Rebuilding the Cultural Structure
João Costa Reis
I look at a company’s culture as a distinguishing mark— a personality that defines and separates a company from all the rest. For me, a company is like a country. It has its own people and history, a government, a territory and a particular culture.
My company, Domusvenda, is like a young country. We kicked off in 2003 with less than 20 employees and limited experience in an unexploited market— the acquisition and servicing of non-performing loans (NPL) in Portugal. We had the determination, the desire and the right amount of team work. We were a country ready to make our global presence felt.
Looking back, I can say that my company’s culture was based on familiarity, drive, youth, informality and an almost absent hierarchy. We were like a single team working toward a common goal. People knew each other and there was a feeling of friendship and confidence. We were energized, talented and anxious to grow. I thought I was prepared for growth. Turns out I had some learning to do.
My company grew at a lightning-fast pace. The growth started in 2005, but 2006 was a decisive year. Banks grew more interested in selling NPLs, and we became the most recognized company in the market. By the end of 2006, our number of employees had risen to 140, and we started to develop a solid hierarchy. As a consequence of this fast growth, the company’s culture started to shift. Some changes were strategic; others came naturally. All of a sudden, I found I didn’t know all the employees’ names or in which department they worked. I also couldn’t gauge the daily concerns of my employees. Though the growth of my business was great, it threatened to damage the identity of my company.
I assessed the situation and took strategic action. I empowered more people to make decisions, systems were improved to create work flows, more departments were created, rules were put in place, performance- based compensation programs were implemented and recruitment became more exigent on higher skills and qualifications. This gave my company a stronger skeleton, though it wouldn’t prevent a decline in office morale. Naturally, the employees became more unfamiliar with each other, and the work environment became more competitive and less personal.
My company managed to weather a blizzard of business woes and came out alive. Today, Domusvenda is the Iberian leader in the NPL business. And, in spite of the changes our company culture suffered, I’m happy to say that our “country” didn’t lose its identity. My constant presence in the first years was a decisive factor in building and rebuilding the cultural structure. Even though the company is now quite different, I still find time to talk with most of my employees to learn about their concerns. I also try to find solutions ahead of time and maintain my company-wide presence whenever possible. By knowing what’s going on at the staff level, I can better predict dilemmas.
Since 1994, João Costa Reis has been a business pioneer in Portugal. He is the Founder, Chairman and CEO of Domusven- da, a company that handles the acquisition and management of non-performing mortgage, corporate and consumer loans. To reach João, you can email him at