A Country’s BPO ‘Tone’ Comes from the Top

In the corporate world, it is common to see organizations march to the directives of C-level executives who may implore their associates to do everything from follow corporate security guidelines to come up with innovative new product suggestions to park their car in designated slots at corporate headquarters.

The concept of ‘tone from the top’ has a wide range of implications. But when it comes to the performance of a corporation, ‘tone from the top’ is used as a telling berometer in the wake of a major achievement or a miserable collapse. (One example: Those who worked for Bernie Ebbers, past CEO at WorldCom, during the months before his demise around 2001, describe that the only tone heard from Bernie was the buzz of his computer screen as he was transfixed by the stock performance of WorldCom and little else seemed to matter.)

In the BPO and IT outsourcing industry, we have come to see that the ‘tone’ established by senior political leaders has many parallels to the issues that arise in the corporate world. Creating an environment that is conducive to attracting foreign investment doesn’t happen by accident. Also, the concept of a country ‘brand’ not does grow magically, and usually requires consistent and integrated market-focused messaging that strikes at the right investor or end-user targets in foreign markets.

In Latin America, we continue to witness some remarkable achievements and some head-shaking failures. I am personally convinced that the track record of these countries, (Colombia comes to mind as a star performer, while Jamaica is a disappointing laggard), is largely reflective of the plans and strategies employed by high level political appointees.

Ministers of trade and economics are often placed in the seat of grand strategist, requiring them to devise plans to stimulate the ITO/BPO sector while also articulating why such programs are important in the first place. To be successful, these bureaucrats often have to be courageous and bold. They have to explain why spending money on marketing does create a net return – in foreign direct investment, in creating knowledge-based jobs and in transforming the “image” of the country itself.

As new presidents take control of their ministries, we often begin to see just how skilled that president is in choosing individuals to sit in these very important positions. That’s why in the next several months, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Peru’s president-elect Ollanta Humala. The newly elected leader promises to stoke investment while stressing that the government will not attempt to nationalize private enterprise.

Peru has been riding high the last few years. It was named to the Gartner Top 30 list of rising outsourcing destinations last year. Its economy has been one of the most robust in Latin America.

But those great strides can all become undone if the wrong ministers and heads of investments agencies are put in charge. We hope Mr. Humala makes the appropriate appointments in driving the Peru BPO engine. The tone Mr. Humala sets will have lasting impact – and it will be hard not to notice what is done, or not done-  over the next four years.