How Marco Santos is Exponentially Expanding GFT in the U.S.

By Zoe Ashbridge Zoe Ashbridge has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team
Published on August 7, 2023

Ever wonder how a company you’ve never heard of seemingly appears overnight and begins taking on the market share of some of the most established companies in the market?

GFT is such a company, but the digital transformation giant didn’t start out large in the U.S. In fact, it didn’t start in the U.S. at all. The Germany-based company made its way to North America via Brazil, where 12 years ago, it hired tech industry rising star Marco Santos to build its presence nearly from scratch. 

Over the next several years, Santos grew GFT Brazil from 100 to 3,000 employees. Despite the fact that GFT was a public company with widespread recognition in Europe, it was virtually unknown in Latin America. 

“This made my job much different than simply expanding a client base for a company that had already established itself as a household name,” said Santos. “I remember at the time, some of my industry colleagues who held C-Level positions at global companies were focusing 100% on sales, while I was setting out to create overall country management.”

Brazil is now one of GFT’s fastest-growing regions, and Santos has since expanded GFT’s operations to more than 3,800 employees throughout Latin America. 

In early 2023, Santos was named the company’s CEO Americas after being tasked with building GFT’s U.S. business and achieving a 62% year-over-year increase. Not unlike his experience in Brazil, Marco discovered that GFT’s operations and market awareness stateside were more akin to those of a technology start-up than a publicly listed multinational. 

I sat down with Marco to find out exactly what it took to build a company with a fledgling regional presence into one that’s now competing with global market leaders to guide the world’s largest banks, insurers, and manufacturers through their large-scale digitization initiatives.

It couldn’t have been easy to grow a client roster and an employee base from nothing. Can you tell us about your approach to doing both simultaneously? 

I realized that I needed to approach GFT’s Brazilian business like a start-up that needed pretty much everything. But since it’s impossible to do everything at once, I got laser-focused on securing our first client.

There were only three of us working on new business at that point. We started by surveying the market to figure out where the demand was in parallel with leveraging client networking. Once we had a target list of prospective clients, we pushed ourselves into the market, with the offerings and marketing materials we had, set up meetings and began addressing these audiences.

I had set a personal goal of signing GFT Brazil’s first client within my first 90-100 days. It took us exactly three months to land our first project with the Brazilian branch of a huge global bank.

Winning that first client was like winning the NFL, the World Cup and the Olympics, all at once. We then won our second project–another massive bank–and then our third, and so on. We were scoring goals and making things happen. The more companies we signed, the more of a priority it became to expand and grow our internal team.

I hired architects, consultants, engineers, and other employees we needed to support the businesses we were building. Ultimately, these two tracks–building our client base and building our team-merged and we were able to address them in parallel. As the number of projects we were working on increased, so did the team.

For many people, this challenge would have been daunting. What made GFT Brazil appealing to you and what kept you going?

The challenge is what I was drawn to.

Before joining GFT, I was the Head of Sales at another technology company. I traveled all over the world, from Asia to Europe to North America. It was a wonderful experience, but I’d reached that point where I was no longer growing my skills and capabilities. So, when the opportunity to take on this new challenge–working for a multinational-backed “startup” in Brazil–presented itself, I jumped at the chance.

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the challenges that I embraced with open arms did not test every part of who I am. It’s not until you’re actually on the ground in a role that you see exactly what you’re facing. In my case, what I was facing was learning the product, the company, the expectations and the market, all while trying to build a business from the ground up. 

I think a lot of people would have looked at this scenario and run the other way. But for me, it was the very challenges that haunted me that kept me motivated to keep going.

How has your approach to growing GFT’s presence in the LatAm market prepared you to conquer your newest challenge: scaling into the U.S.?

