Jamaica firmly in Xerox's cross hairs - International firm optimistic of a bright future locally
Mark Titus, Sunday Gleaner Writer
While the name Xerox is synonymous with copying and printing globally, the company's Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ursula Burns says resting on their laurels is not a part of their forte as its main priority is to maintain pole position in the industry.
"Our strategy is simple ... we want to be the leading provider of diversified BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), ITO (information technology outsourcing) and document outsourcing in our servicing line of business," said Burns, in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner.
"We want to continue to be the premier providers of technology solution in the print copy space so our technology business has to continue to be strong," added Burns.
In addition to maintaining its strong brand identity worldwide, Burns is also championing prudent management of the company's cost and expenses, while seeking to provide adequate returns to shareholders.
Burns, who became the first African-American woman to head a Fortune 500 company in 2009 when she became Xerox's CEO, was on her first visit to Jamaica, which has the third largest Xerox BPO outside of the United States (US).
Jamaica, which is behind India and the Philippines in BPO, has some 5,600 Xerox employees spread out across seven operations - one in Kingston and one in Portmore, St Catherine, with the remainder in Montego Bay, St James, where the company is focusing on customer care for clients, mainly in the telecommunications, health care and technology industries.
At present, services account for 52 per cent of the firm's total revenue that amounted to more than US$22 billion in 2011.
At the helm of Xerox, Burns has consistently demonstrated that she is not afraid to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions to ensure the company's viability.
Her astute and decisive leadership was demonstrated in areas such as dismantling the manufacturing unit that shaped her career; cutting back or getting rid of products that once defined the Xerox brand; and branching out into uncertain or perceived risky new areas of business in an effort to reposition the company as competition increased.
"The potential of BPO is very high," said Burns. "Jamaica has the following benefits: it's a service economy, it has a fairly educated population that we can draw (from) and it's culturally an operation that works hard."
While Jamaica remains one the most attractive destinations for the BPO industry, with other nations breathing down the neck of the sector leaders, the Xerox boss, renowned for her no-nonsense, outspoken personality, is of the view that greater emphasis must be placed on improving Jamaica's competitiveness in a heated industry.
She argued that Jamaica could find itself struggling to attract or even maintain investments if there is not constant improvement of its information and communication technology (ICT) business environment, including infrastructure and education.
"What Jamaica and every BPO site has to understand is that, unlike a technology business, where the barriers to entry are generally large, BPO's initial barriers to entry can be low and it's really important, therefore, that the people who have footprints today continue to reinvent themselves," noted Burns.
"It's really important that Jamaica continues to focus on the fact that they have a good base in this service-type area and that base will continue to be attacked by competitors so they have to keep making it better."
Xerox's ambitious agenda basically suits the projection of the Jamaican Government, which has announced plans to double the nation's 11,000 ICT jobs over the next three years.
This forms part of an overall initiative to take advantage of the country's emergence as a premier strategic destination for outsourcing services to North American firms.
While the call from local industry leaders in Jamaica to create additional space is considered critical to the expansion of the ICT sector, Xerox does not require any additional space as further expansion will only take place if there is additional business in similar BPO accounts already being handled here.
"As we continue to expand, yes, we would have to find more space, but I don't want anybody to believe that we are limited by space," said Burns.
"If we have to fit the clients in, and here is the best place to do it, space will not be my limiter ... we don't plan by region, we have plans by lines of business and customer."
According to Burns, instead of any space consideration, she is more concerned with challenges with the unpredictability of the world economy.
"There is not a place in the world that is not unsettled now economically and that is just a business challenge that we have to deal with," said Burns.
She singled out the United States 'fiscal cliff', which would see huge tax increases and spending cuts at the start of 2013, which would invariably throw that economy and, by extension, the world's economy into recession.
Burns is hopeful that a deal can be struck between the parties to prevent the US economy from plunging into another recession.
"In terms of global business, it would be an extremely detrimental event," said Burns, who was among several high-profile CEOs in the US to meet with President Barack Obama on the issue recently.
Earlier this year, the Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) brand, which was acquired for about US$5.75 billion in cash and stock in September 2009 was retired, a move that Burns argued worked amazingly well.
The deal was struck just six months after ACS forked out about US$85 million for E-Services group, which was then principally owned by Jamaican Patrick Casserly.
"When we bought ACS, we knew it was a company that had an amazing reputation but if you were not a client of ACS, nobody knew what ACS meant," said Burns. "It did not have a global brand but Xerox is a brand that everybody knows."