One of the recent phenomena of the BPO business over the last couple of years has been the growth and improvement of the mid-tier competitors to emerge as genuine rivals for major enterprise deals. As many of these engagements become more specialized and complex, they need increased attention and focus from the provider – and, in many cases, buyers feel they are getting the red carpet treatment from some of the smaller pure-play providers.
When you look at the hyper growth of the ITO business over the last decade-plus, it was this “penetrate and radiate” strategy that propelled the likes of Cognizant and TCS to the forefront of the IT services business. Their clients would start with 20 FTEs, then that would increase to 100, then 300, then 1000…. and before you knew if they’d eaten the lunch of the HPs and IBMs and were already checking out the dessert menu.
So why is BPO any different? The mega deals of pre-recession days are long-gone and we are now entering a phase of solid, steady industry growth in the 5-10% range. These are the times the ambitious BPOs need to develop relationships with clients that will probably start small, but can snowball to have huge potential in the future, once they have figured out the right model and have learned to work together.
One such firm that rode the early BPO wave, survived the recession, and has just enjoyed its best ever year, where it almost reached the $500m revenue milestone and grew 8% (well above the industry average)… is WNS. Competitors hate it when WNS appears on the bake-off roster as they know how determined and competitive the firm is, while many clients hear from other WNS clients that the firm really works hard for its business and puts tremendous energy and focus into its delivery.
However which way you look at the firm, it has emerged in its own right and is challenging the elite for deals it would never have got a sniff at even three years ago. So let’s hear from the man at the helm who has overseen this transformation, Keshav Murugesh, who graciously took some time out from his batting practice to speak to us…
Phil Fersht (CEO, HfS): Keshav, we’re really pleased that you’ve found time to talk to us, as WNS has been making quite a lot of noise in the marketplace, especially since you came on board in 2010. Would you please start by giving us an intro to your own background and how you ended up running a BPO business?
Keshav Murugesh (CEO, WNS): Well, I was an accountant at one point in time, and knew I had to make my life a little more interesting. So I worked with the Indian affiliate of British American Tobacco for about 13 years. But rather than focusing on the traditional tobacco business, I actually helped the company change its entire market positioning and increased its market capitalization by creating several new businesses. As a conglomerate, it had various divisions — edible oil seeds, financial services, real estate and so on. And, finally I stepped into the information services division of the business and helped create a company called ITC Infotech.
At the end of those 13 years, I had learned a lot in terms of creating new businesses and value for shareholders. I also realized that the next 50 years was going to be driven by progress around the IT and the IT-enabled side of the business, and that’s when I decided to make the big move to a company that had IT as its focus.
So in 2002, I joined Syntel, an IT services company as CFO, and very quickly became its COO and then CEO. During my time there, the focus was on becoming an end-to-end services company that covered both IT and business processes. Consequentially, the company saw a surge in revenue and market capitalization.
When I was approached in 2010 for the WNS role, frankly, I did not know much about the company. But as I conducted my research, I came to understand that it really was the pioneer in the BPO space given its British Airways lineage, had a great culture and a fantastic roster of clients. I also realized that it seemed to have lost its way and hadn’t really focused on its long-term strategy over the preceding three or four years. Hence, it seemed an exciting challenge for any CEO to take up! Since then, we have been highly focused on creating a differentiation, establishing a new story in the marketplace and driving value for all stakeholders.
Phil: WNS has been around for a long time in the BPM/BPO space, but it seems like things have changed a bit recently. The company seems to be a little more aggressive and there seems to be a lot of good thinking coming out of the business. What is changing in the company?
Keshav: We have focused on three key differentiators that are resonating well in the marketplace and driving business momentum for us.
First, we launched an end-to-end, vertically aligned go-to-market strategy three-and-a-half years ago. In each of our carefully selected verticals we have a leader who comes from the industry who Read More