By Caroline McMillan Portillo
The Charlotte Observer.
It’s no easy task to juggle a workforce across five countries. Especially when they’re as varied as China, India, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.
But for small-business owner David Moore of Phantom Consulting, running a global operation is key to his operation, and his selling point.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based company works as a behind-the-scenes IT service provider, hence the “Phantom” in the name, for clients around the world. And the varying time zones ensure that he has staff on the clock at all times.
Moore, now 39, founded the company in 2010 after selling a small ad agency, City Rewards Network, to a private equity firm.
In the purchase, the firm decided not to buy the offshore IT arm of the company, which consisted of several dozen software developers.
“So I’m sitting in my office, and we have about 35 software developers, and I’ve got a bunch of money and nothing to do,” Moore said. So he started another company.
Phantom Consulting (formerly known as Direct Response Concepts) has tackled projects ranging from the Novant Health iPhone app to the U.S. National Whitewater Center website, and served the service providers of companies such as electronics giant Epson.
More clients are located in the U.S., United Kingdom and Europe.
The Charlotte Observer spoke with Moore about how he manages the logistics of an intercontinental operation, from hiring to travel, team-building to monitoring, and what other business can take away from the international learning curve.
VET YOUR OVERSEAS VENDORS: When trying to set up an office in the UAE, Moore needed to hire a local law firm that could file the paperwork. An online search netted dozens of seemingly reputable firms, so Moore selected one that, based on the website, appeared to be polished, well-established and large enough to offer a range of services.
But after Moore wired the firm more than $6,000 and sent all of his company’s information, he grew anxious: “Some filings we’d paid to get done didn’t get done,” he said. “Phone calls didn’t get returned. Emails didn’t get returned. So I went over there to check out.”
Visiting in person, Moore saw that the large, well-established firm he’d hired was actually just one guy in a small office. Moore then called the UAE’s department of economic development, which connected him with a reputable firm.
For other companies considering setting up operations overseas, he recommends starting with government referrals and official sources.
“But honestly, the best way to do it would be to lay eyes on the company,” Moore said.
REQUIRE A U.S.-GRADE BACKGROUND CHECK: To be considered for a job at Phantom Consulting, prospective employees must have a U.S. visa.
It’s not a foolproof test, applicants still must go through the interview process, but it’s a critical seal of approval from the U.S. government, Moore said.
Plus, he added, it’s a practical test, ensuring that employees will be able to travel to the U.S. if needed.
PAY WELL, AND APPROPRIATELY: Determining what to pay employees overseas can be difficult, Moore said, because you need to pay a competitive salary to get top talent, but you can’t disrupt the local economy either.
So Moore studies public data and usually pays five to seven times the nation’s median income.
So just as a U.S.-based IT worker usually fits in among the top earners, a Phantom employee in a foreign country is also making in the top 1 percent in their respective economy. It’s a high enough salary that the best candidates apply, but it’s not so high that the office becomes a target of crime or government scrutiny, Moore said.
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To pay more than five to seven times would require more paperwork, more hired security and more raised eyebrows, not what you want when your headquarters is in the U.S., he said.
INVEST IN MONITORING SOFTWARE: One of Moore’s best tips for operating offices overseas is investing in monitoring software; it bridges the distance in real time and offers a level of international transparency.
At any time, he and 75 employees can see what any other employee is working on. Employees can even pull up what Moore himself is working on. Clients also have the opportunity to log into the system to verify hours for billing.
“We make sure people get what they’re paying for,” Moore said.
MAKE TIME FOR FACE-TO-FACE TEAM EXPERIENCES: While traveling to his satellite offices, Moore organizes a number of team-building outings, from dune jumping to picnics in the desert.
In February this year, Moore made a visit to Phantom Consulting’s UAE office and took his employees to Dubai Internet City, an IT park created by the government of Dubai as a free economic zone and regional base for companies such as Nokia, Microsoft, IBM and Cisco.
The group took lots of photos, and many of the employees wanted to pose with Moore.
After returning to the U.S., Moore logged into the monitoring system to check out the goings-on of his Dubai contingent. Moore said he was surprised to see that one of the lower-level employees had saved pictures of himself with Moore on his desktop, even making one his screensaver.
“I had no idea (the trip) even mattered,” Moore said. “It was kind of cool to see that.”