When Amer Nasereddin returned to Jordan in 1996 upon completing his studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, he quickly spotted a chance to put his business administration degree to good use. “I realized there were particular gaps in the IT industry that could be filled, and looking around, I saw a lot of talent that could be utilized. So along with my brother and a couple of university friends, I founded Primus soon after my return.”
The Primus team started out in the ISP business, but soon realized it wasn’t for them. “In less than two months, we realized that being an ISP wouldn’t be sustainable, because it’s like the commodities market; a few JDs less and our clients would move to a cheaper provider,” Nasereddin explained. So Primus switched to providing website development services.
In 1998, shortly after becoming a subcontractor for USAID, Nasereddin realized the bulk of their work being delivered in Jordan was actually coming out of the United States. “So I questioned my board: What if I go to Washington D.C. and start meeting with these big contracting companies?” Accordingly, Nasereddin began scheduling at least two to three business trips to the United States each year, and new projects started coming in.
Each company Primus approached subsequently opened the door to another. BearingPoint was one such company. The consultancy, which was contracted to rebuild Iraq, was working on a customs levy project there. “Being US-educated Arabs, we are familiar with the US business culture as well as Middle Eastern particularities; we understand the best of both sides,” said Nasereddin. Primus managed to win the bid for the project, successfully delivering on all tasks despite the difficulties posed by the on-ground situation in Iraq. “I remember on my several flights to Baghdad the plane landing spirally to prevent being hit by a missile—and that’s besides the many unfortunate incidents we witnessed in the city.”
Other deals with BearingPoint followed. They worked together on a social security funds distribution network for Iraq’s Ministry of Labor, as well as an education management information system implementation across the country—contracts that Primus had won bidding against other large subcontractors with decades of experience. Primus and BearingPoint also won a case-management system to automate all Qatari court proceedings.
Primus then set up commercial offices in Palestine, Egypt, and Bahrain. When asked to define the major factor that enabled Primus to break through those markets, Nasereddin listed a few. “We introduced custom-made software built from scratch. Moreover, we were always present on the ground, dedicated and fulfilling our promise. Clients really appreciate that,” he explains.
Opening up subsidiary companies in different countries enabled Primus to operate at the local level. Another key factor is the ability to continue evolving and adapting with time, because in their business the only constant is change. For example, although the company’s main aim was to become a system integrator, budget cuts across many regional governments during the Arab Spring compelled Primus to redirect resources towards the banking sector, the only sector spending money at that time, and a few years back, the company began to collaborate with India’s Infosys on core banking, Internet banking, and mobile banking assignments.
Eventually, Nasereddin set his sights on establishing an office in the United States, thus enabling the company to bid on USAID projects as a prime contractor rather than a sub-contractor. “In 2003, the Primus team were doing some work for BearingPoint, and I had the good fortune of meeting an exceptional individual, Chas White, who was at the time the global CIO and Executive Vice-President of BearingPoint.” By that time, Primus had worked with BearingPoint on a number of key projects in the region, the latest of which would be a retainer to maintain their IT operations all the way from Afghanistan to Amman—and everything in between.
Primus’ break-through into the US market was nearing. After providing services to BearingPoint and other US firms on overseas projects for years, it was obvious that the next most logical step for the company would be having physical presence in the United States, a plan that took a good few years to materialize. “We registered Primus U.S.A. in Fairfax County in 2016, and we have been fortunate to have Chas White on board with us in this venture.” Nasereddin considers the creation of Primus U.S.A—with Chas as a partner—as one of the company’s greatest achievements to-date.
Early engagements by Primus U.S.A. were with DAI, one of the largest USAID contractors. DAI is a global development company that retained Primus to review their IT function. “Chas White and the Primus team have helped us step outside the prism of our own thinking regarding IT governance and strategy. With the benefit of this external perspective, we are better positioned to seize the opportunities and mitigate the risks facing our business in the next phase of our evolution as a global development services provider,” affirms James Boomgard, DAI’s President and CEO.
Summing up the past 20 years, Nasereddin stresses the maturity of Primus. “We tell our clients: IT as a partner rather than a plumber. Partner is somebody who sits with you behind the table and together you’re marrying the business with technology. It is a win-win situation.”
The United States is currently Primus’ strongest market, followed by Palestine and Iraq. “Nevertheless, I believe the Jordanian market still retains much potential. It is where we started the business, and it is where our hearts lie.”
The challenges encountered along the way have been numerous. One of them involves retaining talent—human capital. “Jordan has countless qualified individuals, but the Gulf, in comparison to our market, is a more rewarding employer,” admits Nasereddin. Primus graduated a number of talented individuals, who have since been lured by some of the biggest global companies across a number of sectors, and the company is indeed very proud of that.
Primus’ strategy for 2017 is to continue pursuing opportunities with regional companies and multinationals based in the United States or Western Europe with operations in the Middle East. Primus’ focus will be on governance and strategy, operations realization, financial portfolio management, and information security. The marketing message is that the methodologies Primus employs represent years of experience with numerous client engagements across a variety of tier one, multinational organizations. “The beauty of the matter is that our services can also be condensed to the principal value creators and scaled to activities that can be accomplished by middle market organizations,” adds Nasereddin. “As we emerge as trusted advisors and partners, our presence in the regions we serve will enable us to increasingly assume prime contractor roles there, and with those wishing to work in the Middle East.”
The company’s ambition for 2017/2018 is to add one major client engagement per quarter and multiply their gross revenues. All doubts aside—Primus is certainly poised to achieve their set figures without any major difficulties.