“If you look at the Caribbean, Jamaica has to come up because no other country in the region matches Jamaica’s scale in terms of population, proximity to the US, infrastructure in technology and BPO [business process outsourcing] facilities and human capital abilities. But we have to remain bullish,” says Yoni Epstein, the president of the Business Process Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ) and Itel BPO Solutions’ chief executive.

Formerly a global operations director for resorts operator Sandals, Mr Epstein spent 12 years managing more than 400 employees in five countries. In 2012, he branched out to form Itel BPO Solutions in Montego Bay Free Zone, which now has more than 550 employees in two facilities in Montego Bay, one in Kingston and one in Freeport, Grand Bahamas. In the same year, he formed the BPIAJ, the leading national entity for improving the local business environment, assisting member companies and stakeholders, and promoting the sector in Jamaica and internationally.       

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Diversification drive

Itel BPO Solutions began as a travel booking service and has since expanded to medical billing and processing, telecoms, utilities, tourism and car rentals and back-office processing. “We are really diversifying our portfolio to be a fully fledged BPO [company], which has been very beneficial to the growth of our organisation,” says Mr Epstein. Itel BPO Solutions is now the largest local player in the Jamaican BPO landscape, something Mr Epstein attributes to its proactive approach to marketing, training and company culture.

“The culture in our organisation is premised on four Ys: quality, integrity, reliability and family,” he says. A large number of Jamaicans leave high school to work, so Mr Epstein provides his staff with training and certifications. “This helps build family orientation and work culture. You are not only in business to make money, but you are reinvesting in your workforce,” he says.   

In 2013, Mr Epstein was recognised as one of the 50 most influential executives in nearshore outsourcing in the Latin America and Caribbean region by news source Nearshore Americas. And, as the leading voice for the BPO industry regionally, he stresses the need for greater development of space for the industry, as well as more local investment.

“In our drive to put more emphasis on BPO, the BPIAJ along with the public sector have led investors to realise it is worth taking the chance to develop the necessary space and facilities,” says Mr Epstein. His own venture with Itel BPO Solutions was a risky one – he began with 465 square metres of undeveloped space and seven employees. “The greatest benefit of the BPIAJ has been from an advocacy perspective. We worked with the government to make sure space was developed and that new policies would not deter further growth of the sector,” he says.

Skilling up

Training remains of paramount importance to Mr Epstein. “We can talk about BPO and its growth opportunities, but if we don’t have a labour pool we won’t be successful at it,” he stresses. Collaboration between the BPIAJ, the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, and the Ministry of Education resulted in a partnership with the Heart Trust/NTA, Jamaica’s national training agency, which develops job training programmes in a range of sectors. “It was the first time the call-centre stakeholders were all at the table with the national training industry to revamp the curriculum for call-centre training,” he says.

“Our organisation as a Jamaican-born BPO facility is investing extremely heavily in marketing and business development, to expand business here and create more jobs for Jamaicans,” says Mr Epstein. “We have to remain bullish – as a medium-sized firm, we need to stay ahead of the curve and move faster than anyone else to remain relevant and be disruptive to the market.”