Lights and Technology
22 February 2023

Leading a Team with a 5-Hour Time Zone Difference

Ricardo Rocha is leading Noesis' business in the US, a market where Portuguese tech wants to grow more than double digits a year while coordinating the marketing team in Portugal

By Ricardo Rocha, US Managing Director & Head of Global Marketing

The Portuguese technology company Noesis is committed to strengthening itself in the U.S. market, having appointed last September Ricardo Rocha, former director of marketing and communication of the company to coordinate the entire business in the American continent.

Ricardo Rocha, who moved to the United States to Raleigh, North Carolina, discusses the goals that Noesis intends to achieve internationally and shares what have been his greatest challenges in this new phase of his professional career, as well as the new knowledge he has acquired and helped in the face of a different reality that he is currently living.

This is because, being a new No. 1 in the U.S. team at Noesis, the manager Portuguese continues to lead the Marketing and Communication team of the technology consultant at a distance, five hours apart in terms of time zone. Ricardo Rocha talks about the demands that his new experience is entailing.

He is in the USA leading Noesis, but at the same time coordinates the company's marketing and communications team in Portugal. How many elements do you coordinate on either side of the Atlantic and how do you manage these two tasks, one of which must be done remotely?

Ricardo Rocha (RR): Our marketing team is currently composed of 12 people and has the mission of managing the Noesis brand and all go-to-market activities in the 6 countries where we operate – Portugal, Spain, Ireland and the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Brazil, and the United States. In addition to the focus on the brand and the business, it is also a fundamental pillar of the definition and implementation of our Employer Branding strategy, especially focused on Portugal, where the vast majority of our more than 1000 employees and our main market for recruiting new talent are based.

Our vision for marketing is that it will increasingly have a global deployment, even though the entire team is currently based in Portugal. In 2023 the marketing investment will be, for the first time, higher in international markets compared to the domestic market. Marketing follows Noesis' internationalization strategy, as it should be. It does not exclude, until, in the future, the marketing team may have elements scattered throughout the different geographies where we are.

In the United States, 2022 was a year of investment and commitment to the consolidation of our local structure, which is intended to continue throughout 2023.  Currently the structure in the United States is composed of four elements, to which will be added another element, during the first quarter of 2023.

My mission in the United States is to achieve this consolidation of the local structure and, at the same time, boost our business in the region. We have been growing consistently since 2017 (the year we settled in the United States) and the prospect with this local investment is that we can accelerate that growth over the next 2-3 years.

What is it like to lead the Portuguese team from a distance, given that it is done in another time zone?

RR: The marketing team is all based in Portugal, but has a global responsibility, in close connection with the managers and teams of each market, with those responsible for our different offers and aligned with the entire strategy of the organization. The fact that the entire team is in Portugal is circumstantial and a consequence of the evolution/context of the company. We are an international technology consultant, but it was born and founded in Portugal. Currently, the theme of geographical dispersion is a reality in many companies, multinational and global. It is not strange to work with colleagues who are in other geographies, it is part of the global world and the context of acceleration and digital transition in which we live.

"Trust is the foundation, to which is added responsibility and empowerment of the team."

In our case, it could not be different, it is the natural order of our growth and evolution. Initially "strange" itself, but eventually it "gets ingrained". I take this reality quite naturally. Leadership, in this context, obviously has different challenges than leading a team with whom we are, physically, on a day-to-day basis. The basis, however, is the same: it is necessary to have a good team, with skilled professionals. That must be the premise. Have a team prepared and sized for the objectives and ambitions of the organization. Trust is the foundation, to which added responsibility and empowerment of the team. In modern management, there is no place for micro-management, or leadership that controls and decides everything. And in the scenario of leadership "at a distance" even more. You must have a model of responsibilities and governance that is clear, where the team realizes that it has a wide spectrum of action, an elevated level of autonomy, and feels comfortable in that space. It must be clear the role of each one within the team. And, of course, whatever the working model, it is necessary to constantly evaluate it and adjust what is necessary. I often say that, in our team, we are in the "proof of concept" phase, we implement, experiment, evaluate and evolve.

"In modern management, there is no place for micro-management, or for a leadership that controls and decides everything"

What does a typical day of yours look like?

RR: My daily routine is still a "work in progress" given that I only moved to the United States about four months ago. I am still adapting to the rhythm of the USA, trying to reconcile as best I can with the rhythms of Portugal, time zone and, not least, family dynamics.

