Created in 1998, AROBS is a Romanian IT solution provider of ready-to-use systems and tailor-made software based on the latest technologies. Headquartered in the tech-savvy city of Cluj-Napoca, the historical capital of Transylvania, the company now has a presence in several countries including Germany, whose work culture is well adapted to AROBS’ own business approach. CEO Voicu Oprean discusses his plans for the future as the world moves towards a digital, distributed economy that will be increasingly reliant on IT
You’ve built this company from scratch. What are the decisions that have brought you to where you are today?
My first customer was a Romanian company and the second one was a German firm located near Cologne. We started out with a small team and helped them develop solutions for hospital management, and we ended up having a long partnership with them. One of our key decisions for the company was made during the dotcom crisis, in 2002, when we decided to invest in products. Instead of laying off people due to fewer software contracts, we immediately started to develop products, and that’s what differentiated us from other companies: we offer both software services and product development. We now have five or six products in Romania and in other countries; one of them is a solution for the travel industry that is already running around 300 hotels in Norway. Other sectors that we cover include life sciences, automotive, enterprise solutions and the Internet of Things (IoT).
How do you balance products and services?
It is split half and half. Ultimately, it’s all about our commitment and understanding of the products from the customer’s perspective. Our customers come with a product idea, with some specs, and we help them to develop that, either enhancing what’s already there or building it from zero to the final stage. This last year we have focused more on building full turnkey projects, from specs to delivery, and this is something that German and American companies like a lot: tailor-made, but with a final scope and with the timing and budget agreed on. In the product life cycle, we cover everything from business analysis to team creation, testing, customer approval and maintenance. We cover every aspect from beginning to end, and that is a differentiating trait of our company.
How hard is it to keep up the same standards in all the countries that you work in, which include developed and developing economies?
About five years ago we made a strategic decision to go beyond our borders, and we started with Hungary and Moldavia, where we created a copy of our Romanian operation, selling products on the local market and adding software services. We had teams to deliver solutions to the customers. Right now the Moldavian operation has around 100 people and the Hungarian one is a bit smaller, but altogether they are performing very well. What we need is mostly sales and support people in the local markets because a lot of what we work with is in the local cloud. Our products were designed for emerging markets, and that is why we also entered Indonesia, where we encountered great demand for the latest technology, but also for keeping costs down. And cost-effectiveness is something that our company has proven itself very good at in every country that it has gone to. Being able to excel in developed and developing countries is a good calling card. Furthermore, we create business partnerships with our clients; their success is our success. In Germany, we have a strong partnership with Continental, an extremely important client in the automotive industry. Other very important partners of AROBS in Germany are Hager Group and GIATA GMBH.
What does your German operation look like?
We started that about two years ago and we are planning to expand it with a trading division, which trades products in the high-tech sector on the German market or elsewhere in Europe. That was our first step; the second one is developing a services sector in Munich. We work with several companies to deliver end-to-end products. I come from Transylvania, which is a region of Romania that is very familiar with German culture, and possibly the greatest number of German investors in Romania are right here in Transylvania. We understand what’s important for German customers, such as delivering a product in time and delivering quality. We also have many daily flights to Germany, so it is easy to plan face-to-face meetings.
Which sectors do your German partners come from?
Definitely automotive and enterprise solutions, but also travel. We work with one of the largest German companies in the travel industry that needed to develop new features to its existing application. This project was about innovation and adding value to an existing product. In the auto sector, we cover all the new experiments for electrical cars and energy efficiency.
How do you see your company developing in the near future?
About three years ago we agreed to speed up our development by acquiring new companies in important sectors. Our first acquisition was made last year, when we purchased a competitor in the fleet management area, specializing in localizing vehicles. We are now the top company in Eastern Europe in the number of assets that we monitor. We are also pursuing organic growth, and expanding in other geographies such as Serbia. We believe that the next economy will be digital and distributed, and we have factored that into our plans. Our management and people have been forced to work in different geographies and use the resources at hand, and that creates a competitive advantage for us compared with companies that work out of a single location.
Do you plan to keep on growing or consolidate?
After a quick sprint you need to take a breather, but what we are trying to run is a marathon, rather than a sprint. We are working to put everything together under a holding umbrella. And we have country managers with full authority, and they are looking out for potential acquisitions to grow further. We also like to make one change at a time, which can take more or less time, depending on the situation.
Romania has been struggling with a brain drain. How do you retain talent at your company?
We have a very committed management team and colleagues. We don’t see them as employees but as colleagues, and our mantra is ‘colleagues first and customers second.’ If you allow people to develop and reach their full potential, this will have positive effects on the clients as well.
A company with double-digit growth at some point requires additional funding. What are your financing plans?
Until now we have resorted to the banks, which have supported us on our acquisitions, but we are open to investors joining the company. We were thinking about listing it on the main stock exchange, but we found that it is underdeveloped in the IT area. There is a lot of potential for investment funds, and we have recently seen many incubators entering Romania. This should be interesting for German investors.
Where do you see the company in five to ten years?
AROBS is by now in the top five companies in Romania’s IT area, so we are already in a select club, but we want to expand internationally with our products, and we want to provide a good basis for growth and innovation to our new and existing customers.
As a Romanian entrepreneur who does business abroad, how do you see your country’s international image?
A good image always helps. As a company that works only marginally with the government, we are not involved in politics, and we let politicians do their thing while we focus on business. As long as the business environment is predictable, we are fine with that. What we don’t like is changes happening from one day to another. Romania has the second-largest GDP growth in Europe, but of course we started from a very low point, so we still have a way to go. And we in the IT business are driving that growth. I am the president of the Transylvania local IT cluster association and we are all trying to build an ecosystem and promote it at the international level. In Cluj we decided as a business community to help the local authorities to develop the city’s digital strategy for the coming years, so we are not just recipients of what the government has to offer us, we are working together to make Cluj a digital city in a model that could be replicated all over Romania.
What is your final message to readers of Die Welt?
To consider the business environment and local entrepreneurship as key elements to growing Romania. I also suggest creating more bridges between German companies and Romanian companies. German companies can decide to enter and create a subsidiary, or they can create bridges with Romanian companies as local partners, as we already know the local market and environment. We know how to do business here, but also how to do business there. We are European by birth, international by culture.