While Oklahoma’s economic fortunes have long been tied to the energy industry, the state’s ability to draw in new and emerging industries has been a particular focus of economic development and political leaders. One Oklahoma-based company, Spiers New Technologies, is one firm involved in the emerging sector of battery refurbishment and manufacturing. Its founder, Dutch-born Dirk Spiers, spoke to the OKGIT.com about opening his business in the Sooner State and its plans for future international expansion.
Tell us a little bit about your background before you began your current endeavor?
“I’ve done a lot of things in my life: Foreign exchange, advertising and marketing, sports marketing, business Development. That, probably, is a short list.”
You were the director of international sales for ATC Drivetrain, is that how you initially got into the international business market?
“Yes, I did business development for ATC Drivetrain probably ten years or more ago, but I have been international my whole life. I think most people (born) in the Netherlands are international. You start to learn different languages when you are around 10, you travel, you watch foreign TV. I have been on every continent, traveled or did business in most places. So I have been ‘international’ – whatever that means – for a long time.”
How did you end up in Oklahoma City of all places?
“I wonder that myself. I was living in the Netherlands again for a few years and then I got an offer from an Oklahoma City-based company to join them. It was one of those moments. I said ‘yes’ and moved to Oklahoma City. It was a bit of a culture shock, although I have to say that Oklahoma City is improving a lot.”
Your business Spiers New Technologies is growing, with planned openings in California and the northeast. What about Oklahoma makes this a place to conduct business in addition to these other locations?
“We probably will first expand into Europe and China, I see that is happening first.
“We love California, we believe it is a very forward looking state, it has a healthy budget, it is not afraid to make big bets and it is leading the world in many ways. I used to live there and I miss it. For a business like us, that environment is very business friendly. But it is also a victim of its own success. Traffic, costs, just the sheer number of people is overwhelming. That is an opportunity for Oklahoma.”
“We are now based in Oklahoma City, which has the advantage of being centrally located in the U.S. We do a lot of logistics and for that it is great to be in the middle of the country. Also we managed to assemble a great team of operators, technicians and engineers. For now it is home. We hope it will continue to improve, become more business friendly, more forward looking with a more diversified economy.”
How many employees do you have at your current Oklahoma location? Any plans for a further expansion?
“We are constantly expanding; sometimes I wish we could catch our breath a bit before the next growth spurt. For now we are flat out and I am not complaining. We more than doubled in size this year alone and currently have around 40 employees. 18 months ago it was one.”
Can you elaborate on what some ways you believe the state could improve its investment climate to international firms?
“What I mean by ‘Oklahoma needs to diversify,’ is that it should not isolate itself. It should attract more, yet different business and help startups by creating a more entrepreneurial culture. The legislature needs to be more cooperative and more aware of the bigger – international – picture. Being pro-business means a lot more than cutting taxes at every opportunity and being conservative. I don’t mind paying more for a better product, I don’t think anyone does. It is all what you get for it.
“The growth of this state can only come from the outside, meaning you need to apply and think on an international level instead of inward looking and doing the ‘same old, same old’.
“Optics and reputation matter too. In recent years, when people who live outside this state read about Oklahoma, it has been about executions, tax and education cuts taking place simultaneously, our recent earthquake issues.
“People from the outside, especially outside the U.S., they can’t understand it. It puts them off. I’m from the Netherlands, which is very susceptible to the effects of climate change. When our leaders grandstand and openly ridicule scientific facts in public, it hurts us as a state and sets us back. You’d be amazed how many emails and calls I get from all over the U.S., Europe and Asia when that happens.
“That reputation does have an impact on Oklahoma’s potential, I saw it firsthand. Some bright engineers we were trying to recruit, they left the state because of this perception, and stuff like this is holding us back. Oklahoma should be at the center of the world, not at the edge”.
Given your international business experience, what advice would you give to international firms or professionals considering doing business here?
“That is difficult to answer. It would depend on your business, what sector are you in, what stage of your growth are you in. There are plenty of advantages, but also some disadvantages. People are very friendly, you are central and it is very easy to get connected. You have short lines to everyone. I love that here.”
“I wish that the legislators in the capitol would be a bit more forward looking and focus on the issues which are really meaningful, rather than try to just score political points. Sometimes I am amazed what is going on. I think a lot of international companies will feel similarly.
“Pragmatism is often missing. We need to be careful that we don’t isolate ourselves. We need to look into the future and embrace it. See it as an opportunity, not a threat. It is better to lead than to eventually follow and compete on margin. There is more value to be made in new opportunities, markets and segments than there is in optimizing decade’s old business models. Some of the country’s biggest businesses did not exist 20 to 30 years ago. It is better to be a growing Netflix than huge a Blockbuster. Progress is inevitable and it is better to lead than to follow. However hard it is. And that is the Oklahoma spirit”.
Spiers New Technologies performs battery life cycle management of advanced battery storage packs. Working with electric car manufacturers, Spiers New Technologies grades and remanufactures used high-performance batteries. To learn more about Spiers New Technologies visit www.spiersnewtechnologies.com or email Dirk@Spiers.com.