Adela is the voice of a successful Romanian business gone global. They started with a small office in Bucharest, but they were ambitious enough to target the worldwide banking sector with their innovative IT solutions. They currently manage regional teams in Zurich, Dubai, North America and UK, with customers spanning from Australia to Europe and America. This is the story of a regular person who learned how to think globally, to build an international team and to always adjust to the latest technologies and cultural differences.
Name: Adela Clara Wiener
Hometown: Moisei, Maramures
Abroad since: 2007
Living in: Zurich, Romania and Dubai
Current position & company: CEO @ AGYS AG
TGR: Wow, Adela, what a journey! I need to double check this – is AGYS really an initiative of a Romanian team of founders?
ACW: Yes, this is absolutely true. 13 years ago, we started our business venture in Bucharest. Our founder’s vision (Cornel Vintila) was to create a company which applied the discipline of pure process modeling and software design, based on the latest standards, methodologies and tools. Little we knew back then, where this was going to take us.
How did you come up with the idea and what did you bring new to the banking sector?
For the first 6 years, we were a cross-sector provider of complex bespoke solutions. The migration to a banking type of focus was really a result of consistent and increasing demand for our services in that sector and our own increased understanding of what type of value these banking customers were looking for. The unique and special value we provide is mostly about delivering rapid transformation consistent with the urgency of banking customers to differentiate their offerings.
How much time did it take to acquire the first customer?
It took us 4 years of continuous international development efforts until we started to see the first results. Those years were at times incredibly difficult for us as management team and to a certain extent, for our extended team as well.
You need to understand that when we decided to become an international company, we were a group of very talented tech people, but with little understanding of international markets and sales. So we experienced what it's called "learning by doing", or better said, “trial and error” and with a limited private capital.
I believe it is Richard Branson who once said “there is a very fine line between success and failure in a business”. In our case, it was a very difficult mission to build an international company, with everything that involves - rethinking of the product strategy, hiring people, growing people, understanding cultural differences and different market approaches and generating sales at the same time. Eventually, we learned all these the hard way, but the good way.
Our first international banking customer was a major Australian bank, who selected us out of several other companies. We were the only European based vendor. The entire project delivery was done from Bucharest, on the Australian time zone and it was a major success. Our solution contained a very innovative platform for application self-management (called Plenary™), which allowed the bank to be vendor independent, once the solution went live. And that was a major differentiator, since banks do not usually like to be vendor locked-in.
13 years later and with technology drastically changed – how does your company look like?
The beginning of 2016 represented a major shift in our strategy, because we decided to move away from the custom solution space and move towards a productized offering. This required a lot of investment, change in mindset at all levels, and involved significant changes in technologies and methodologies we used. Naturally, such a profound transformation comes with a decrease in productivity, due to the learning curve required and slowness in customer acquisition. It also requires a lot of growth capital. But the strategy was definitely the right one, thoughtfully and thoroughly planned.
Today, our company owns and sells two main lines of products: one is Bank Connect™, a specialized suite for retail, corporate and private banking and the other one is Blue Fabric™, a low-code platform which addresses the cross sector market.
While Bank Connect is a mature product suite, resulting from 8 years of expertise in the banking sector, Blue Fabric is a completely new line of business. The whole Blue Fabric concept and business model starts from the premise that outside of the complex IT solutions market, there is a parallel market space for low to medium complexity business processes, which should be automated through consumption, with minimal software coding, at a lower cost and provide quick time to value. In Blue Fabric's case, we have set up a digital market place that brings together all of our existing and future customers with various contributors to Blue Fabric (partner companies, individual business consultants, software developers, large outsourcing players, etc...)
Who are these partner companies you rely on?
There are many, but our most strategic partner has been IBM for many years. It was a conscience technology choice after assessing the reliability and scalability of many other platform vendors.
We have been considered for many years one of IBM top global partners for process management solutions (BPM) and enterprise application integration (EAI). Therefore, many of our international awards are linked with our success in implementing complex solutions like the ones I just mentioned. Two years ago, Plenary™ received a global IBM Smarter Process Award. In our minds, this was the most precious award we ever received.
It seems like you also benefit of a sensational team, capable of designing the most disruptive projects…
Plenary™ was the first innovative product that came from our amazing team. There were many other projects worth mentioning, for both technological innovation and successful delivery. Just to name a few, I remember a whole range of complex solutions for downstream chain automation in oil&gas, one solution for major capital projects in the energy sector, and several really complex implementations ("space shuttles", as we call them) for some of the most visionary international banks (credit card origination, customer onboarding, loans, etc...).
Photo Credit: Razvan Turtureanu
However, today I can say I am mostly proud of Bank Connect™ and Blue Fabric™ . They cumulate everything we learned all these years about technology and customer needs in the international market space.
Which is your personal contribution to the success of AGYS?
