JACQUELINE Sutherland did not just dream. She carefully calculated each step of her journey in building what is now a lucrative contact centre enterprise in Jamaica.
Her company, Global Gateway Solutions, began operations in 2007 with five agents in a 5,000 square-foot facility in the Montego Bay Free Zone. Today, it has a staff of over 500 and occupies 30,000 square-feet of space.
“I put them on the phones right away,” recalled a jovial Sutherland about the handfull of staff she started Global Gateway with four years ago, processing early-stage debt collections for a local firm.
“We started small but we have grown significantly,” she told Sunday Finance.
The genesis of GGS came long before those early days in the bustling free zone.
Sutherland migrated from Jamaica to the US during her final year of high school at Priory in St Andrew but vowed to return to contribute to the development of her homeland.
“I visited Jamaica every year and always had a desire to come back and hopefully start a business. I guess that was the initial drive,” she said.
Sutherland went on to acquire an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science from Howard University and a Master’s in Telecommunications and Information Systems management from the University of Maryland. From there she became an influential technology executive in the US, working with Fortune 500 companies in areas related to
the selection and implementation of multimillion-dollar, customer service information technology systems.
It was while at Verizon Communications as director of information technology that Sutherland realised what type of service she would offer in Jamaica.
“My initial desire was to come back and do more of the higher level technology – more into information technology consultancy – but at the time the call centre business was ripe and flourishing, plus I was with Verizon when they started to outsource to India and so I became very familiar with the outsourcing of technology and call-centre services.”
Sutherland also observed a growing demand in the US for near-shore services rather than call centres in India — the centre of the industry at the time. What’s more, call centre space was growing in the Caribbean.
“So I decided that the time was right to explore opportunities to set up a facility in Jamaica,” she says.
Jampro, the national investment and export promotion arm of the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, played an integral role in helping Sutherland execute her business plan. The agency introduced her to Internet service providers and potential clients and made her aware of Jamaica’s infrastructure offerings.
“Jampro saw the value and was wonderful in the support that they gave. I came down and met with some folks and within the first week they escorted me to Montego Bay, I looked at my facility and decided that it was the right place for me to start,” she says.
Jampro president Sancia Bennett-Templer said it was particularly interested in helping Sutherland make her investment because of the immediate ability of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector to create jobs.
“This is a key mandate of the agency, and we are happy to share in the successes achieved by Global Gateway and other ICT/BPO (business process outsourcing) entities operating in Jamaica,” Bennett-Templer said.
All of Global Gateway’s start-up costs – roughly a couple hundred thousand US dollars — were paid by Sutherland out of pocket.
She initially opted to run the business remotely from Florida — as she was by then vice president at financial services company Bankrate — but later she returned home to focus on the venture.
Fast-forward four years and Global Gateway has emerged as one of the leading providers of contact centre solutions in Jamaica. A big part of this achievement can be attributed to the resources that US investor Mark Jones brought to the company in 2010. Jones, who was exploring opportunities in the local ICT space, bought a minority stake of Global Gateway that year and became the company chairman.
Sutherland acknowledged that Jones came on board at a time when the company needed both a financial fusion as well as the business acumen to realise serious growth.
“It’s been a great marriage of skill sets,” she said of the linkage, which was also facilitated by Jampro. “He brought the financing and accounting background to the company and I had the IT background.”
The results speak for themselves. At the start of 2010, Global Gateway had 50 agents and still occupied 5,000 square-feet in the Montego Bay Free Zone. By March 2010, it was well on its way to tying up a major deal with a company that would turn out to be one of its largest clients. Based on introductions once again facilitated by Jampro, it landed two additional contracts, which significantly bolstered the company’s growth momentum.
“We just began growing arms and legs, and I think by the middle of 2010 we grew to about 250 agents and added another 5,000 square feet of office space,” said Sutherland.
Global Gateway’s impressive expansion continued throughout the year, and at the start of 2011, the company’s staff complement increased to over 500, requiring an additional 10,000 square feet of space. The company recently secured another 10,000 square feet in an adjacent building in the free zone, bringing its total space to 30,000 square feet. And it is in the process of building out the new space, while eyeing expansion into Kingston.
“We have gathered momentum and credibility, and we’re now at a size that puts us in a position to attract top-tier international clients who are looking to bring 100 to 400 jobs as an opening proposition. This business always requires a hand-in-hand awareness of client expansion so we try to match those as closely as we can,” said Jones.
“In this business, when the opportunity comes, you have to have the facilities and the space within a 60 to 90-day window, so we try to stay a little ahead of our growth in that respect so that we are able to meet the demands of our clients,” he added.
Jones and Sutherland remain as impressed and encouraged as they were in the beginning by the quality of Jamaican talent available to the ICT sector. The chairman is bullish about the large and growing English-speaking workforce, which he said has the potential to provide world-class service at all levels of the industry.
“Right now, there are about 11,000 people in the ICT industry. Some 30,000 students are graduating every year and some meaningful proportion of those students certainly have the qualifications to be in the ICT sector — certainly enough, we think, to allow this industry to grow to 50,000 or 75,000 people,” said Jones.
Sutherland noted that the Jamaica workforce lends itself to providing outsourcing service to North American companies in particular, due to the island’s cultural affinity to the US and the ability of the agents to adopt a neutral accent that is easily understood. Even in cases where the Jamaican accent is clear, customers of Global Gateway’s clients have indicated that they find it more “welcoming” than the accents of agents from other countries.
Both principals of Global Gateway also identified the island’s robust telecommunications infrastructure and the relatively low cost structure required to set up operations as key factors for investing in Jamaica’s ICT sector.
Bennett-Templer of Jampro is confident that there will be many similar success stories going forward in the ICT sector.
“We look forward to landing more exemplary ICT projects, and facilitate the expansion of an increasing number of small players in Jamaica to become outstanding success stories as well,” she said.
Source: Jamaica Observer http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Jobs-on-the-line_20101016#ixzz1awkQiys0