IBEX Global is new to the nearshore. It wasn’t until after new CEO and nearshore vet Robert Dechant took the helm last year that the Washington-based service provider embraced the nearshore, quickly expanding into Jamaica and Nicaragua.
He called their strategy a “double-barreled” approach to tapping the talent in two locations where the company hopes to thrive and grow for years to come. The Kingston operations opened late last year on December 1, and so far have a headcount of 600. But Dechant says IBEX is “hiring as fast as we can” and will exceed 1,000 workers by June. He thinks the company can eventually have anywhere from 3,500 to 5,000 people in the Jamaica market.
The only issue is that the company needs to find another location because it has “already blown out of our initial center.” He admits this a challenge on the island.
The market is unique in the Western Hemisphere in that it offers an English-speaking population that makes scaling up easy from a personnel and wage perspective. But this is countered by the cold, logistic problem of not having a wide array of suitable office space. “The biggest challenge right now I see is lack of facilities,” said Dechant. “One of the big limiting factors for the market is the lack of ready-made, move-in-ready facilities.”
Kingston doesn’t not resemble the major, cosmopolitan capitals that he and others in the industry have grown accustomed to operating in. He says those trying to promote and encourage more investment in Jamaica understand the problem and are trying to do more about it. Last year, officials relocated their postal service from a modern office to make way for BPO firms.
But while well intentioned, officials need to do more to help companies looking to expand. “They’re very aware of it,” said Dechant. “But it [will never be] like going into Bogotá and seeing high rise after high rise where you can take floors seven through 11 and then put a thousand seats in a beautiful high rise. It’s hard.”
This is one reason why putting a guy like Dechant in charge was crucial for IBEX before it moved into places like Kingston and Managua, Nicaragua, where the company just opened a new site two weeks ago. This center, which has 400 workers, was launched to provide customer service for Western Union, which IBEX works with already in the Philippines and is now its first client in Nicaragua.
And his knowledge of the on-the-ground realities has been necessary to overcoming the little hurdles that exist in such markets. To solve the space issues, for example, he helped steer IBEX towards a more spread-out location that has a bit more of “a campus environment” and incorporates local cultural elements that boost morale. The office has an attached outdoor dining area for subsidized lunches “that just gives it that island feel” of “having somebody smoke your chicken and pork.”
Both he and his chief operating office had a lot of first-hand working experience in Nicaragua, and Jamaica has been a place he has been researching, visiting, and hoping to enter for a long time. “I started thinking, probably three of four years ago, that this could an amazing place to put call center operations in,” said Dechant. “Candidly, I’ve been sketching on the back of a cocktail napkin a good business plan for Jamaica for awhile.”
He admits that IBEX likely wouldn’t have pushed so quickly into Jamaica had he not been running the company. And all the planning and long-term thinking has been imperative. “Leveraging a lot of what I had known around the market for quite a few years, I think, really helped the success,” he said. “It wasn’t like we were novices going into that market to be successful. We brought a lot of domain knowledge. Just knowing how to do business and making the right relationships — the local relationships — have been key.”
Jamaica’s stability was another draw for Dechant. There was some concern, as always that, electing a new leader could shake things up. But new Prime Minister Andrew Holness was sworn in on March 3, and there have been no waves for the industry. “From a political standpoint, Jamaica is absolutely fantastic,” said Dechant. “That’s very important. We need stability.”
The best way to illustrate the value of this is looking at the alternative. Think about Argentina, which he viewed as the hottest nearshore market — growing faster than the Philippines — before mandated, double-digit wage-inflation and an unpredictable government sent everyone running. “It just shut down a market for outsourcing. It went from high growth — faster than any other market — to zero. To exit. In Jamaica, there’s no issues, no concerns on anything like that. That’s important as a company going in because you’re near investing a lot a lot of dollars.”
In some locations, these things can change quickly. But he understands the history in Jamaica, where the government’s stance on welcoming the IT, BPO, and services industry has not wavered no matter who is in power — unlike other once-desirable spots. “Think about how many call center jobs have moved out of Costa Rica,” said Dechant. “It’s not because the people aren’t great and the telco infrastructure isn’t great. It is. But the cost structures were just off the charts. Those things matter and Jamaica has been fantastic.”
With the Jamaica operations now four months old — and expanding — IBEX is looking more towards Nicaragua. The Managua center servicing Western Union is already up and running, and the company now has a nearshore advocate as CEO. The firm is “bullish on nearshore” now, and Dechant sees its long-term model following a similar path to what it took in the Philippines: the well-known markets are tackled first and then expansion branches out from there like spokes on a wheel.
But as it was before rushing into Jamaica and Nicaragua, having the right people in place who know how to navigate new markets is imperative. “It’s not just going in and looking at the demographics and ‘saying let’s go,'” said Dechant. “Market knowledge really, really matters. That’s a key ingredient.”