Physics Assistant Professor Turned Successful Entrepreneur
This in an English translation of the original article published in the print edition of Business Magazin 21-28 feb 2022 and written by Anda Stroe.
At the turn of the 21st century Andrei Cruceru was teaching physics as an assistant professor at the Polytechnical University in Bucharest. Within a year, he, too, made a turn for a sales career at global IT corporations IBM and HP. Many years later, with enough solid experience and knowledge under his belt, he decided to set up his own company that soon became a € 30-million worth business.
So, what was the key for keeping up with the fierce global competitors?
“The quality of people has always been the underlying element of all my decisions and experience has proven me right so far. Ideas can’t succeed without considering the people factor in the process. We tend to ignore this basic truth all too often.”, says Andrei Cruceru, METAMINDS CEO, former Nova Tech Integrated Solutions. He is a firm believer in putting the human element at the heart of every IT innovation, strategy or solution, especially where cybersecurity is concerned; “the general perception attached to this discipline is rather on the abstract, depersonalized side. But technology should be at the service of people and not the other way round.”, he adds.
Between 2015 and 2020 the business reached a turnover of RON 156 million, according to the information published on the Ministry of Finance website. Financial Times ranked METAMINDS as one of the top 1,000 fastest growing European companies for two consecutive years, in 2020 and 2021 respectively.
METAMINDS is a team of 40 and serves B2B customers from both strategic public sectors and priority private sectors, such as banking, energy, utilities or telco.
For this type of business, says the executive, the pandemic triggered increased demand for digital security solutions, especially from companies and organizations that had not made any progress previously in that respect.
On the other hand, the industry has had its share of challenges during the pandemic. Andrei Cruceru names some of them: finding viable up-to-date solutions that had to be implemented on older systems/ infrastructures; attracting talent “while competing against giants such as Google, Amazon, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, HP.”; WFH, the associated cloud solutions and increased used of smart devices to make up for physical distancing have created more attack surfaces and a multiplication of cyber vulnerabilities; cyberattacks have become more numerous, more sophisticated and more diverse; the global supply chain crisis also took its toll on delivery terms and deadlines from providers all over the world, leading to delays up to 200 days.
WE NEED A PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP THAT WORKS
“When compared to ALL other European Union countries as regards digital competitiveness, and I stress “all”, the decisive and the most vulnerable factor for Romania right now is IF and WHEN we have a working partnership between the Public Administration and the IT industry, as part of the country’s strategic priorities, with the goal of developing a national digital infrastructure and its respective communication systems.”
Andrei Cruceru says the public institutions and organizations in Romania have a tremendous potential for developing complex digital and IT projects; he quotes “The Program for Intelligent Growth, Digitalization and Financial Instruments” to support his argument: “there is a grave lack of capacity by the public institutions to offer citizens and companies digital and IT infrastructures as an integral part of their processes and service.” On top of that, Cruceru reminds the almost utter lack of digital solutions for the public education, cultural or medical ecosystems
We need only look at the latest DESI Report to see ROMANIA RANKS LAST, WELL BELOW THE 2020 KPIS, IN TERMS OF BASIC DIGITAL PROGRESS: HUMAN CAPITAL, INTERNET CONNECTION, INTEGRATING DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES, DIGITALIZED PUBLIC SERVICES.
“I WISH THAT THE PUBLIC AUTHORITIES RESPONSIBLE TO SOLVE THIS CRISIS WERE AWARE OF HOW BAD THE SITUATION CURRENTLY LOOKS. WE NEED TO TAKE ACTION IMMEDIATELY. AND THIS IS NOT DOABLE WITHOUT A WORKING PARTNERSHIP WITH THE LOCAL IT INDUSTRY.” Andrei Cruceru points out.
