For Mindtree's general manager, job was a meeting of the minds
Published: Sunday, April 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 19, 2013 at 12:54 a.m.
Joelle Smith had already worked for Mindtree Limited once before she was hired as general manager of its first U.S. software development center in Gainesville, but they weren't yet ready for each other.
About Joelle Smith
Age: “A lady never tells.”
Occupation: General manager, Mindtree.
Personal: “Happily married to the most patient man on the planet.”
Pets: “Tully, our dog who outsmarts us on a regular basis.”
Dream partner for lunch: “Any honest and kind Mind (another name for a Mindtree employee).”
Biggest difference between Gainesville and Philadelphia: “There is only one of everything — one Best Buy, one mall. I need to be better at planning birthday purchases.”
Best things about moving to Gainesville: “The people and the weather. Everyone is so nice. You just don't see that in the Northeast.”
Best things about moving to Florida: “No state tax and no annual automobile emissions test — awesome!”
Last book read: “Tribes” by Seth Godin.
Favorite TV: “Philadelphia sports. I am a diehard Eagles, Flyers and Phillies fan, although after this past year's performances I found solace in watching the Gators.”
Playing in her car: XM Radio — “big Mumford & Sons fan.”
Hobbies: Softball, hiking, swimming, diving (springboard and scuba), fishing, boating.
Education: B.S. in biology and marine science, East Stroudsburg (Pa.) University “with a master's in hard work, great mentors and a little Irish luck.”
The India-based company first hired her four years ago to grow its new capital markets division, providing software to the financial services industry.
She had built a career selling software to traders and investment bankers around the world for Philadelphia-based offices of Wharton Econometrics and Thomson Reuters. She was then hired as the sixth employee of AppLabs, based in India with an office in Philadelphia, and built its finance division to nearly 1,000 people over four years.
Smith said she was excited to join a larger firm the size of Mindtree, but they were not ready to invest in the infrastructure to support the financial industry. After trying to put her into other areas, "we parted friends" and she went to work for a small consulting firm as director of sales for a few years.
"Mindtree called me back and said, ‘OK, we're really ready for growth now. We promise. And not just capital markets. We're going to grow in everything. And can you move to Gainesville?"
Smith called it a "meant-to-be type thing." Scott Staples, president of the Americas for Mindtree, was creating a software development center in the U.S., an idea Smith had pitched to her previous boss and was told she was "crazy."
"Everybody said, ‘The cost model doesn't work. You can't compete with India and China.' And I was like, ‘Yeah, but there's a lot of people out there that really want quality and value and there's some challenges that you have when you're trying to do it from 8,000 miles away.' "
After starting with an office in the UF Innovation Hub on Southwest Second Avenue last summer, Mindtree officially opened in October across the street in the renovated third floor of the south tower of the Ayers Medical Plaza. It will be expanding to the fourth floor, which is being renovated.
Mindtree's software development center has seven clients and expects to land three more by the end of May. Of the seven, two are new to Mindtree. Both chose the U.S. center after considering "near-shore" options in Mexico and Argentina, Smith said.
Mindtree's work includes designing software for the travel industry, financial industry, retailers, a video game company and an entertainment mobile application.
Three customers are in the Fortune 500 and one is a private company the size of a Fortune 100 company.
The only customers Smith said she can name are the University of Florida and Sonoco, a South Carolina-based packaging manufacturer.
The center has hired 75 people so far and expects to hire about 100 people a year for its first four years. About a quarter of its workforce are internal Mindtree transfers from 11 different countries who are here on work visas. Many new hires are from Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville, while 19 are UF graduates.
Smith said she is pleasantly surprised that the community support that helped lure Mindtree to Gainesville has continued.
"I thought for sure as soon as we got here and committed to everything that everybody would kind of disappear, and it hasn't been the case at all," she said.
The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, UF, Santa Fe College "are constantly helping us educate clients about all the great things happening in Gainesville."
Mindtree, in turn, has helped the Chamber try to lure companies to Gainesville, including Sears, which toured their office before announcing it would open an information technology office in the fall.
"We talked to them one on one about what it's really like to be here," Smith said.