By James Bargent
From Baltimore ad-man to Belize BPO evangelist via a Caribbean cruise, the path walked by Scott Newman on his way to becoming an outsourcing trailblazer was definitely off the beaten track. Newman is the CEO of Transparent BPO, a three-year-old operation born out of frustration with outsourcing service providers and the belief that cutting costs does not have to mean sacrificing quality and control. Since its formation, Transparent has been at the forefront of the expansion of the BPO market in Belize, and Newman himself has become a leading advocate for outsourcing in a country previously dismissed as a Caribbean backwater.
Before 2008, Newman and his business partners Bob Wienholt and Sean Bright worked in media and advertising for a major marketing company. Part of their role involved handling numerous call center contracts, an experience that left them disillusioned with the outsourcing process.
“We found it to be to be very burdensome and our needs weren’t always being met,” he said. “With outsourcing it was a black box type thing – here are the calls then they tell us what the results are – and we always wanted to be more involved in the process because we knew our product and we knew how to sell it.”
Instead of complaining about how they could do better, Newman and his partners decided that they would do better and began to discuss setting up their own BPO operation. The result of these discussions was Transparent – a name selected to reflect their remedy to what they saw as outsourcing’s maladies.
“English is the primary language of Belize, which is a huge selling point for us”
“Our core value that we run our business by is Transparency,” said Newman. “Our clients are very involved in the day to day process. We have real time web-reporting, they can listen to recordings in real time, offer feedback (and) we give them direct access to the floor.”
The decision to locate Transparent in Belize came after Bob Wienholt, now the company CTO, headed out on a cruise for his first vacation in four years. When the ship ported in Belize, Wienholt disembarked and was immediately taken with the friendly and welcoming atmosphere and struck by the outsourcing possibilities of a Central American country where English is the first language.
After Wienholt returned, the three set about researching Belize and its relatively untapped BPO potential. Impressed by what they found, they opened Transparent’s first offshore site in Belize City in 2009.
The choice was surprising for many in the sector – Belize only got its first call center in 2005 and the industry was still in its infancy. “We realized there are certain challenges to doing business in Belize because it was a relatively undeveloped market at the time,” said Newman, “but we felt it was worth the risk due to the great benefits Belize has to offer.”
The principal benefit that drew them in was the country’s language skills. “English is the primary language of Belize, which is a huge selling point for us,” said Newman. “We can have a U.S. sounding agent at Nearshore prices.”
However, that is not all Belize has to offer, according to Newman, who also highlighted its education system and telecommunications infrastructure as major attractions.
The rewards for their calculated gamble have come quickly. What began as a 30-seat operation expanded to 110 seats just a year later before doubling in size to its current 220 seats. Newman, though, is wary of over-expansion, especially for a business that prides itself on its personal service.
Mom and Pop
“We’ve positioned ourselves more as a “mom and pop” type shop, we’re not looking to be 1,000 seats or more,” Newman said. “Myself as CEO, the CTO and the CIO, we’re all involved in the day to day process and I think that involvement – the personal touch – along with our custom-built technology has allowed us to give a higher level of service.”
However, it has not all been smooth progress for Newman and Transparent. “Just like any new market it has its ups and downs,” said Newman.
One of the rumors about business in Belize doing the rounds among industry insiders is how foreign investment sometimes attracts official corruption. Newman, though, claims it has not been an issue for Transparent. “We have taken a straight approach to doing business in Belize,” he said. “We do everything by the book and make sure everything we do is above board and according to the law – we stay out of that.”
Instead, the principal problem for Newman has been getting Belize to see its own BPO potential. “They were unfamiliar with the benefits the BPO market can provide,” he said.
Following the investment of Transparent and other companies, this is now beginning to change, he added. “Over the last year and a half we’ve really seen a shift in that thought process and the government especially is seeing the benefits that a thriving BPO industry can provide for Belize and the number of jobs it can offer.”
With the government increasingly on side, Newman is now not just looking to expand Transparent’s operations, which he hopes to move into back office functions like data entry and quality control. He is also working to help Belize realize its outsourcing potential.
“There is a lot of infrastructure that needs to be improved on before Belize can become a really thriving BPO destination,” he said, “and that is where I am focusing a lot of my time and efforts – on helping create that environment in Belize.
However, Newman is aware of the dangers of seeking too much too soon for Belize. “My whole effort and goal is to build the BPO business in Belize because I think there is plenty of room to do big things,” he said. “But to do it responsibly so we can have a climate that grows in the long term, not just short term gains.”