Marco Stefanini

Marco Stefanini won’t compromise on his dream: to turn Stefanini IT Solutions into a truly global company. He tells us how he’s doing it.

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For a long time now, what has motivated Marco Stefanini is the goal of building a truly global company — of fostering connections around the world.

It may have something to do with his love of travel, or with his belief that Brazil has something valuable to teach the planet.

As a result, while building Stefanini IT Solutions over the past 25 years, he has taken a different tack than most Brazilian business leaders.

“If I had just focused all my energies locally within Brazil, it’s very likely I’d be more successful now in terms of pure financial value than I am. And that’s what most people do. But I want to build a Brazilian company that is global and that, I feel, will pay off in the long term,” he says in his offices in São Paulo, South America’s financial capital, where the company has its headquarters.

“When you start to work, you have three goals and they come in order,” he says. “The first is to survive; to eat next month. Then you try to reach a level of stability and comfort for your family. Then, you can dedicate yourself to a dream, which in my case was international.”

Today, Stefanini, which sells IT consulting and solutions to companies around the world, is now the third most international company in Brazil, according to Fundação Dom Cabral. With revenues of R$1.9bn and 76 offices in 30 countries, it is currently focused primarily on expansion in the United States.

I want to build a Brazilian company that is global and that will pay off in the long term.

When Stefanini got started 25 years ago, Brazil was riddled with crisis and political instability, having just thrown off the shackles of a military dictatorship. It would be almost another decade before it would emerge from the nightmare of hyperinflation.

It is a far cry from today’s stable and growing country, which has been entrusted with the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

“We Brazilian businessmen were born, raised and molded in a world that was aggressive, unpredictable and where few survived,” he says.

“That gave us what is now one of our greatest strengths: resilience. Resilience in the sense that you are flexible but don’t break; you bounce back. That’s one main characteristic of Brazilians who were forged in periods of crisis.”

Moving with the times

This history of crisis has an upside: it prepared Brazil to deal with the storm unleashed by the global financial upheaval of 2008: unlike much of the rest of the world, it enjoyed impressive growth, reaching 7.5% in 2010, although this dropped sharply in the third quarter of 2012.

“The biggest risk for Brazil is to lose that resilience,” says Stefanini. “The risk would be to become resistant to change, as Europe has become.”

Stefanini’s company has echoed its home country’s success: gross revenues are now six times what they were in 2006. But even Brazil’s economic resilience can’t protect an international company from a global recession.

Stefanini IT Solutions has therefore focused on flexibility, adjusting its goals to fit the climate: an IPO had been planned, but that strategy was replaced by acquisitions. Among others, Stefanini bought Brazilian start-up Document Solutions in 2009, US-based TechTeam in 2010, credit card processing company Orbitall and core banking solutions firm Top Systems in 2012.

The company now has operations in seven US cities — and despite its presence around the world, it plans to keep its focus on the US. “It’s the world’s biggest market,” says Stefanini. “It’s that simple. But also, more developed countries have more robust markets for IT services. Will I be growing in India and China? Yes, but the US offers the most opportunities at the moment.”

Stefanini breaks down his strategy for the near future into three parts:

  • First, organic expansion based on current products and models
  • Second, expansion into other products that may not be purely IT — such as financial services
  • Third, pure innovation — the most long term of the goals

New territories

He’s just returned from another trip abroad, this time to the Caribbean and Detroit.

The US offers the most opportunities at the moment.

The latter is a strategic destination: he has mostly focused his efforts on the central and eastern US, since the tech companies in California are less likely to
outsource their tech solutions. Companies like Google and Facebook have internal departments for that.

While up north, he’s certainly noticed that the world has begun to see Brazil in a different light, not only for its stability and growth, but also because Stefanini is
selling something different than what people traditionally associate with Brazil, which is largely commodities such as iron ore and soy.

“A lot of people haven’t thought of Brazil as a technology country,” he says. “We’ve shown people what we can bring to the table and the image is turning around very quickly.”

When taking his tech products to the US, he’s observed how easy it can be for a company to fail if it does not move with the times.

“You do have big American corporations that are truly global,” he says, “but you have others that are not — that, deep down, are still thinking like local companies. That’s a big challenge. You must be able to evolve in a number of ways that have never been your strong point. We’re now focusing on quality control and planning intensively.”

He has plans for new acquisitions in the next two years, hinting that he may be working on one at the moment. “We always make our purchases around Christmas,” he says. “It’s like a present.”

In the meantime, he’s availing himself of his other true love: visiting the world. He’s been to more than 100 countries, checking in “from 5-star hotels in St. Barts down to digs that are downright dirty” in countries as challenging to reach as Burma.

Stefanini says there is one positive aspect of being Brazilian he never expects to lose as his company becomes more and more international. “We’re friendly, we’re informal,” he says. “Don’t you think?”

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