Portfolio Exchange 2020: Keeping international strategies on track in the current environment

Managing staff remotely has long been a challenge for global businesses, and now for many – but the current backdrop has made the benefits more apparent. For businesses looking to expand overseas, an experienced backer can smooth the way.

Andrew Priest, Partner and Head of Origination at Inflexion, hosted a panel as part of Inflexion’s annual Portfolio Exchange to discuss international strategies. Here are the main takeaways:

Managing teams remotely has challenges, but also benefits.

Ben Regensburger, CEO of Peach: Working remotely provides the opportunity to re-think the structure of teams independent of where staff are located. We have now changed the structure of our sales teams to be more customer centric: regional teams focus on what we do in market and central customer teams focus on how we do this across different customer segments. Together the teams dial up the degree of customer centricity we can deliver. For this you want people with strong collaboration and communication skills, so recruiting profiles change.

John Howie, CEO of Lintbells: Recruitment has been a challenge, irrespective of the geography. We’ve had to really improve our recruitment process to move away from gut feel in face to face interviews to a more data-driven, remote approach over the last six months.

We found the original US team through shared networks of Inflexion. We were fortunate (going into Covid) in that our US veterinary leadership team had been in place for 18 months so we had time to establish good relationships and ways of working. We are now very structured about how we want them to perform and how we measure that.

Our US and UK teams are building more of a rapport now than they probably would have done in normal circumstances and can work jointly on key objectives, with experienced UK team members joining new US hires via Teams on key sales calls & meetings.

Al Aguirre, Chairman of Halo: An international strategy has many benefits. Having operations in the UK and US means in a pinch we can source and fulfil either of those geographies. So, as trade tension between the US and China came about, we rolled out plans to meet US demand by sourcing and fullfilling from the UK. The friction eased, but it was good to know the option was there.

This works because we don’t have need for localisation of our products; sourcing, production, and fulfilment are pretty standard across the world. We only need to localise our commercial efforts.

Experienced financial backers can really help with international expansion.

Ben: International growth has been a key part of the investment thesis. Inflexion has helped us tremendously in not doing this purely organically; we have done two international acquisitions during this cycle so far which has accelerated growth. One of the two was finally completed during Covid and the support of Inflexion especially in the context of banking arrangements was impressive. Now we are in the middle of expanding our footprint in digital advertising and Inflexion is a great sparring partner when it comes to evaluating the strategic choices facing us.

John: If you look at our historical approach to international growth, it was ad hoc and opportunistic; if we found a distributor who could help, we’d give it a go. That was because of bandwidth as we focused on our fast-growing UK business.

There was the ability to leverage the skills of their international team. Frankly without that resource we’d not have been really able to assess strategic international options properly. We can now replicate our model in other geographies and access the significant white space available. It’s about being disciplined in choosing the right markets and not going everywhere you can. For example, we thought China was an appealing large market but Inflexion’s in-country Asia expert suggested a more cautious approach based on the local challenges in our specific category. That sort of feedback is enormously helpful.

Al: We’ve looked at a number of acquisitions around the globe, some with multi-country operations and we’re doing it remotely now. As a result, we are relying on our partners at Inflexion the deal team as well as their international team.

Once we decided to build an international platform, which was at the beginning of the Inflexion partnership in 2017, we looked around at our assets to work out how to go about doing this. Our team was very experienced in their vertical markets, but less so around building a global business. So, we had to reassess the team and put the right people in place to help us scale across geographies. We also relied heavily on the Inflexion team, especially their international people. Beyond Europe and the US, India is where we are seeing big results in the business.