“IT HAS REACHED THE LEVEL OF A SERIOUSLY AGGRAVATING PHENOMENON, IF WE CONSIDER A COUNTRY’S ECONOMIC COMPETITIVENESS IS DIRECTLY LINKED TO ITS LEVEL OF DIGITAL PROGRESS. ROMANIA IS A SOURCE OF HIGH EXPERTISE IN THE FIELD, AND, UNFORTUNATELY, THIS EXTREMELY VALUABLE EXPERTISE IS NOT PUT TO USE FOR THE PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION.”
The CEO highlights the huge wave of financial opportunity coming our way from European Funds and Budgets. “For 2022, I wish the State provided IT companies with the necessary leverage to access and use all those funds and transform them into interconnected digital services and infrastructures for the benefit of citizens and companies alike. “
FROM PUBLIC TO PRIVATE
The decision to set up his own business presented itself as the best possible option at the time, both professionally and personally. With two MS degrees under his belt, one in Physics, the other in Economics, plus a Master’s Degree in Biophysics, Andrei Cruceru taught Physics at the Polytechnical University in Bucharest until 2001. He shifted to sales for big IT corporations IBM and HP for 13 years, during which time he got as high as National Sales Director up the career ladder, for IBM Romania.
In 2013 he became the Sales Director for local IT solutions integrator Asesoft Technologies, following a “reset of business priorities by IBM Romania on the regional market.”
The shift from the global IT player to a local solutions and services provider reshaped Cruceru’s approach of the business and the industry. “I acquired a deeper understanding of the industry and its mechanisms, but, most importantly, this paradigm shift offered me a much more subtle insight into my clients’ needs.”
Having built a career both inside global corporations and local companies, going entrepreneurial seemed like the next natural step for Andrei Cruceru. “So started the story of Nova Tech Integrated Solutions, a story that began with a core team of four people whom Andrei had previously met and worked with personally.
For 2022, “the key priority” of the company is to diversify its portfolio of security solutions, so as to accommodate for both their direct customers and their customers’ customers across all platforms and channels.
We estimate a 20%-growth in 2022 against a highly volatile market, given the direct influence of public policies and mechanisms that may block or otherwise impact the business and the industry.
Asked about his plan to open an office abroad, the CEO confirms having considered this step as a natural move towards developing the business, while prioritizing a healthy, organic growth, centered around the human quality and the expertise of the team.
As regards the long-terms plans, Cruceru said he would find it hard to make such a prediction, given how unpredictable and game-changing the COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be globally within the space of only two years.
“I wish, though, METAMINDS continued to be the well-established and respected security solutions provider it is now.”
In a hypothetical scenario, Andrei Cruceru thinks he would have pursued an academic research career in biophysics. “But I couldn’t see a way of turning it into a business at the time.”
“After graduation, I had the opportunity – undreamed of then – to spend two weeks in the USA, where I had the most overwhelming cultural experience, altogether different from what I was used to. I would have very likely built a solid academic career there, given the stellar tradition of this country in the field of research. But I never regret choosing to do what I do now.”
The executive believes that all his decisions were correct in the context they were taken, with the elements he had available.
“Any decision is the result of several variables, some of which are beyond our control. Once you stand by a set of values and conduct, all your decisions will be correct on a personal level, despite not all of them proving to be beneficial. I have an open approach to things and I do my best to find the best solutions.”
The entrepreneur admits being a great sport lover since childhood, with a bias for tennis; and he makes time to play football with his co-workers almost every week.
Rafael Nadal is his favorite sports figure so, not accidently, the executive is currently reading the tennis player’s biography; what he particularly admires and respects about the tennis world champion is “how Nadal does not allow professional rigor and discipline overshadow the joy and passion for the game. I just love how Nadal turns each game into a display of near perfection performance.” His favorite holiday destination is Spain, “for its geographical and cultural richness and variety.”
A personal goal for this year is – as he puts it – “the same as everyone else’s: fewer social restrictions and limitations, more visibility for our personal time and agenda. The past two years have taken their toll on every one of us, so I hope we will soon regain the personal balance and comfort we all need so much.”