By Ebele Orakpo
Mr Steve Obasohan is the Deputy General Manager, Human Resources, iSON BPO International Limited, a business process outsourcing firm, with a strong focus in sub-Saharan Africa. In this chat with Financial Vanguard, Obasohan speaks on the activities of iSON BPO and how their outsourcing business is quite different from what obtains in Nigeria.
After his secondary school education at Corona Secondary School, Steve, as he is fondly called, went on to the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria where he graduated with a BSc in Business Administration. He was thereafter posted to Zamfara State for the compulsory one year national service to fatherland. He also attended Lagos Business School and did a couple of courses in other business schools.
“During the youth service, I was posted to a place without light or water. It was the most humbling time of my entire life and it made me become philosophical.
The only primary school there was shut down because no child wanted to attend despite the efforts of the state government. My neighbor had a donkey so I became friends with the donkey. It was a good time for me because I got to connect with that part of Nigeria,” he said.
After his youth service, Steve worked at V-Mobile as a Call Centre Agent in 2005 and 2007, he became a supervisor. After two years, he went to Oghara, Delta State as a Call Centre supervisor. Two years later, he went to Abuja to set up a Call Centre also as a supervisor.
Rising on the job:
While in Abuja, the whole outsourcing thing started. “That was when iSON BPO came into Nigeria and got the deal to manage the Call Centre. In fact, Airtel had outsourced the Call Centre to iSON BPO so that meant the entire running of the Call Centre was going to be outsourced to iSON BPO.
After the onboarding process, a couple of opportunities came up, including assistant manager, operations, a position above which I was as a team leader. I acted in that capacity as Assistant Manager, Operations for about nine months. Then another opportunity came up, Human Resource (HR) Manager.
“All my life, I’ve always wanted to be in HR,so even while I was in Operations, I was always getting myself involved in projects that were HR-related. So when the opportunity came, every part of me was screaming ‘go for it.’ Then the business was going through a phase; there were a lot of projects and things we needed to handle at the same time. We call it Re-badging (taking in former employees or employees of a different company, getting them aligned with your processes and all of that. So that was the major task for anyone who was going to get into that position. I applied and got the position.
“In the first three months, I was almost regretting getting the job because there was so much work. Every day of work was equivalent to three months of learning. This was in 2012 and the organisation had decided to move its operations to Ibadan so that attracted many projects.
“We relocated to Ibadan in October and that started another phase because we had to wrap up the operations in Abuja and start off from scratch in Ibadan. In 2013, there was an opportunity for position of senior manager and I applied and got it. Being senior manager exposed me to a number of projects outside Nigeria. It was one success after the other,” he said.
“Last year, I received an award during the yearly Apex awards where the top five per cent performers in the entire operations world over are rewarded, hosted by the Global CEO, Pravin Kumar and his team. I also got a double promotion from senior manager to deputy general manager.”
How outsourcing works in Nigeria:
“The way iSON does it is different from what is normally termed outsourcing in Nigeria. In Nigeria, if for instance a firm doesn’t want to take employees directly, it gets someone to recruit for it. The big firm will have the advantage of having employees working for the brand but not having direct responsibility for them. So the outsourcing company just provides manpower, pay salaries and may be taxes; every other thing is handled by the big brand. You only know that this person is not an employee of the big brand when you see the employment letter.”
We are different
“We are quite different; we handle call centre services for big brands without being a part of the big brand. iSON BPO is a big brand with thousands of employees, everything a big brand could give you is replicated in terms of the structure of a multinational company. “iSON brings in expertise from India which is not the same as what obtains in Nigeria. So there is upscaling, probably 60, 70 per cent improvement in the employees.
“Another advantage is in career path. In outsourcing in Nigeria, you are just employed for that role and that’s it. You hardly grow in that organisation unless they convert you to an employee of the big brand. But at iSON, there are so many departments and you can grow. For example, if we are going to handle call centre for a company with 100 employees, and they were all outsourced to different companies;
they will only be thinking of growing into a position like call centre supervisor, you can’t move into HR or training because the organisation is structured in such a way that you can only grow in the department where you are, especially when you are not an employee of the major brand. But for us, call centre service is all we do and we have departments that support it like HR, training, ICT, etc.
As a policy, iSON does not recruit anybody from outside; 100 per cent of our recruitments are done from call centre agents. I am a classic example. I moved from Assistant Manager, Operations, to human resource manager so that gave me a chance to work in the HR. That kind of opportunity is made available to everybody who works with us.”
iSON Young Leaders
“If you’ve worked in a particular position for a year and half or two years, you should be thinking of a higher role because the business is growing. We have a group of people we call iSON Young Leaders who were identified to be very good at what they do so they are put on the fast track.
Every person that goes to the Apex award naturally goes into this category because they have done exceptionally well and we need to harness their potentials. From one year, we start preparing them and they start taking positions because they have worked in different projects before then. They have mentors who are in management who will teach them one or two things within that time frame.
“There is the challenge of the regular day-to-day HR operations of a fast growing company. Personally, the challenge I would like to mention is the mental preparedness because you have to constantly learn. The difference between today’s work and tomorrow’s work for me at the time, was four hours of successful reading because to work more effectively, you probably have to climb some steep slopes. So there is always the need to learn at a fast pace.
“For instance, if I am informed there is a project I need to get along next week in Sierra Leone and I have to do the entire rebadging, I have to know the laws and so on. So there is a lot of reading and catching up to do. Then you have to break the ice with the staff; you have to connect with them, it’s not just about what is on paper.
“Everyone knows what is on paper but how do you connect to them, know what their needs are, how do you make the project a success? At first, they may develop cold feet so there are barriers to break. With the knowledge of the law and sound emotional intelligence, you can achieve all these. The bottom line is to get the work done successfully.”