It was through the rosy economic period of 1996 that James “Jim” M. Donovan found himself in Manila for a World Bank project. At that time, the Philippines was being touted as the next emerging tiger of Asia for the more than encouraging economic figures the country was then churning out. Like most investment bankers, Donovan was eager to check out the prospects for the Philippines and as fate would have it, he met Carol Esguerra who also happened to be participating at the same World Bank project at that time. From the beginning, he said, they started looking at the capability of the Philippines to see where it was being applied.
The next year, however, saw the Asian financial crisis, and Donovan knew that “the normal business investments weren’t gonna thrive for quite sometime.” So they turned their minds to the resources that the Philippines had, which was the definitely its people. Donovan said, “applying those resources became a natural extension and we looked at outsourcing, and it also led us into looking at who the players were, at the same time fully realizing that the Philippines could be a global player but it had not yet framed its capabilities, so the world market could see it as an alternative to India.”
In 1998, Donovan, together with Esguerra, co-founded what would be the first of the ADEC Group of Companies called the American Exchange Data Corp. and soon after the ADEC Solutions Corp. The business process outsourcing (BPO) company today is a global provider of onshore managed services and offshore outsourcing solutions for governments and businesses worldwide. It currently has locations in Australia, North America, Europe, Africa and Asia, with over 5,500 employees worldwide processing over 30 million transactions each month.
Buoyed by the success of the industry, the two business partners went on to put up other related companies to complement what they had. They ventured into the sustainability services by launching FirstCarbon Solutions in 2008, applying process management to the ethical environment niche and engaging in environmental process outsourcing (EPO). FirstCarbon now also has a global reach specifically in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, North America, China Singapore, Malaysia, Kenya and the Philippines.
Donovan is currently the Global chief executive officer of the ADEC Group, whose member companies apart from the first three mentioned, now also include ADEC Preview, A-Plus English Online, BPO Asia Institute, PharmaKPO and Silay Institute, all of which are global satellite offices with specialized services complementing BPO, knowledge process outsourcing, eLearning and sustainability offerings.
On the other hand, Esguerra is the Global chief financial offer of the group. She is responsible for translating business strategies into maximum profits, is results-oriented and adept at managing high performance teams. She is also responsible for identifying potential companies strategically positioned to provide business opportunities to all companies under the ADEC Group.
Leap of Faith to success
Looking back, Donovan jokes about the leap of faith that they did when they first put up ADEC.
“We had quantum growth from ’98 to ’99 as we grew from two to four people and then the next year from four to eight. So you can see this is really about an 18-year overnight success,” he said.
Kidding aside, Donovan believes that the key factors are as much about persistence as to the capabilities of the Philippines as the maturing of the BPO market. He added that all these things came together to get to where the country as a major global player is today. “We really believe that the Philippines is still just at the early days of applying higher value of services for the world,” he added.
For her part, Esguerra remembers the circumstances when they first set up their company. “The whole region was challenged at that time—the financial markets were down, real estate was down and nobody wanted to invest anywhere close to Asia. But if you look at it, there was nowhere to go but up and we saw opportunities, “ she added.
Today, Donovan said that the main areas of their growth comes from environment sustainability, education and health sciences or health information. He wishes that there would be a hundred more homegrown companies like ADEC, rather than multinationals just coming in and just using the country’s resources to feed their machinery. Esguerra also pointed out that one of the differences between the voice and the non-voice components of the BPO industry is that in the voice segment, people and customers can just shift from one provider to another. While in the non-voice segment, she explained that once you are tasked to do their back office, they will stay with you longer, especially if you are doing a good job.
The business partners are currently mulling the idea of having FirstCarbon listed in the local exchange. Recently, they have also been busy giving talks about the ADEC Group and its success in the industry, after having won the Executive Leadership Team of the Year Award during the prestigious Asia CEO Awards in 2013. In between the numerous travels, endless meetings and collaborations, both Donovan and Esguerra said that they are still able to spend quality time with their families and are happy with the kind of lives that they have.
“It’s like living a dream” Donovan said, and at this point, there is nowhere else they would rather be.