I realized early on that in order to expand into new regions, we would need to first establish roots in the Latin America market. We began by focusing on creating near-shoring solutions that would help us deliver to our clients in Latin American markets, as well as ultimately work with U.S. clients in their local time zones. This resulted in our expansion into Costa Rica and Mexico, where today we now have approximately 500 team members dedicated to clients in the Americas.

Having this strong local offering in place gave me what I needed to begin nurturing relationships with other countries within GFT’s global network, with a special focus on the U.S. and the UK.

One of the main lessons I carried with me from my early work with GFT in Latin America is that no matter how eager you are to secure new clients, a company should never sell just to sell. It’s important to enter into thoughtful deals that are going to result in long-lasting client relationships. Pay close attention to what prospects expect and develop a precise strategy and recommendations that will help them reach those goals – within your capabilities.

Alternatively, if you get in the door by selling a company on a project or concept you’re unable to deliver on, that client won’t be around for long.

In order to create long-lasting relationships, after some trial and error when I was starting out, I’ve developed a clear vision of how to create a mutually beneficial partnership with our clients from Day 1. We’ve seen high levels of success in Brazil and Latin America, and are leveraging what works there to grow exponentially–and quickly–in the U.S. and North America.

What did GFT’s presence in the U.S. look like before you took the reins, and how has the U.S. market responded?

When I assumed the role of CEO of GFT U.S. three years ago, we were facing major challenges. Our clients were churning, we had lackluster financial results, and our employees hadn’t been fully integrated into the GFT culture. The U.S. team was so focused on putting out fires that there was hardly any room for business growth. My mission was to turn this around.

We had both operational and culture challenges–which was not dissimilar to the scenario I faced in my early days in Brazil. The main difference was that in the US, I knew what to do quicker. I started by focusing on the team, since they would be the lynchpin that kept everything together. We hired new people and reinforced key talent, while making sure that those who we kept onboard were now working on a foundation of trust and collaboration. 

Next, we changed the organizational model, introduced new offerings, and developed a new value proposition that we could confidently execute on: creating “agility at scale.” We leveraged our local and international presence to create a very competitive offering strongly focused on Technology Modernization and Enterprise AI in the market. And we were able to revive stagnant accounts–and win back some that had previously churned–by implementing the more thoughtful approach to consulting and delivery that was so successful for us in other markets.

We have since won several Fortune 500 clients, transformed small accounts with big companies into model clients, and tripled our original client base. And last year, we grew our year-over-year revenue in the U.S. by 62%

In addition to expanding your client roster, are you considering new technologies to expand your offering?

We’re currently investing considerable resources into expanding our Enterprise AI and Data capabilities for clients. For example, we’re working with one of the largest automotive manufacturers in the world to migrate all of their data and services to Google Cloud. From there, we’ll have the data infrastructure necessary to leverage AI and machine learning to automate various elements of the production process—from quality control to predicting machine health–across their entire global supply chain.

We’re also expanding our capabilities in next generation technologies, such as cloud-native services, open services, digital currencies and smart contracts. When combined with AI, each of these has the potential to transform core processes and create market opportunities for our clients.

Looking back on your journey over the last 12 years and then thinking about the next 12, what are you most proud of? What are you most looking forward to?

The accomplishment I’m most proud of is the exponential expansion of GFT’s operations across the Americas region. This couldn’t be done without first building resilient leadership, as well as what I call our “Dream Team” of expert talent. My work to increase our market recognition and financial results has led to growth I couldn’t even imagine when I started 12 years ago, and I’m confident we can continue this upward trajectory into the future.

My short-term goal is to deliver sustainable, double-digit annual growth. Long term, I aspire to exponentially expand our journey in the Region. And as we grow, I look forward to GFT Americas being recognized as a technology thought leader on a global level.

By Zoe Ashbridge Zoe Ashbridge has been verified by Muck Rack's editorial team

Zoe Ashbridge is a contributor at Grit Daily. She's spent the last ten years working in and writing about technology, digital marketing, SEO, ecommerce and entrepreneurship.

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