Winning and delighting customers while growing a business on an international scale is as exciting as it is complex. I was appointed the Vice President of International for Pure Storage in February of this year, following a lengthy period focused on understanding and exploring the strategic growth opportunities in Latin America (LATAM), Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), as well as Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ). Some markets were more established than others, and there was the added complexity of varying time zones, upscaling teams, and building relationships within different business cultures. Several months later, I wanted to reflect on my learnings so far, from the contrasting challenges faced by customers in different parts of the world, hiring at scale, to understanding how the Italians like to do coffee meetings!
We took a strategic view of the existing regions, considering routes to market, our customers, and various approaches to growth.
APJ as a region encompasses a number of very large, but very different economies. This includes Australia, Japan and Korea, as well as smaller but by no means insignificant economies of Taiwan, Indonesia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand. All of which need focused attention, ensuring that we continue to structure our business in a way that establishes and nurtures key customer relationships in each country.
We’ve recently marked our sixth year of operations in APJ with the opening of a new Tokyo office, expanding our team footprint by three times in Japan and building on our momentum in the region. A significant partnership with Fujitsu Cloud Technologies as Pure’s first Managed Service Provider in the region will boost our success rate in the market. We’ve also increased our senior headcount in APJ significantly, welcoming Andrew Fisher as VP for Channels and Alliances and Andrew Sotiropoulos, VP for Asean, Greater China and Korea. We also beefed up our technical leadership by appointing Mark Jobbins as Field CTO for core countries in APJ, partnering him with Matt Oostveen. As well as this, we’ve celebrated some fantastic customer wins, including Kuhene and Nagel, Kensington Swan, ConsMin, and DENSO IT.
EMEA as a region also encompasses a combination of established and emerging markets. We are increasing our footprint with a larger office in Paris, and plans for a new office in Munich. We have announced key customer wins, including the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG) in Spain, Clouditalia in Italy, airline HOP! in France, and diaconal organisation Zieglerschen in Germany. In recognition of our success in the region, we have celebrated a raft of award wins so far this year, including Best Data Management Product or Service at the UK Cloud Awards, and AI Technology Provider of the Year (products) at the Computing AI and Machine Learning Awards. In addition, Gary Matson, our director of Channel Sales for EMEA and Core Markets, has been shortlisted for the CRN Channel Chief Award. What is especially near and dear to my heart is the Pure culture, and it is ever strong in EMEA. A special mention goes out to the contingent of cyclists from across the globe who made a four-day bike ride from Carcassonne, France, all the way to Barcelona, Spain, in September. The group raised thousands of pounds for charity and showed real camaraderie throughout the journey.
Last but not least, business in booming in LATAM! we have seen continuous success with customers in a plethora of business sectors including Carozzi (food processing), Novis (hosting and application management), Veracel (manufacturing) and PayGroup (financial services) to name just a few.
Rising to the Challenge
Of course, the upscaling and hiring associated with such significant international growth presents challenges as new teams get established and begin to work cohesively against the backdrop of multiple time zones. I like to refer to Tuckman’s “forming-storming-norming- performing” model – which is an incredibly accurate depiction of what it’s like establishing a business internationally. Having a committed and talented team like our Puritans definitely makes that process easier.
Success across multiple markets doesn’t happen without concerted time investment, and a willingness to be visible and present. I have a genuine passion for getting to know teams and customers in the various markets, and for understanding how our partners want to do business. Each visit or interaction has been important for nurturing key relationships, building a better understanding of culture and how this impacts business operations.
Maintaining such commitment to relationship building means a fairly packed schedule, but you must make time for communication across multi-market teams. That communication must be fluid and regular, helping local market teams make autonomous decisions and feel supported and empowered.
Understanding Local Cultures and Global Etiquette
I’ve quickly learned what an effective meeting looks like in the various markets. In Italy, it is traditional to go for an early breakfast and have a small corto (a very short espresso) and two mini pastries, while you stand and have an informal but focused discussion. On the other end of the scale you have Japan, where it can help strengthen business relationships by going for an after-work drink or dinner with partners and customers – sometimes until the early hours of the morning!
I don’t claim to be an expert on all these global nuances, but it is so important to immerse yourself in how things are done locally and be sensitive to important traditions. For example, when dealing with customers in the Middle East, you’ll need to be available on Sundays because that’s a working day for them. In Japan, once a meeting is finished, both parties bow respectfully to each other for around 30 seconds before going their separate ways. In France, I’ve learned that goals tend to be modest, and I often reflect that by being more conservative in my approach. In Australia, working style tends to be quite relaxed, but there’s a definite tenacity when pursuing key points or objectives. I’m still learning new things about all of our international markets each time I visit.
The most significant learning has been around the importance of empowering teams to make localised decisions. I quickly realised how difficult it is to run regions which are isolated from the mothership. Teams on the ground are the ones maintaining and establishing partner and customer relationships, so it’s critical that they feel they have the right level of authority and autonomy. It really is vital to invest a lot of time in getting to know the people and processes across the globe, to make communication as fluid as possible to enable empowerment in each of the regions.
An important personal learning through this transition has been around my own capacity. I’ve realised that working to your limit is not sustainable over time, but working to your capability is. When you’re passionate about building customer relationships, it’s sometimes hard not to push yourself but, if you try to do that too much, you will get sick, and I did when in Singapore earlier this year. Since then I’ve been a lot more realistic about what my limit is, and so far, so good!
Equally, maintaining your sense of humour is key. If you bring a positive energy, you’re setting the tone when you walk into the room, regardless of culture, language barrier, or the market you’re in – people will respond.
We are never complacent and are laser-focused on helping our customers leverage their most important asset, their data, to help them create a better world. We want to continue to aggressively take market share across EMEA, LATAM and APJ. Each team has their own target, and our collective success will continue to be a major contributor to Pure’s overall company growth. We are delighted to continue welcoming talented new team members, and I look forward to an incredibly exciting year ahead for Pure on the international stage.