Every day is different, but it has some common traits – starting early – typically starting my day around 6:00 am so that I can also finish earlier (4:30 pm), to be able to dedicate some time to family and support my children in this adaptation to a new country, language, school, extracurricular activities, etc. I have already adopted some typical American habits, in addition to starting early, I make a point of taking my children, by bike, to school (around 7:30 am). Typically, not lunch (another American habit). As something slight, not to have major interruptions until the time comes to pick them up from school, again by bike. The mornings are therefore intense. With a loaded schedule (even with the overlapping of time zone with Portugal) and where I try to be as disciplined as possible in the management of my agenda, meetings, and tasks. Afternoons are typically quieter, more planned, and more focused on U.S activity and business.

On the other hand, if on a "normal" day I work mostly remotely, at home, this mission in the United States also added the challenge of having to travel frequently, given the size of the country itself. This is another significant difference compared to life in Portugal. To give an example, last week I was in Portugal for five days to participate in the Kick-Off of the Noesis management team, among other activities, and this week I will travel to Los Angeles and, later, to Philadelphia to participate in two initiatives that we are organizing, together with our customers and potential clients. Two cities on opposite coasts of the United States and with different time zones. It is demanding, but also very motivating.

"If on a 'normal' day I work mostly remotely, at home, this mission in the United States also added the challenge of having to travel frequently, given the size of the country itself."


What concerns do you seek to have to ensure that the management of the Portuguese team is effective?

RR: You must trust the team I have put together and what we have prepared so that this model can work. That is my main concern, making sure the "machine" is oiled and that the team feels comfortable in this model. There is no control, nor can there be, of everyday and operational issues, nor is it humanly possible that I can be aware of everything that is happening in detail. Therefore, it is necessary to have a clear process, well-defined competencies and responsibilities and moments of discussion, evaluation, and definition of the strategy. That is my main concern, making sure the "machine" is oiled and that the team feels comfortable in this model. There is no control, nor can there be, of everyday and operational issues, nor is it humanly possible that I can be aware of everything that is happening in detail. Therefore, it is necessary to have a clear process, well-defined competencies and responsibilities, and moments of discussion, evaluation, and definition of the strategy.

"My role is to be an 'orchestrator' of that strategy and the team and, at times, to be a 'problem-unlocker.”


The pandemic has made telecommuting and meetings through video platforms natural. Has global lockdown streamlined this kind of work?

RR: Clearly. The pandemic has accelerated the flexible working model, and the concept of "work from anywhere" It is paradoxical that it was a situation of crisis and difficulty that unlocked what was a vision of the future and transformed it into a very present reality. Of course, there have always been multinational, relocated teams and remote work, but a role like the one I currently assume would have been much more difficult to happen 4 or 5 years ago.

"The pandemic has accelerated the flexible working model and the concept of 'work from anywhere.”


Regarding the management of the North American team: how do you see the fact that you are a Portuguese to oversee Noesis in the USA?

RR: Very naturally. Probably, being a company of Portuguese origin helps to make this scenario natural. On the other hand, it is a team that we are building and that has already been strengthened after my arrival. When I arrived, we hired another local element for our sales team. He was chosen and hired by me, so he joined the team already with this scenario and with all the tranquility. Our own business model also helps a lot, we operate in a delivery model based on a Nearshore approach, that is, most of our specialized technical resources are based in our Competence Centers in Portugal and in Brazil. The services we offer to our clients in the different markets in which we operate, as well as the projects we develop and implement, are based on this model. This means that local structures are in constant contact with the teams of Portugal, and the success of the projects we deliver depends on this close collaboration.

Finally, the fact that he already had a background at Noesis combined with the fact that he was previously Marketing Director, already with global responsibility, were facilitators of the process. As far as the United States was concerned, we all knew and were already working together to define the business development strategy in the North American market. Therefore, the transition to assuming the leadership of the operation in the United States was exceptionally smooth and natural.


What challenges do you face in adapting to the U.S.?

RR: Find the perfect work rhythm and the right balance and balance between professional and personal life. We are talking about a momentous change, in the family, and with a great professional challenge associated. Finding the perfect balance between, on the one hand, ensuring that all the adaptation and change of country goes well and, at the same time, that we create the foundations for the results in the business to correspond to the expectations of the management, is not always easy and is a learning process, with good and less good days.


Are there differences in terms of human resources and their management, between the team you worked with and work within Portugal and the one you manage in the USA? If so, can you give examples?

RR: Yes, there are cultural differences, of course, and it's critical to pay special attention to those details. The time it takes me in the role still does not allow me to draw great conclusions, but there are some differences in context. I would say that there are cultural factors associated with the way we work in Portugal and the United States, but I will need a few more months on the ground to be able to give concrete examples. 


Based on your experience abroad, what advice would you give to an entrepreneur considering investing in the U.S.?

