Dialling in to TDCX

SINGAPORE – When Laurent Junique, the calm and soft-spoken CEO of Singapore-based outsourced call centre TDCX, left his home in France for Singapore 13 years ago, he brought with him a suitcase, just enough in his pocket to survive, and big dreams of starting a business of his own.

Having always been interested in an international career, but being too young to be offered an overseas job at the time, the ambitious Junique did some research, decided that Singapore was the best place to execute a fledgling business, and took a leap of faith by moving halfway across the world to seek his fortune in the Far East.

His business plan: To start up a third-party call centre handling voice calls, emails and faxes for corporations wanting to outsource those functions in order to save costs.

“I realised that there was no such company in Singapore at the time,” Junique tells [email protected] during a recent interview at TDCX’s headquarters in the Bedok Chai Chee Technology Park. “In addition, Singapore was a safe and relatively cheap place to start out and everyone spoke English. That’s why I took the chance.”

“When we first started, we didn’t make any money, but the privilege of running your own business is far greater than the money you can earn,” he says quietly, but with some pride. “Through the years, I never gave up. It was challenging because the market then was not ready for our services but we took it slowly and it has worked out quite well.”

Junique’s hard work and perseverance eventually paid off when advertising agency Ogilvy and Mather bought a stake in the business, enabling it to quickly expand. Now, TDCX has a 300 strong workforce, with offices in Thailand, Malaysia, and Hong Kong as well as Singapore.

TDCX is what Junique, 43, calls an outsourced call centre. Since securing its very first customer – “a Singapore-based American credit card company” – when starting out in 1995, TDCX’s clients now include major airlines, luxury brands, and banks. For one of its customers in the airline industry, TDCX acts as a 24/7 contact centre providing trained staff and high-technology infrastructure to manage the airline’s loyalty and redemption programmes across the world.

For another client, a luxury handbag and apparel brand, TDCX functions as a regional call centre providing pre and post-purchase services to the brand’s customers, including handling stock enquiries and facilitating deliveries or refunds. TDCX also works for financial institutions handling customer enquiries on account balances and providing assistance on balance transfers.

But starting a business on unfamiliar terrain from scratch is no small feat, especially one revolving around skilled manpower and expensive infrastructure. Indeed, Junique concedes that his journey wasn’t easy.

“There were a lot of costs involved,” he says, revealing that until 2005, when rental costs started rising a bit too fast, TDCX had actually been located in the heart of the Central Business District on Robinson Road. Then, there is also the cost of purchasing, maintaining and upgrading technological infrastructures like specialised computers and telephone systems.

“But the real cost is people,” says Junique. Currently, about 70% to 80% of TDCX’s costs are allocated for staff training and development and salaries, as deep knowledge of a client’s business, as well as sharp people skills, are required at a call centre, where staff handles hundreds of customer enquiries a day. It is also very difficult finding the right people, according to Junique, “But the advantage is that Singapore, like London, has become a very cosmopolitan city with a huge talent pool.”

Costs and recruiting aside, Junique also has his own style of leadership and management. “I am an entrepreneur because I’ve always wanted some independence; I believe in initiative and empowerment, so I also believe in giving these to my people,” says Junique, who is also a believer in teamwork – and a soccer fan.

“I believe in working as a team,” says Junique. “Unfortunately I’m French and the French team didn’t perform too well at the Euro 2008,” he adds a little wryly. “A very important lesson in teamwork: You can have the best players in the world but if you don’t have a team that functions, you can never win. The secret is team effort and bonding, which correlates with empowerment and initiative as well.”

There are ongoing concerns for TDCX too. “These days, our No 1 challenge is inflation and we’ve had to increase salaries quite significantly to cope with the rising cost of living in this country,” Junique explains. According to him, inflation could affect profitability, but the company – which has been growing at 60% over the past five years, thanks to reliable and easy access to telecommunications – should see a continuous increase in demand for its services as companies cut costs by outsourcing to improve efficiency.

“I’m not an economist, but we have to hope I’m right,” quips Junique. Last year, earnings rose 16%, against Junique’s target of 30% per year. “We hope to have this under control because we can’t be running to our clients asking them to pay us more every time there’s a bit of inflation,” he adds, with a hint of a smile.

But despite the challenges he faces Junique, who now has three children and enjoys travelling and “a spot of exercise” whenever he can, wants to see even more growth in TDCX’s service offerings. For example, he wants to include hotel reservation lines to complement its travel and tourism call centre.

Junique also wants to continue expanding the business. “Our goal is to be a global player for call centres focusing on Asia,” he says. “Asia is an open field and we want to increase our footprint in Indonesia and especially in China.”

For this ambitious yet quiet jet-setting entrepreneur whose unwavering drive and determination have led him thus far, those goals certainly look possible.