Following the client
DISYS sees rapid growth after expanding offices in U. S. and abroad
- March 28, 2012
Mahfuz Ahmed began studying Portuguese after opening an office of Digital Intelligence Systems Corp. (DISYS) in Sao Paulo, Brazil. “If you don’t know Portuguese, it’s difficult to get around,” says Ahmed, the company’s CEO. “It’s good to invest in some level of language learning.”
McLean-based DISYS ventured into the international marketplace when clients such as VISA and ExxonMobil began looking for partners that could provide the same level of service for their international locations as was being provided for their U.S. offices. Ahmed opened offices in Brazil, Singapore and Hungary in 2009 after learning that some of his clients were seeing high percentage growth in Brazil and Asia. “What we always do whether it’s in the U.S. or outside the U.S. is follow a client to a particular location,” Ahmed says.
Today, nearly 15 percent of the company’s business is international, but that percentage is increasing rapidly, says Ahmed. Last year, $30 million out of total revenues of more than $250 million was generated outside the U.S.
The company currently has six staffed international offices. They are located in Brazil, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hungary, India and Switzerland. Its newest office in Geneva will serve clients in France, Austria, Germany and Italy. The company also has a satellite office in the Netherlands.
More than 50 percent of the company’s Brazilian business comes from local companies such as Vale, which is involved in mining and steelmaking, and power producer Brookfield. Ahmed believes in hiring local workers in his offices. His 50-plus person office in Sao Paulo, for example, is staffed with Brazilians. “They understand the culture and what the locals are looking for,” he says. “If you are not respectful, it’s difficult to be successful.”
The largest city in Brazil, Sao Paulo is a city of skyscrapers with an overabundance of automobiles. “The traffic is awful,” Ahmed says. “When you’re doing meeting planning, you have to keep in mind that a two-mile distance can take one hour to cover.”
He finds that Brazilians “work to live.” “It’s not the other way around,” he says. “They will get the job done. If you are going to micromanage, it will not work for you.”
When he opened an office, Ahmed was surprised at the prices in the city. “It’s very expensive,” he says. “A lot of people don’t have a clear understanding of how expensive it is. Good hotels cost just as much as hotels in New York City, if not more.”
Another realization: Trying to keep a meeting on schedule can be difficult. Most start at least 30 minutes late. “Brazilians are not big sticklers of time,” he says.
Originally from Bangladesh, Ahmed discovered McLean after moving to Northern Virginia in 1989 to attend George Mason University. He liked its cosmopolitan feel, proximity to the nation’s capital and skilled work force. “We have access to a great pool of qualified individuals with sales and technical skills.”
Ahmed opened DISYS with a college friend in 1994 to provide information technology staffing and services. He began by using Unix systems — large operating systems used by large corporations. The work he was doing in creating enterprise systems, where one system picks up when another goes down, was not as prevalent as it is now. “I thought I could make the world better,” he says. “There was a demand for the work I was doing. There seemed like a lot of opportunities.”
Since its inception, DISYS has grown from a two-person operation to the seventh-fastest growing company in the U.S. staffing industry. Globally, it employs 3,400 employees and is on target to gross $325 million this year. “We already have 90 percent of our orders in hand,” Ahmed says.
The company got its first big break in 1996 when it began working with Loral Federal Systems, now part of Lockheed Martin, and Mobil Oil, now ExxonMobil.
Ahmed stopped consulting after 2000 to work on business and sales force development and to concentrate on hiring technical workers. “That made a huge difference,” he says.
From 2001 to 2010, company revenues grew at an annual rate of about 40 percent. “Our goal is to stay at 30 percent growth each year for the next five years,” Ahmed says, noting that he plans to hit his $1 billion revenue goal in 2017.
Most of his clients are large Fortune 500 companies, such as Bank of America and UnitedHealth Group. When they told him DISYS needed a national presence to become a prime supplier, Ahmed listened. Today, the company has 14 U.S. offices in such cities as Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and Los Angeles. “Our goal is to open four offices each year until 2017,” he says.
The economy in São Paulo, Brazil
The 10th largest city in the world by gross domestic product, São Paolo is an international city with large populations of Italian, Lebanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Japanese residents. The city also has a large concentration of German and Swedish companies. Because it is a large health-care hub, firms specializing in science and technology are growing in numbers. Other sectors on the upswing are service-based industries, construction, entertainment and tourism. Industries in São Paolo range from automotive to textile. Many companies are headquartered in the city including the airline Aviana Brazil; Embraer S.A., makers of executive and commercial aircraft; guitar and musical instrument maker Giannini and Klabin, a paper producer, exporter and recycler.
Travel to São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo is home to the annual Carnival of São Paulo as well as São Paulo Fashion Week, one of the largest fashion shows in Latin America. The city’s various cultural districts offer everything from Italian to Japanese cuisine. São Paulo also has several museums including the São Paulo Museum of Art with impressionist paintings of European art. The city offers many parks such as the Parque do Ibirapuera with monuments and various activities. Soccer is the main sport, and the city hosts soccer matches at four local soccer stadiums. The city will host the opening of the FIFA World Cup in 2014.
The economy in McLean (Fairfax County)
Fairfax County is home to a number of Fortune 500 companies including Capital One Financial Corp. and General Dynamics. The county’s largest employers include strategy and technology consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton and Inova Health System. The county also has thousands of technology-related companies and defense contractors, including Quest Diagnostics, providers of diagnostic laboratory testing and services, and TASC Inc., which provides systems engineering and decision-support service to the intelligence community. In 2010, the county was awarded more than $24 billion in U.S. government contracts.
Travel to McLeanLocated in the busy Northern Virginia corridor, McLean has a variety of natural attractions as well as museums. Part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway, Great Falls National Park is known for its racing waters and jagged topography. The 800-acre park has several overlooks that offer views of the falls. The Alden Theatre in McLean is home to the McLean Symphony and a professional artist series. Claude Moore Colonial Farm National Park features a 1771 living history farm with costumed interpreters. Each year the farm has a Market Fair on the third full weekend of May, July and October.