As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Bob Dechant.
As CEO of ibex, Bob has launched the company’s BPO 2.0 revolution, leading ibex’s transformation into a tech-led, digitally driven, award-winning provider of end-to-end customer lifecycle and digital transformation solutions for the world’s leading New Economy and Blue-Chip brands. During his time as CEO, Bob has made strategic investments in technology, people, and nearshore and offshore growth, expanding ibex’s footprint in the emerging, dynamic markets of Nicaragua, Jamaica, and The Philippines, featuring impressively branded contact centers and highly skilled and engaged agents. Since joining the company in 2015, Bob has driven major revenue and EBITDA growth at ibex, leading to the company’s August 2020 IPO on Nasdaq, marking ibex as a key provider and growth leader in the industry. Prior to his role at ibex, Bob was Chief Sales, Marketing and Client Services at Qualfon, a rapidly growing global BPO provider with a particular focus on nearshore service delivery capabilities.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I was at IBM for 10 years when a client offered me the job of head of sales and marketing for WorldTek Travel, one of the largest travel agencies in the world. While there, I had a large client in the outsourced contact center space. That client then offered me a job to lead sales and marketing. I jumped at the opportunity because it sounded like a real change in the way businesses were connecting with their customers. I knew this was a really cool market in its early phase, and that it would have a lot of staying power. So, in the mid-90s, I made the switch, and I’ve been in the contact center/customer experience industry ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It was when COVID hit in March of 2020. Our largest market for running our contact centers is the Philippines and the government was putting in place mandates and lockdowns. Our employees could not come into the office and our entire business was at risk of being upended. But we quickly came up with a solution that made us even more resilient than we were before. We have about 10,000 people in the Philippines, and we moved about 7,000 of them to a work-from-home environment in the span of 72 hours. Keep in mind that many of them did not have their own PCs. We had to configure all those machines, package them, individually deliver them and then educate the workforce on how to serve our customers on a mass scale from home. And we had to do this in a market where reliable power and bandwidth aren’t exactly guaranteed. We were not only able to survive the challenge, but actually thrive and create a stronger business.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It was my first board meeting as the CEO of Ibex. We were a public company on the London Stock Exchange and honestly, I had no understanding of the protocols around public board meetings. There is a certain formality that goes with public boards in London. I was this first-time CEO from America with no appreciation or understanding of what was required. It was a learning experience to say the least.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Back in the mid-90s, Steve Moore was the CEO of Stream International, a leader in business process outsourcing. He hired me to run sales and marketing. I was the proverbial hard-charging sales guy, who just wanted to break glass everywhere. Steve loved the fact that I brought an edge to the company. But he also took the time to help me expand my skill set beyond sales and develop into an executive who could work across all departments and functions. That eventually enabled me to rise to the CEO level. Steve was the guy that really helped me become more than just a one-dimensional sales executive.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
At Ibex, we employ 30,000 people around the globe, in markets like Jamaica, Senegal, and the Philippines. So, we need an executive team that looks like our organization writ large. We have amazing talent in our organization across the board, and it’s imperative that our board and our leadership team represent that diversity. Our call center agents need to be able to look at their leadership and say, hey, that’s a reflection of me.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
In countries around the world, we have championed the hiring of L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ employees. But we don’t just hire them, we embrace their talents and share their passions. For example, every year we hold an American Idol-like competition that we call Ibex Sirens. This is an opportunity for our L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ employees to participate in singing and fashion contests. The event starts at the site level and the winners move all the way up to the global level. The performances, pageantry, and outfits — from elegant evening gowns to cultural fashions that employees design themselves — are just incredible. I don’t think any company in the world has anything like this.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
The CEO’s responsibilities are holistic and cover all elements of the business. CEOs are not just accountable to their employees, but to their customers, partners and shareholders.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
CEOs are not King Solomon. They are not the wisest people who ever lived. They don’t have all the answers. In fact, I look at it very much from the other way around. I do not have the skills to make all the decisions. My job is elevating the thought process of the team and making sure they’ve examined issues from every possible angle.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Coming into the job, I thought it was about the execution of the overall business during the fiscal year. But the actual job is to think beyond the fiscal year — to think about where the business needs to be three to five years out, and how to get there.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Not everyone is cut out to be an executive. Just because you’re really smart or have really great ideas does not mean that you can necessarily be a great executive. Being a successful executive is all about accountability. Great executives are able to set objectives and then hold themselves and their team accountable to achieving those objectives.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Culture is the most important differentiator for our business. You need to be passionate about creating a great culture every day. If you’re not authentic, Monday through Friday, 52 weeks out of the year, and Saturdays and Sundays as well, you’ll never have a great culture. We’ve created an entire engagement organization that goes to each of our contact centers to build the right level of fun, passion, rewards and recognition. If our agents have that passion, then the customers they interact with will also feel that same level of excitement.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We are an organization of over 30,000 people, and 27,000 of those are in emerging markets. In those emerging markets, the jobs that we are creating are white-collar jobs. So, we are helping to create a middle class in countries that never had one before. Those jobs create new opportunities not just for our employees, but for their families as well. If we are successful as a growth company, we can continue to have an impact on these emerging markets on a major scale. And as we grow, our people can progress from agents to managers, so it’s not just a middle class we’re creating, but a management path.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1: It’s important to know what is appropriate to engage your board of directors in and what is not. The board is not interested in the gory details of the business. They’re interested in the strategic side. It took me about four years to learn that.
2: It’s critical, as a CEO, to have a really good executive assistant. Our majority shareholder was a private equity company that didn’t believe executive teams needed executive assistants. So, we didn’t have any for 12 months. You quickly learn that figuring out logistics and booking things like hotels and meetings is a very complex and demanding job in and of itself. It was challenging during those 12 months. Not having executive assistants was a classic example of being pennywise and pound foolish.
3: The harmony of your leadership team is vital. Having just one toxic player on your team can poison the whole organization. Everyone on your team needs to be able to work well, through good times and bad. If one person doesn’t fit that mold, you need to address it upfront.
4. Spend at least 15% of your time thinking about strategy and vision versus day-to-day execution. It is imperative to create a North Star for the business that all can unite around and not lose focus even during challenging times. The vision also needs to keep evolving.
5. The challenges of a public company CEO versus a privately-held company are night and day. The priorities of your shareholders vary significantly. Some are long-term focused while others are focused on the next quarter. This is a very difficult balancing act.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
There is so much talent in underdeveloped markets around the world. My movement would be to embrace that talent, to really tap into that talent, enabling communities and entire nations to lift themselves up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Money never sleeps, pal.” — Gordon Gekko
For Ibex, in the CX business, we’re supporting our customers 24/7 all around the globe. We have to be equally good on the first call as the call that comes in at 4 am in the morning. Our business can never sleep.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Warren Buffett. It’s not just that he has an amazing track record as an investor, it’s that he looks at himself as an owner of these businesses. Understanding what he sees in these really successful companies could be enormously valuable for any business leader.