Mike Alfant - Fusion Systems
Working for a big corporation has its advantages, especially for budding entrepreneurs.
Mike Alfant has worked for some of the biggest companies in the world – Citibank, Bankers Trust and AT&T Bell Labs to name but a few. But he always had a plan to get out there on his own one day.
In the early 1990s, when he was heading towards 30, that opportunity came. His then employer and one of America’s largest banks at the time, Security Pacific, sent Alfant out to Japan to manage the organisation’s trading platforms. Alfant grabbed the opportunity, in a country he loved almost immediately, to take his chance and go it alone.
“I’d always thought about starting my own business,” says Alfant, “but it wasn’t until my late-20s that I went for it. I was single, had the energy and experience and loved the working life in Japan. It was time for me to realise my ambition.”
He originally founded Fusion in 1992 and was President and CEO of Fusion Systems Japan, a multinational systems integrator that serviced Fortune 1000 corporations throughout Asia, Europe and North America. He worked through and enjoyed the tough economic times in Japan during those years and, in 1999, sold the group to IMRglobal for $58m.
“I had to work with the business for a year and had a non-compete clause for a further five years,” he says. “So when I left the company I built a few other businesses and sold them. Then, by the time my five-year non-compete was over the old Fusion had pretty much disappeared after numerous takeovers and changes. So I set up Fusion Systems and brought some of the old team in with me again.”
Put at its simplest, Fusion Systems is a technology solutions company. It works with clients, such as UBS, Morgan Stanley and other banks and financial institutions, in areas such as trading platforms, where judicial changes help them make more money.
For Alfant, Japan is a great place to base a business. He likes the formal business style where deals are done on track record and reputation, not merely on who can offer the most aggressively competitive terms.
“I’ve worked in the region for 20 years and I’m not leaving,” says Alfant. “I’m married to a Japanese woman and my kids are obviously half-Japanese. This is my home. And I really like the way business is done here. We’re now in Shanghai and Hong Kong and while being from Brooklyn helps in negotiations sometimes, there’s a certain civility surrounding business in this region that suits my way of building companies.
“Sure we’ve had our ups and downs, and the Japanese economic bubble was just about to burst when I first got here. But I think tough times, such as those the whole world is experiencing now, offers great opportunities for entrepreneurs. In the good times the big businesses get all the deals. In the tough times there’s space for the small guy to get in there and offer something different. We’re more nimble and can turn projects around faster than the bigger companies. That’s a big advantage in a downturn.”
So what’s the biggest plus of building a successful business? Alfant is actually refreshingly honest. Where many people will state the best thing about building big companies is the pure effort of building them in the first place, doing the deals, giving back to the community, creating jobs and wealth for others, that sort of thing – Alfant gives a somewhat different answer.
“Money is important to me,” he says. “I’m greedy, but I’m long term greedy. I like people that are motivated by money as I know how to do business with them. I can predict them more easily. Of course, it’s great to have success and take care of the family, but I do believe money is one of the best measures of success.
“It’s like at baseball when the batter walks out,” adds the New York Yankees fan. “The first thing that comes on the screen is their batting average. You don’t read about the close calls, the nearly and maybes. The batting average tells you how good they are. It’s the same with money. Sure, there are other measures of success, but that’s a pretty good one.”