RR: I am not able to give great advice, not least because I am neither an entrepreneur nor an entrepreneur. I am a manager who, despite everything, is different. Still, in this (still) short stay you can see that there are opportunities and that the scale is radically different. Everything here is on a different, much larger scale. The business opportunities, the size of the companies, the potential customers and businesses, the competition, the investment capacity, the budgets, but also the level of demand. To develop business in the United States, it is necessary to be particularly good. Be differentiating and have a great focus on the quality of what is delivered, whether it is a product or service. Yes, the market is bigger, there are many opportunities, but no, no business does not appear just because we exist. In the same way that more doors can open, there are also many more players trying to "get inside that door" this one quickly closes if we do not have high quality standards. The market is extremely competitive, or we have something differentiating to present in the market, and we can deliver with impeccable quality, or quickly the opportunities disappear and the market "closes".

"Yes, the market in the U.S. is bigger, and yes there are a lot of opportunities, but no, business doesn't show up just because we exist."


What aspects should be considered by someone thinking of leaving for the USA?

RR: The process of change, bureaucratic and legal, is not easy. There are some restrictions on entry and so the whole topic related to the visa to work and live in the U.S. is complex, time-consuming and, "stressful". About the most everyday aspects and life in the country, I would say that it is not complicated, we live, despite everything, in societies that have more similarities than differences. We are culturally very exposed, since children, to the United States. Living here is, despite the momentous change, something "familiar". There is no culture shock, adaptation is easy and fast. The United States is still a country of opportunity, where you can make a career and grow both professionally and in all aspects.


He went to the U.S. to coordinate Noesis' American operation. Specifically, what goals have you achieved and what do you intend to achieve?

RR: The main goal is to grow and increase our turnover in the United States. This function was non-existent until then and our operation was managed, remotely, from Portugal. With this appointment it became possible to manage our operation locally, in the United States, ensuring closer management, to accelerate our pace of growth. The sustained growth in turnover, projects, and customers in recent years in the United States has created the need to ensure a more solid and scalable local structure to closely monitor our customers and projects. We want to bet heavily on this market and explore new business opportunities.

"The sustained growth in turnover, projects and, customers in recent years in the United States has created the need to ensure a local structure"

The operation in the United States is at a point of maturity and size where to continue to grow and make a significant leap, it is necessary to invest and ensure this more effective local presence. In the short-term plan, it was planned to strengthen the commercial team in the United States, with the hiring of a local resource dedicated to Business Development, something that we have already achieved, also the bet on the relocation of technical profiles, from Lisbon, to our offices in Raleigh, North Carolina, is being realized at the moment, with a first resource already installed and with a second employee who will move in the very short term. That was one of my initial missions, to ensure compliance with this plan and the consolidation of this team/structure.


How is the business going in the U.S. and what are the goals set for 2023?

RR: The business in the United States has been growing steadily, year after year, since 2017. This growth was supported in the development of projects and provision of services of one of our offerings, the development of software with Low-Code and with OutSystems technology. Noesis is one of the most relevant partners worldwide in this technology and, therefore, accompanied the entry of OutSystems in the American market, being a reference partner for the development of projects, with American customers who have adopted this technology. Low-Code continues to be one of the big trends for the coming years, so it is an area where we continue to bet and where we hope to continue to grow. However, Noesis' portfolio is much more complete. We are a company capable of supporting organizations in all their digital transformation challenges, from the Cloud, to Cybersecurity, Customer Experience, Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Analytics, Quality, etc. One of the main objectives is to start providing these services also in the United States, thus broadening our spectrum of action. The goals for 2023 are ambitious – consolidate the local structure, introduce new offerings to the market and grow sharply, with growth of more than 2 digits per year.


Will Noesis' international expansion continue? What are the next countries where they want to visit?

RR: The ongoing internationalization strategy is embodied in our 2021-2023 strategic plan, which has been fully complied with, in all parameters, strategic, operational, and financial. This plan provided for the consolidation of the international operation, reinforcing the bet on the markets where Noesis is present, in a sustained way and with the ambitious goal of reaching the end of 2023 with the international operation representing 40% of Noesis' total revenue. Although the official results for 2022 have not been released, our preliminary data suggests that our international operations now account for over 35% of our total revenue. With this impressive growth trajectory, we are well on track to achieving our goal of 40% and all signs point toward success. The year 2023 will also be the year in which we develop the plan for the next three years, in which, certainly, internationalization will continue to be one of our growth levers. In the 2021-2023 plan, it is not planned to open new markets for Noesis. After that, it will depend on what is proposed and approved in the next strategic plan. 

Published (in portuguese) in Forbes Portugal