Imagination's story on going global

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Patrick Reid, CEO of Imagination talks about his experience of growing the business globally.

From the West End to a global powerhouse

It was a humble beginning when Imagination opened its doors in 1968. Patrick Reid, CEO of the business, describes their first office as a cupboard in the West End. Now, the business employs 750 people in 10 countries. While its headquarters remain in central London, Imagination now has offices in Europe, Middle East, the Americas, and Asia Pacific.

Imagination specialises in designing experiences which change how people feel, think and act. Be it increasing brand reputation and preference, driving sales or shaping product design, ultimately Imagination believes in the power of experience to transform behaviour. And they measure the impact of everything they do, ensuring the experiences they create are insight driven, optimised and aligned to client's objectives.

As a global company, Imagination work with clients of all sizes across many sectors, but what really defines the business, says Patrick, is “using creativity in moments of transformation, when clients are facing real challenges and need to engage with their audience in a different way.”

The challenges of going global

Taking a business beyond its borders of origin is no easy task. Even those with the keenest business acumen can find the process daunting. For many years, Imagination’s entire staff operated under a single roof. When the business began to expand we encountered cultural challenges. “New clients had different expectations and priorities and new staff had to be immersed in the Imagination culture. There were regulatory challenges, time differences, business nuances. They all added up,” Patrick says.

Imagination grew organically to meet clients’ demands. Businesses wanted Imagination to provide local, regional and global support. It’s a journey Patrick remembers well. “I would describe going global as being like a rollercoaster. There are ups and downs, twists and turns, but ultimately, it’s something that you do enjoy. You look back and realise it’s an emotional trip of a lifetime.”

Patrick recalls that every setback made the business stronger. Imagination takes learnings from each of its locations and shares them with their global community. The result is a company that operates as one using cultural insights to inform how it trades across the world.

The particular challenges of China

Patrick explains that China is unlike the other countries Imagination has expanded in to. “All markets are different, but the one that really challenged us was China. There’s great opportunity there, but you have to work hard at it. Don’t think you will change China. China will change you.”

Imagination’s journey to China started in Hong Kong. At the start, Patrick set up the Hong Kong office, moving there by himself to establish the business. The business used Hong Kong as a base for the region and a stepping stone in to mainland China before, “taking the plunge.”

Patrick describes the learning curve as “huge”. He also dismisses a misconception that China isn’t as technologically advanced as the US or Europe. “Actually, the reverse is true. It’s a completely different ecosystem.”

When setting up in new regions, Patrick also cites a need to bring both worlds together inside the business. That means having seasoned members of the business on the ground in new regions, but also having a true local talent pool to bring their voice to the table and to make sure your business connects locally.

In China you should avoid generalisations, as Patrick explains. “China is huge, so when you say China, there’s a ton of cities, huge diversity and types of geographies and people. You can’t generalise. You really have to get under the skin of the culture.”

Centralising a treasury system

Going global impacts every area of a business. For Imagination, one major challenge was the need to have one holistic view of their treasury system. The old system was unable to provide a snapshot of the business and the process was time consuming and disjointed.

Imagination were very clear about their requirements for a new system when they started to talk to HSBC about it. HSBC discussed the benefits of a new solution before providing an implementation roadmap. The new system gave the business a holistic view while allowing them to drill down to the finer details.

Patrick is quick to recognise the way the new treasury system has influenced Imagination. “Like anything great, you don’t realise it’s there because it’s very intuitive. The benefits of HSBCnet for us are that we don’t have to spend time trying to piece together a picture of where we stand – we just have that information.”

A trusting partnership with HSBC

Patrick points out the correlation between Imagination’s success and its partnership with HSBC. “We’re the best in our industry, the best in our field and we demand that of our partners as well.”

Citing trust and capability as the critical factors when choosing a partner to drive a business forward, Patrick recognises HSBC sector specialisms as a reason for the successful partnership.

Our HSBC Relationship Managers play a pivotal role in helping businesses realise their global growth ambitions. They not only understand their clients’ unique propositions, strengths, weaknesses and overlaying the macro and local challenges, but more importantly they collaborate with other key business areas within the bank, such as International Subsidiary Banking, product specialists and customer services teams, making connections to deliver for their client.

For understanding the strategic objectives of the business, Patrick credits Jon Mosscrop, Imagination’s Global Relationship Manager, for playing a fundamental role in helping the business grow and thrive.

Patrick believes this relationship allows the business to spend time thinking about how to fulfil the growth while HSBC takes care of the back end of how to bring the plans to fruition. “What excites me most about the future,” Patrick says, “is there are no limits to how good this can get. We don’t necessarily want to be the biggest, but we want to be the best.”

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