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Tampa Bay area bosses share words of strategy, challenges

Chuck Sykes of Tampa call center juggernaut Sykes Enterprises will never be mistaken for investor extraordinaire Warren Buffett.

Bob Dutkowsky of Clearwater computer products distributor Tech Data is called neither the "Sage of Omaha" nor the "Thyme of Tampa Bay."

And Tampa's TECO Energy CFO, Gordon Gillette, does not pen folksy, Buffett-like shareholder letters anticipated worldwide.

But amid such unparalleled economic strife, Buffett need not be the only fount of business wisdom. His own corporate empire, Berkshire Hathaway, got clobbered in 2008. And Buffett admits doing "dumb things" and "sucking my thumb when new facts should have caused me to re-examine my thinking and promptly take action."

Parsing recent conference call comments by three of our own area executives is one way to glean some local insights and a few mea culpas:

Sykes Enterprises built a global supply of call centers just as corporations are looking to cut costs by using outsourced services like Sykes.

"Although the idea of outsourcing contact management services is not new, the current economic environment has made it a strategic imperative," CEO Chuck Sykes says. "Those that have started outsourcing are accelerating the process, while those who are on the sidelines are showing a heightened interest.

"We currently serve 17 markets with 20 different delivery geographies, vs. 11 markets from 14 delivery geographies during the last downturn. Most impressively, our offshore footprint is comprised of 18,400 (call center) seats vs. … 1,100 seats in 2001."

Tech Data is our biggest local company by revenues (some $24 billion a year now) but the tech distribution business runs like supermarkets: on super-thin margins and intense competition. There is not much room for error.

"We have had the strategy of trying to match our cost structure as well as we can to what we see in the market," CEO Bob Dutkowsky says. "And yet we don't want to go one head count further than we need to because we believe that when the economy does turn around, IT (information technology) spending will be one of the elements that leads the economy back. We want to be in the right position to take advantage of it. …

"We are using this challenging time to sharpen execution on every front, tighten our relationships with customers and vendors, and responsibly manage our business."

TECO Energy, parent of Tampa Electric, is confronted both by the sharp rise of vacant homes that use little electricity and by cost-conscious customers dialing back to save on their power bills.

"Our theory is that home prices and mortgage rates have dropped low enough to attract buyers back into the market," says Gillette, TECO's chief financial officer. "If this continues, we can expect to see the low-usage meters using more energy and the inactive meters turn back on over time. But it will likely be a slow process due to the inventory of vacant homes in the area. …

"We're in uncharted territory for Tampa Electric, and the loss of customers and the uncertainty of timing of the housing market recovery is making it very difficult to accurately forecast customer growth."

We can't let Buffett hog all of the spotlight all of the time.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay area bosses share words of strategy, challenges 03/04/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 11:26pm]
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