It would be logical to assume that a big company needs to find a big city in a big country for its investment projects. But, as Western Union discovered when they set up shop in Lithuania, small can most definitely be beautiful, even for major multinationals. And the reason is simple; in a big country you’re just another company setting up alongside hundreds of others. But in a small location you are the main attraction, the VIP. And this means the treatment you receive is infinitely better.
When Western Union visited Lithuania as part of their selection process for a new SSC in Europe, one of the main concerns they had was the fact that, at that time, Lithuania’s shared services sector was in the early stages of development. On a visit to one SSC in Vilnius established by a local company, the head of the Western Union delegation addressed the issue directly. “Everyone is telling me how great Lithuania is, so why are there so few SSCs here?” he asked the company’s director. Unsurprisingly, the director wasn’t quite sure what to say, so I stepped in.
In my experience, one of the key skills an investment advisor needs is to be able to find the positive aspect of any situation and then present it clearly to the investor. In this case, I knew that whilst on the surface the lack of SSCs in Vilnius looked like a weakness, actually it was a strength. Although the sector was young, it was already established, with Barclays having set up operations six months earlier. To my mind, this was actually an ideal time to establish in Vilnius. So that’s what I explained to the Western Union delegation.
“We gained independence 15 years ago,” I pointed out, “and back then the infrastructure was poor, the people did not have the right language skills, there were no suitable office spaces for international companies. It took time for us to adjust.” But, I argued, we were on the verge of a new era. “Now we have the fastest internet in the world, brand new office spaces, and many talented graduates who know foreign languages and have experience studying and working abroad. If you set up in Lithuania now, you will get the cream of the crop.”
Imagine you are going on all these site visits and country assessments. In the end, there will be many locations with similar things to offer. You will choose the place where you feel warmest, the place where you feel that they want you the most.
In the end, the message we had for companies like Western Union and Barclays was simple (at it’s a message that remains true today). Yes, you will be a big fish in a small pond, but that means we can’t let your project fail because it is so important to us. We will do everything to help you.
And when I say everything, I mean everything. During Western Union’s visit the football World Cup was on, and that evening England were playing. The head of the delegation was English, so the project manager Vilijus decided to set himself a challenge: to persuade a city-centre restaurant to show the live match in English. Of course, he succeeded, and the head of the delegation was very pleased. It was a small touch, but it made a difference. For a company looking to invest in the service sector, we had to show that we understood how to deliver extra, and to give them a flavour of what they could expect from their Lithuanian operations.
A consultant once explained to me his view on how investment decision-making works. “Imagine you are going on all these site visits and country assessments. In the end, there will be many locations with similar things to offer. You will choose the place where you feel warmest, the place where you feel that they want you the most.”
And it’s in smaller locations, where a big investment is a really big deal, that investors feel most wanted, where all the little details are considered and no effort is spared.