he’s following on that tradition, adapting it to an age of high-technology and global delivery of services.
Vega considers his heritage to be an important part of Auxis’ corporate DNA and one of the most important tools in its success as a provider of Nearshore outsourcing services. With a mostly bicultural leadership, building relationships between Latin American teams and the US clients comes easier.
“We’re very Latin. If you look at my leadership team, probably in the entire company there may be 3% of people that are not bilingual English-Spanish; and not just language, but culturally,” he said. “We have Cubans, we have Mexicans, we have Venezuelans, we have Colombians, you name it. That’s very important. We have a very blended culture.”
As such, and due to his long experience with the territory as an outsourcing partner, Auxis’ CEO holds a lot of trust in the Nearshore’s potential and advises others to give the region a chance.
“Don’t think this is a place where you do low value work. There’s a lot of really smart people, with a strong work ethic, and they can do a lot of high value work,” he said. “Don’t look at us like butts-in-seats who do low value work, because you’re missing the boat and the value that can really be brought up to the table.”