When I decided to launch Nearshore Americas back in 2009, it was to serve an industry that needed a voice.
That industry – commonly called the Nearshore outsourcing industry – brings in roughly $15 billion of revenue a year for countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
The market then, and now, desperately needs to be understood. Yet, in the era of Trump, chaos is winning out over clarity and fear seems to be causing many C-suite leaders in the U.S. to double-down on vows of silence.
“Our Lips are Sealed”
The decision to stay quiet is nothing new in our industry. In fact, I myself have been called naive to suggest that customers of IT and BPO services should openly describe what is like to work with partners in places like Mexico, Colombia, Jamaica, Argentina, and Costa Rica.
Some executives see no problem talking about their experiences, often propelled by the life-changing, ‘humanizing’ experience of getting to know people in the Caribbean/Latin America (CALA) region who take great pride in holding down a job like a call center agent that they frequently consider a solid career.
The most likely to praise their partners are some of the estimated 25,000 small- and medium-sized U.S. businesses that rely in some part on knowledge-services partners in the CALA region.
Even so, the vast majority of United States business leaders shutter at the possibility of disclosure, but can you blame them?
People Don’t Understand
The risk-reward conversation goes like this:
I have everything to lose and nothing to gain if I work for a Fortune 1,000 company outsourcing to Latin America, or for that matter, anywhere in the world.
People don’t understand my business, they don’t understand that we need to work with the smartest people we can find no matter where they are.
No-one understands that our business has become global in nature, and that we’re not sure if our latest project will last more than six months, and that hiring a U.S. worker with rising healthcare costs puts more crippling pressure on our operating margins, meaning we lose market share if we start passing that cost on to our customers.
In other words, people don’t get it. They never will. And the political atmosphere makes speaking out suicidal.
There are deep levels of hypocrisy at play here. Take for instance the New York Times, held up often as a sterling example of the free and open U.S. press. The Times recently declared, “The truth is more important than ever.”
Do you think the Times brain-trust would feel that way when asked to explain the vital role a leading outsourcing firm from India has played in supporting its digital operations over the last number of years? (We spoke a few years ago to a Times’ communications officer, and they quickly declined comment. Suppose that has changed?)
I’m not looking to ‘out’ corporations in this piece. What I am aiming to do is help them recognize that many are only one explosive, United Airlines-like debacle away from being exposed for grand-scale duplicity on a show like John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight.
This practice is akin to having a great chef laboring away in your kitchen, but never allowing him or her to enter the main stage of the dining room.
On the flipside are companies like Wayfair, which, after some prodding, went along with our request eight months ago to describe the crucial role the company has played creating jobs for professionals in Guyana, who do merchandising and back-office work.
Risk of Oversimplification
Of course, like just about any subject that blends politics and business, it’s complicated. The multi-directional flows of cross-border investment in ICT are complex, and continue to be an target for gross oversimplification.
We hope to detangle some of that complexity when we hold an important panel discussion called, “Navigating in the New Reality of the United States” in a few weeks at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. as part of our annual Nexus conference.
We have some very smart folks on that panel – including Bismarck Lepe, a former Googler who has become a successful entrepreneur with both Ooyala and Wizeline; Dilawar Syed, President of FreshDesk who is singlehandedly carving a new pathway for politically outspoken tech business leaders; Priya Alagiri, a leading Silicon Valley attorney with a razor sharp understanding of the practical impacts of the various bans, visa restrictions and other barriers – both spoken and perceived – that are starting to rip a hole through the fabric of our society. A late entrant to the panel is Henry Han, who is executive director of technology investment for the British Colombia province of Canada. Moderating the panel is Steven Kirz, a managing partner at sourcing advisory firm, Pace Harmon in San Francisco.
A few weeks ago, I sat down with Dilawar, a native of Pakistan who describes himself as a deeply proud American, having immigrated here and becoming a citizen. Dilawar is concerned about the increasing division in American society, and goes as far to say that Silicon Valley needs to bridge that gap by, for example, creating tech centers in Rust Belt cities. Look within the United States to build talent pools, he argues.
Building bridges, being more transparent, and having the courage to announce in your quarterly conference calls that teams in overseas markets are of fundamental benefit to your company doesn’t sound that difficult. The beautiful thing about technology services is it cannot function well in an ‘us vs. them’ environment. Success requires collaboration.
Let’s not pretend that the political tone in this country isn’t impacting our business culture. I’d like to think our country can have more courage, and that business leaders can speak proudly about their workers, partners, associates, and anyone who contributes value to their products and services.
Stand proud or hide in silence — where do you place yourself?