March 19, 2018
SHOP TALK

Call center founder has become a $10M steward of the community

Wallace Andrews, President & CEO, Interglobal Communication Group, LLC, Worcester

VIEW: Shop Talk with Wallace Andrews of Interglobal Communication Group, LLC

Wallace Andrews, President & CEO, Interglobal Communication Group, LLC

Founded: 2000

Employees: 65

Age: 67

Residence: Hudson

Education: Bachelor of science in physics, Norfolk State University in Virginia; master of science, Lesley University in Cambridge

Wallace Andrews has established and operated call centers all over the world first for Minnesota camera maker Polaroid and then Massachusetts computer company Digital Equipment Corp. before striking out on his own. His staff is entirely based in Worcester, where he seeks to provide jobs to disadvantaged people. About 85 percent of his staff are Worcester residents, and 60 percent are people of color.

What is the most exotic place you've been?

Interglobal actually tried to build a call center in Uganda a few years ago. We were invited by the Uganda president to build a call center industry in that country, similar to what India had done. We actually got funding for the Uganda call center and interviewed staff, but it was funded by Libya and the U.S. When the bottom fell out in 2007-2008, that deal went south.

What did companies like about offshore call centers?

Back in the late 1990s, the call center industry was going offshore because it was very inexpensive. You could get a call center agent for $2.50 an hour, and half of that was subsidized by a government. In Uganda, we would have paid $2.75, and $2 of that was funded by the government.

Are offshore call centers the norm?

Linguistic-wise, the U.S. consumer – because of who we are – don't like the dialect from offshore call centers. So when you do an offshore call center now, you send in a linguist over there to make them sound like they are from Nebraska or wherever.

Even so, there are not that many offshore call centers any more. Around 2009-2010, companies started bringing their call centers back onshore. Places like the Philippines and India are suffering because the major industries are coming back onshore.

Right now, the call center industry is now moving to the South, where labor is a lot cheaper. You can get a call center agent for $7-$8 dollars an hour. I have to pay $14. I have to pay very competitive rates, because there are several others in the city competing for the same people.

Do you have a lot of turnover then?

We train very heavily, and we pay very well. We also celebrate birthdays, we have potlucks. Almost every Friday, we do a prize giveaway. We have our own health and wellness program for employees. That all keeps our turnover rate very low.

When people reach the peak of their skill set, guess who comes along? Fallon Health, UMass, the health centers. We do lose people, but we actually like that.

You like losing people to competitors?

Obviously, we can't compete against the salary and benefits of UMass, so we become a stepping stone. We relish that.

Our goal when we started was always to be a good community partner. We found at that time most companies would not hire people – especially people of color, to be honest – because they didn't have the skills, and companies didn't want to go through the process of training them. We were willing to work with people, like those who come from single-parent households, who have issues with child care, who haven't gone to college.

What's the future for Interglobal?

I'm hoping to retire in a couple of years. I've got my family here to hopefully carry on the legacy of the company. I have three children, and one of my two sons and my daughter work here. I want to transfer the company to them by the end of the year.

At some point, we will look at an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) where the employees will own the company. I've had employees who have been with me a long time, and it is important they are taken care of as well. We are working with a consultant to help set that up and do a valuation of the company.

How much is the company worth?

We are probably an $8-$10 million company, maybe in the neighborhood of $5-$8 million. We'll see after the valuation.

This interview was conducted and edited for length and clarity by WBJ Editor Brad Kane.

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