As published in Outsource Mag
Rick Sturge is EVP Business Development at Firstsource Solutions, with over two decades’ experience in outsourcing and business transformation. We turned to Rick for the latest in our Life Lessons series – and received lessons aplenty.
What has been the single most significant development to impact your profession or area of business during your career, and why?
Without a doubt, it’s the hugely transformative effect technology has had on our industry. The changing demands and expectations of today’s customers alongside the technological transformation of customer service, together with the availability of data, has given us more opportunities and thrown up more challenges than ever before. It’s our job to stay one step ahead to ensure our clients can make the most of the opportunities that technology offers – and that’s why a big focus for us now is exploring ways to enhance customer experience through automation, analytics and AI.
Similarly, what one factor has most profoundly changed the way you personally work since your first day in your first job?
Again, it’s the role technology has come to play in our everyday life. When I first started working, there were no laptops or mobile phones in the office. If you wanted to speak to a colleague or a client, you had to go and see them. Now that so much work is done virtually, it has turbocharged office productivity – everything is much more fast-paced. Clearly, it changes the working dynamic in an international organisation, which in many respects makes things far more straightforward – although it’s important to remember that a large part of building strong business relationships is also about face-to-face interaction.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your industry today – and how would you solve it?
The biggest challenge at the moment is helping businesses to understand the transformative power of technology and the importance of updating their processes and practices to remain competitive. In such a saturated marketplace, companies can no longer afford to rest on their laurels – or they face losing business to smarter, more adaptable competitors who are better placed to serve a client.
And in such an uncertain time, it’s the companies who are willing to take a risk and embrace change who will reap the benefits.
Sometimes, the scale of transformation required can be daunting, particularly in larger, more traditional companies. Businesses have much to gain, but potentially much to lose, and transformation often requires a leap of faith on the part of decision-makers. It’s up to third-party partners like us to encourage clients to embark on the journey, and use our capabilities to help them execute change seamlessly without disruption to their business.
Who has been the most influential figure in your professional life, and why?
There are too many to name – from presidents and prime ministers such as Nelson Mandela to inspirational leaders in business, government, academia, and social enterprise. On a personal note, I owe a huge amount to an MD I worked with in my early thirties.
I had recently joined a leading British outsourcing company as a Commercial Director, having previously worked as a chartered accountant in several different senior finance roles. It was a huge transition in terms of responsibilities, but the MD I worked with told me to believe in myself and my capabilities – and to just go and get things. From that time on I have always embraced the concept of JFDI.
Knowing that I was empowered to go and talk to people and be creative and innovative in building sustainable business relationships – whilst always being 100% accountable – is what has helped me to be successful in my professional life. Because of this, I have always encouraged the people who work with me to think and act in a similar way.
What’s the biggest mistake, work-wise, you’ve ever seen – and what were the consequences?
In the early Noughties, we took on some work for a European automotive company, which included managing a full offshoring operation. The transition came with some challenges, and this led to some operational hiccups, including some unpaid electricity bills going undiscovered – until the day when one of the client’s operational sites had their electricity cut-off.
We were called to a meeting with the senior executives of the company, but when we got there, the CFO put our contract in the drawer and said that wasn’t important at the time: what was important was that we put our heads together and work out a way to fix the issue – and we did.
The strength of our relationship meant that we were able to work collaboratively as partners to work through issues – and make sure it never happened again. It brought it home to me not only the importance of meticulous planning but also the importance of building strong client relationships from the outset, and that this goes a long way to ensuring that any major issues are resolvable rather than adversarial.
To this day, I’m always aware of what a privilege it is to be entrusted with a client’s brand, and make sure that I invest in continually strengthening those relationships. It’s a philosophy that is shared throughout the business at Firstsource – and it’s what has helped to ensure that we’re the trusted long-term partner to some high-profile leading brands.
What do you consider to be your greatest achievement career-wise?
The project that’s given me the most satisfaction over the years was when my then-employer was entrusted by the Malaysian Prime Minister at the time to help work on the new Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Our role was to ensure that we recruited and trained sufficient people to international operational standards to be ready to open the airport ahead of the country hosting the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
I was responsible for the project, from the initial meeting with the Prime Minister where we discussed the requirement, developing the solution and contracting, and recruiting and deploying an international team of instructors to Kuala Lumpur where they were based over the two-year timescale.
My involvement only ceased when the final group of people completed their on-the-job training component. On the day of the airport opening, one of the air traffic controllers we had trained was the first to say ‘cleared to land’ to a Malaysian airliner – a very proud moment for us all!
The Prime Minister took a real chance on us, but the airport was and has continued to be a great success and the Commonwealth Games were a showcase to the world. It was a hugely rewarding moment in my career. I was immensely proud of the team which made it a success, and it taught me that even the most ambitious project is achievable if you work in true partnership with clients towards a common goal.
What’s your biggest (as-yet) unfulfilled ambition – and are you going to achieve it?
I suppose my biggest ambition is to make a positive impact on the world and address major global problems. I am keen to ensure that my 30 years of international business and government experience, and the knowledge and skills I have acquired as a result, are used in a positive way to help future generations.
I recently finished a stint as the West of England President of the ICAEW, where I focused on building greater collaboration between the professions, business and academia. I have now been asked to become a Non-Exec Director of a learning company looking to coach participants in a competition being driven by the Global Challenges Foundation. The Global Challenges Prize is designed to encourage fresh collaborative thinking about how to tackle major challenges such as immigration, poverty and the environment.
I hope I can help to coach people to think creatively and develop some fresh thinking within the competition which grabs worldwide attention. The next stage will be to see how we can ensure a degree of this change is achievable, and executing some key programmes. While it’s a challenging goal, it’s vital we continue to challenge norms, encourage future generations to think internationally rather than nationally, and to find leaders to continue to realise opportunities. I will certainly never become complacent about the future.
What three words do you think your colleagues and peers would use to describe you?
Collaborative, driven, and passionate.
Finally, what piece of advice would you give your younger self at the very start of your career?
Do what you’re passionate about – and don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it.