I am currently the CEO of the company, overseeing three different entities in Switzerland, Romania and the UAE. However, in 13 years I have played pretty much every possible role except the one of a software developer (never been smart enough for this one, I guess ). I have been a business analyst, a project manager, business consultant, I managed various departments, etc..... my internal professional roadmap helped me tremendously later, when I started our international business development. And this has been my major contribution to the company in the last 8 years.
The rest of the skills required for my subsequent CEO role came naturally through experience, team work, mistakes I had to learn from, teachings of my mentors and a very vast cultural difference I had to deal with (Central Europe, Eastern Europe, North America, Australia and the Middle East).
How do you foresee the future of your company?
Today I see AGYS very differently from the way I used to see it years ago. And there is a chance that in a year from now, my vision would be again different. We operate in a very dynamic, multi-criterial market landscape, where the only keys to success are our ongoing ability to anticipate market trends and to reinvent ourselves.
So, while I cannot speak for the next 14 years, I can share our plans for the next 1-2 years. As of this year, we offer both Bank Connect and Blue Fabric as a Software-as-a-Service, so we are becoming more and more a cloud company.
In Bank Connect's case, we are working to build a few strategic partnerships with large international banks and technology vendors, especially in the digital space.
We are also working to establish our Blue Fabric business in US and target the North American market through our local subsidiary, while in parallel we are increasing our sales force in the UK, Switzerland and the GCC space.
I suppose you travel a lot between these locations. Which of them do you prefer and why?
You have no idea... I have official residences in three countries, but I also spend a lot of time in planes and hotels in other countries. I have been doing this for almost 8 years and I still have the energy to continue doing it.
I love Zurich very much and Switzerland in general. On one side because everything functions like a Swiss watch, in all areas of daily life, secondly because they are my best example of state-of-the-art country strategy. I consider Switzerland my adoptive country, because I met wonderful people who helped me evolve as an entrepreneur and as an individual.
I like Dubai, and generally speaking the GCC countries, because in the course of 5 years, this is where I learned so much about cultural differences and the Arab culture and history, in general. When I came here, I knew nothing about the Arab world, its intricacies and its splendor. On another hand, UAE is to me an example of outstanding leadership, because at the end of the day, whatever we see here in Dubai has been built in the course of 10-12 years, out of nothing, in the middle of the desert. I do struggle with the climate though, and during summers I prefer to spend more time in Europe or anywhere else than in Dubai.
With you always up in the air, do you still have time for yourself? How does a global CEO like you usually spend her free time?
I suppose the quick answer would be to say that my business commitments really limit the time I have for myself and my family. Therefore, when I do have time I work very hard to separate and keep the business part of me aside. In those moments I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, reading, listening to various kinds of music (opera, symphony, musical, pop, rock, funk …), going to the movies, taking German lessons. I also try to work out regularly and more recently, I started to explore meditation.
Do your many flights sometimes take you to Romania?
Of course! I spend at least a week every month in our local office. Nothing can compare with serving the morning coffee with my team in Bucharest! And the nature, the food… The food is better than anywhere else in this world! I will always be in Romania as long as I have a family, a company and a team here. It is always in my heart as my native country. If only I could go more often to Maramures, the place I was born in…
What would you usually say to a foreign friend about Romania?
That we are easy going and friendly people who welcome foreigners, we have a beautiful nature, interesting and rich history. A place that everyone should include in their travel plans for at least a week or so.
Adela, how does your personal future look like?
What I mostly want is to be healthy and be able to positively influence other people's life. And this is not "marketing speech". The thing I am mostly content on a personal level is that in the last years especially, I have learned how to pay more attention to others and their needs, than myself. Over the past couple of years, some friends and family members faced horrible difficulties, including cases of severe diseases. This completely changed my perspective on life and what is really important.
My future? I can’t tell I know for a fact, because for many years, my profession somehow forced me to link my personal life to our business aspirations and roadmap.
Ok, allow me to ask you then about your biggest dream!
Professionally, to continue to build a special business for all these wonderful people who contributed to it, followed our vision, never stopped dreaming/ hoping and gave it what we call “human touch”.
Personally, on a small scale, one day I would like to be able to take a 3-month break, in a remote, peaceful place. Just to rest, read and spend time with family and friends.
On a larger scale, I would love to expand my charity plans, in an institutionalized manner. I would also like to be able to do more for small and young Romanian entrepreneurs who really deserve a better and more predictable business environment, which encourages innovation, through a clear regulatory framework and financial incentives. I do not see this happening today, in Romania. At least, I do not see it enough and frankly, this is one of my biggest “entrepreneurial” disappointments when it comes to Romania.
We do have a booming entrepreneurial environment worth cherishing…
Yes, we do, but we lack a well-defined national strategy. We have such an amazing potential, outstanding landscapes like nowhere else, talented people… and the wrong politicians for the last 25 years.
Well, I can only hope you’ll be allowed to get involved and implement your ideas… What I am happy though is that you confirm my theory - any successful Romanian correctly assesses our pros and cons, and wishes to see our country truly fulfill its potential. And you are closer than anyone else to do that! Thank you for your time and making your message heard!
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