Leader talks: Tech leader Enrico Scopa on why employee happiness counts

Expats.cz talked to a tech leader about company culture, Czech IT excellence, and digitization.

William Nattrass

Written by William Nattrass Published on 13.09.2022 11:28:00 (updated on 21.10.2022) Reading time: 8 minutes

Enrian Partners is a company on a mission: to help businesses in the Czech Republic and beyond realize their digital potential.

The company was set up in Prague in 2014. It provides turnkey solutions and advisory services for digitization, and its rapid growth makes it an example of Czechia’s enviable position at the forefront of the global digital revolution.

But Enrico Scopa isn’t your typical IT company founder or tech start-up leader. He took a non-conventional route to entrepreneurship, building up decades of experience with large multinationals before pursuing his dream by setting up Enrian.

He joins our interview from Italy, where he likes to spend the summer months. It’s an apt illustration of the kind of flexible, borderless working life which has made a career in IT so desirable for people working in the Czech Republic, locals and expats alike.

The IT sector is famously multicultural, so how many nationalities work at Enrian, and where are your people based?

At the moment, we have people of 18 different nationalities working for us. Czechs make up the majority, and then there are Italians, people from Ukraine, Slovakia, Spain, Argentina, Syria, Georgia… the list goes on. We even joke that we’re collecting nationalities during our hiring process! English is our common language.

Where do they work? It varies. For example, one of our employees, from Georgia, works 6 months from Tbilisi and 6 months in Prague. Then we have Czechs who might ask to spend some time working in Florida, for example; and of course we have expats who moved from abroad to work here in Prague. It’s a very fluid environment.

But at the center of it all, we have our office in Prague’s Naměstí Míru. The office is used at various different times by all our colleagues; I think having a physical space as a point of contact is vital for any company. How they use the office varies. It doubles up as a social space, and on Fridays our colleagues host a “game night” there. It can also be used for workshops with clients, hackathons… It isn’t just for working at your desk. We give our team the option to use the office, and then it’s up to them. It forms another part of our flexible company culture. 

Is this flexibility one of the most attractive things about the IT sector in general, and about your company in particular?

It is. I think what people like most of all when they join us is the welcoming atmosphere. We embrace our new colleagues, involve them, make them feel part of the family immediately. And then they like the fact that when they have specific needs, when they need to move to a specific place, take time off, or anything else, we accommodate them as much as possible.

Our product is our people doing projects. So our specialists need to be very happy and engaged. They need to feel motivated and proud to be part of the team.

Are these specialists indispensable in the modern business environment? Is it possible for a company to realize its potential today without tailored IT solutions?

First, let me give a brief explanation of how we work. We are not a regular software development nor a traditional consulting company, and we do not want to make money out of customer’s struggles to define what they need. Enrian is an end-to-end provider taking a project all the way from the business opportunity exploration to the finished product on the market. We even propose a payment model in which we actually become a financial partner of the venture using the solution that we implemented, so we have “skin in the game”, fully partnering with our customers.

This new model is needed because when it comes to digitization in business, it’s now taken for granted that without digitization, companies can’t compete. Resistance to digital solutions is progressively fading.

But if you digitize a non-digital solution or process which was bad in the first place, all you end up with is digitized rubbish! The real skill is rethinking the value proposition. For example, you can take something incredibly customizable, like mortgages, and if you try to digitize the entire process you’ll end up with a system so complicated that no one can use it. So you instead have to ask: “What is my digital mortgage value proposition?” 

This requires people with specific skills and a willingness to challenge existing structures.

Did the pandemic give a boost to this process?

What the pandemic changed, massively, was the way of working. We’ve used a remote style of working ever since 2014, but prior to the pandemic many clients were unconvinced about this model. But then when the pandemic came, everybody was forced into digital collaboration. The business of digitization, which long used a digital way of working, was in the right place at the right time. There was a huge acceleration; it was unbelievable.

You mentioned that successful digitization requires new skills and fresh thinking. Is there a lack of qualified people to come up with these new IT solutions in the Czech Republic?

There is a major lack of people, worldwide. That’s why a company like ours is all about attracting and retaining talent. It’s so competitive right now, and this is reflected in the salaries that people can expect. But the Czech Republic is amazing; the amount of software built here is gigantic. It’s recognized around the globe that the best software engineers are Czech and Slovak. End of story.

What’s more, Prague is a fantastic city, so people want to live here: there’s a great quality of life, it’s a safe city, good healthcare, it’s beautiful, and the demand for work outstrips supply.

But with so many companies coming here for these reasons, even the huge ability of Czechs, Slovaks and Czech-based expats is simply not enough to meet the demand. So everybody is hunting for talent. The competition is in the salaries, but it’s also in the opportunities that you provide. Our people need to feel engaged. This is one reason why we started working also for small and well-financed start-ups, in addition to our larger clients. We wanted to give our experts a variety of challenges.

One structural problem, though, is that Czech companies are still used to paying the same prices for IT work as they were before the Czech IT market opened up to the world. Czech clients now compete within a global market, and companies from abroad can often pay more for the country’s great talent.

Could female IT specialists be the answer to this shortage?

Yes, and this is absolutely the future. Our number of female colleagues is currently around 30 percent; still far away from what I would like. But 40-50 percent of our new recruits are women, and it’s bringing us incredible success.

In a market where there’s a real premium on talent, we have to ask ourselves: what is the talent pool which is still mostly untapped? It’s women. I absolutely believe that we are going to be hiring more and more female software engineers. They bring other skills too: they’re often naturals at interacting with clients and within the team. What’s more, a well-balanced team is more productive than a boys-club. There’s no doubt about it.

You’ve told us about your company, but what about yourself? What compelled you to leave a multinational corporate environment and start your own business?

I was lucky, while at Accenture and later at McKinsey, to work in structures which allowed a lot of room for the “entrepreneurial spirit”. They provided a lot of flexibility.

But I realized that what I really like is to build stuff. I moved to Prague with McKinsey because I wanted to build a team and a business practice. Then I was faced with a choice: I could stay in an environment where I was safe and secure, or I could take my last chance to become an entrepreneur.

I’m 54 now, and I often think: my father died at 63; my best friend died this year at 53. You never know how long you have left, so how do you want to spend your time? I want to spend my time doing what I love, which is building something. I had some available resources, and in addition I found the right co-founder back then to help start the company up, with other partners joining later, so I decided to give it a shot.

I chose to do it in the Czech Republic because I was here already and I wanted to stay. Also, there’s so much talent here, and it’s a very easy environment to start a business compared to many other European countries, in terms of bureaucracy, taxation, and so on (even if many people like to complain otherwise!).

And a final question: do you have any specific recommendation for expats living in the Czech Republic who might be considering starting their own business?

I made sure to have a local Czech, well-established in the community, as my 50-percent partner in the business at the start. In my case, Milan Sames, my co-founder in 2014 who is now a minority shareholder, guided me on how the country works in various ways. But it’s also important culturally, too. As we grew into an international team with an international client footprint, we made sure to have a significant representation of Czechs involved directly in the company management. At the end of the day, if you’re building a company in the Czech Republic, Czech culture and an understanding of the local environment has to be a fundamental part of it.

Would you like to join #Enrianers? Enrian Partners are now looking for Business & Technical Analysts, Software Development Engineers, Software Architects, Product Managers, Product Owners, Delivery Leads, and a Support & Maintenance Team Manager.

Interested? Get in touch via LinkedIn, Startupjobs or send your application to info@enrian.com

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