Linda Green-Kiely: life after €150m sale of Voxpro

Outsourcing company she founded with her husband Dan sold to Telus International

Voxpro co-founder Linda Green-Kiely onstage with Gillian Keating, a partner in  Ronan Daly Jermyn, at Dogpatch Labs. Photograph: Charlie Taylor

Voxpro co-founder Linda Green-Kiely onstage with Gillian Keating, a partner in Ronan Daly Jermyn, at Dogpatch Labs. Photograph: Charlie Taylor

 

“It is hard to part with your baby,” admits entrepreneur Linda Green-Kiely, discussing the sale of the hugely successful Cork-based business process outsourcing company she and her husband Dan Kiely established 20 years ago.

It is now two months since news broke of the €150 million acquisition by the Canadian firm Telus International for Voxpro, a company that provides high-end call centre operations for tech companies such as Google and Airbnb. The deal has greatly enriched the Kielys, given they owned the firm outright – aside, that is, from a small stake held by Enterprise Ireland. However, Linda is the first to confess that she is only now beginning to adjust to not being in charge any more.

“I don’t think the news has fully sunk in yet,” she says, talking to The Irish Times in one of her first media interviews since the sale was announced.

“It was never a day job, it was always 24/7,” she adds.

Not that the Kielys have completely cut ties with Voxpro. Dan has joined the Telus International senior team, while Linda has become a non-executive director and is busy plotting the next stage of her career, which includes becoming an early-stage investor.

“Sure I’m still listening to everything that’s going on day and night, and there is still a lot of charity work I do within the company,” she says.

Voxpro, which started out with six people working above a pub on Marlboro Street in Cork city in 2002, offers customer experience, technical support and sales operations solutions to international customers. Still headquartered in Cork, the company now has multiple offices the US, as well as in Dublin, Bucharest and Manila.

Globally, Voxpro employs about 2,700 people, with more than 2,000 of these in Ireland.

Rapt audience

Shortly before we meet, Linda had been sitting on stage talking about her career to a rapt audience of budding entrepreneurs as part of Dogpatch Labs’ “First Fridays for Start-Ups” initiative.

“You have to be a lunatic to run your own business,” she tells them, to many nods of agreement.

As if proof of that were needed, she recounts how she and Dan could have saved themselves many years of grief by selling to Telus International when it first came sniffing around back in 2010.

“It is a lot safer to take a cheque than risk losing your fillings,” she says, recounting how while it was tempting, the couple never considered selling back then.

Speaking to The Irish Times after delivering her talk, Linda recounts that the company founders nearly lost considerably more than their fillings during the recession.

“I had to cash in my pension and we had to go to the local credit union and borrow three times the savings we had with them to keep everything going. At the time we had 600 people on the floor, all of whom had mouths to feed, so it was a difficult time for the company,” she adds.

It has been a different story in recent years, though. Voxpro has grown fivefold over the past three years, fuelled by growth in its well-known customers and gaining a number of new clients in the Internet of Things and fintech sectors.

The latest accounts available for the company show it recorded a 78 per cent rise in turnover to €33.4 million in 2015 as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (ebitda) jumped 168 per cent to €3 million from €1.1 million a year earlier.

Asked what made the company successful, Linda is quick to respond.

“Voxpro has always been a start-up. Every time we got a new client it was a case of beginning from scratch. We never followed the ‘we did it this way last time so let’s do it that way again’ line of thinking,” she says.

Rebuffing

Despite previously rebuffing Telus International, they stayed in touch with its president and chief executive Jeffrey Puritt over the years.

“We’d see him once or twice a year with his family and then the cards just dropped into place,” she says, referring to the recent sale.

“Were we thinking of selling? No, we were thinking of taking investment. That was the plan. But then you do the pony show and in doing that it felt like Telus International were a natural fit. We had opened in so many locations that the next ones we were weighing up were in places where they already were. Their values are similar to ours as well so that was a key factor, as was the fact there would be no casualties,” says Linda.

She adds that clients were happy for the deal to take place as long as there was a guarantee that things would “still be done in the Voxpro way”.

Linda says integration between the company and its new owner is already under way and working well.

Meanwhile, she is actively engaged in a number of charity initiatives and, along with Dan, has also emerged as a backer for Irish start-ups that include sports media website Pundit Arena and alternative legal solutions company Johnson Hana International (JHI).

“I definitely want to help other companies. It would be in my DNA to do that,” she says, adding that she is primarily interested in startups that are investigating “uncharted territory”.

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