February 2009

Global customers, small town American values

Ricardo Layun, vice president and head of US operations for TBSS, talks about the pride, energy, new jobs and new opportunities despite marketplace challenges

Ricardo LayunAmidst the global economic concerns that have penetrated every business sector, one member of the Tata group of companies is leveraging its ‘small town values’ and its lower cost base to win business, create jobs and compete on the global stage. Formed in 2004, Tata Business Support Services (TBSS) entered the US marketplace in 2006 through a strategic acquisition of TRX’s US call centers, providing the company with state-of-the art sites in Middle America.

 

Ricardo Layun, vice president and head of US operations for TBSS, talks about the pride, energy, new jobs and new opportunities despite marketplace challenges

TBSS operates in well-established sector where product differentiation can be difficult to achieve. What makes the US operation unique in the marketplace? 
By virtue of our locations in Milton, Florida and Reno, Ohio we offer many things that you might not find in companies based in larger metropolitan centers. Our work ethic is strong, and the loyalty to the company is strong and these are qualities that stem from our decision to operate in smaller towns. The individuals who work for us are proud of what they do, and are extremely professional. Our location outside of urban centers also allows us to keep our cost base low.

If you look at our customer profile, we are supporting companies who absolutely rely on superior day-to-day interactions. They want to be assured of a VIP-type experience for their own clients, and so they want a partner that is nearby. It provides a degree of comfort that can’t be replicated with an offshore-only operation.

How has the strategy worked out? Have you been able to fend off the economic downturn?
I think our strategy has proven very effective. Not only are we fending off the downturn, but we will almost double our US workforce in the first quarter of 2009 by adding 160 new employees in Milton and Reno. That will bring us to nearly 400 people in the US.

But I also think that our recent success in the US market is fairly consistent with our company’s track record over the past three years. TBSS was founded to provide call center operations and business support services to other Tata companies, and then we quickly began expanding our role as we added clients who were separate from the Tata family. This strategy has been especially effective in America.

What types of opportunities has your relationship with the wider Tata group opened up?
We have tremendous expertise supporting travel transactions, and the travel industry is an important sector for us. That’s a legacy from TRX which is somewhat independent of our relationship with other Tata companies, but it was an area of focus for our parent company before TBSS acquired us. That said, we have also been able to expand into other verticals, such as retail and insurance, and possibly tech support in the future. 

Being part of Tata means that we can leverage relationships with other Tata companies. For example, our relationship with TCS has opened doors to new verticals which would have been tougher to get into alone. By the same token, when I am looking for a supplier for telecommunications, it’s Tata Communications I go to first, so it works in both directions.

So the broader economic environment hasn’t hurt your business at all?
I am confident that our group in the US is strongly positioned to weather the economic storm, and perhaps to thrive in it. But like everyone, we’ve been hurt too, and the economy has forced at least one customer to cancel its contract.

On the other hand, it has definitely also opened opportunities among potential customers who want to maintain an onshore presence at a lower cost base. If necessary, these new customers can ramp-up their relationship with TBSS by utilizing the additional resources in India, offering flexibility and scalability that many competitors cannot deliver. On balance, I think our proposition is pretty attractive during difficult economic times.

What does it mean to be part of the Tata group? Has it been a smooth process integrating into the group since the acquisition?
First of all, there is so much doom and gloom out there. I think it can’t be said enough how proud I am that we have been able to create over 160 new jobs. That’s something the whole Tata group should be proud of. Aside from the business connections, synergies and potential revenue pipelines that come as part of the Tata network, being part of a larger group delivers a degree of pride to the teams in Milton and Reno. The acquisition in 2006 energized our staff and created and renewed the business.  

There was a lot of anxiety around the acquisition, because people weren’t familiar with the brand. But people were eager once it was completed. Before Tata, people were part of a company that didn’t view them as a core business. Then, there is this company that comes along and says it is very interested in what you do and sees your role as both unique and valuable — plus this is a company with 140 years of tradition behind it. It really energized us.
 
After the acquisition, TBSS’ American business has been encouraged to find ways to stay connected with the communities we work in. Relay for Life, the American Cancer Society and the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio are all groups that TBSS has built relationships with, and it’s something that means a great deal to the teams in Ohio and Florida. The participation in community has gone a long way toward smoothing the integration process.