“I tell everyone on the first day, ‘if you’re here for a job, we’ve got those. If you’re here for a career, we’ve got those, too.”
Steve Johnson, senior account manager for SYKES in Lakeland, Florida, knows what he’s talking about. He started in customer service on the phones in 1991. “At first, I didn’t realize the call center industry was a career. I thought it was just a job.” When someone first approached him about moving up, he demurred. “I’m just the guy who takes a call.” But soon he was training others to “take the call” and he eventually worked his way to senior account manager at SYKES. Now, he takes great pride in introducing others to the career opportunities he has enjoyed.
“One of our greatest attributes is helping our folks start off as agents and then move into a role as supervisor and then from there to account manager. The vast majority of folks that are in support roles now, they all started on the phones. Watching people learn and grow – that’s probably the most gratifying part of what I get a chance to do, day in and day out.”
If helping people grow is the result of Steve’s leadership, teamwork is the method he uses to make it happen. “We live for the team and what can get done for our team because we know if we help each other be successful, everything else is going to take care of itself.”
The focus on team, to the point that it becomes like a family, is one of the qualities that drew Steve to SYKES. “SYKES really feels like a home-grown company.” He points to the company’s founder, John Sykes, and his ideals of creating a company based on a philosophy of people serving people. “You can be very successful if you take great care of your people and you build a strong team. Those are things John Sykes believes in, and are the things I really identified with, and why I felt I was a good fit for SYKES.”
Steve knows other companies give lip service to working in a family environment, but for him and his team it is a reality. “Family to us means anything, any time.” A recent example was one of Steve’s account managers, who was sending his son to day care for the first time. An experienced dad with four grown children, Steve warned his account manager it could be tough. “Listen,” he counseled the young dad, “that’s going to be a tearful day, not for your son, but for you.” The account manager laughed it off. But sure enough, the day came, and Steve could tell right away that his account manager was having a rough morning.
So, Steve pulled him into his office and closed the door. “Let’s take a second and call the daycare. Let’s make sure he’s doing good and having a good day.” They called the day care and found out that the boy was doing great. “The account manager lights up in a smile, calls his wife, and now the issue is resolved. We’ve put his concern to rest, and now I know he can focus on everything else that needs to get done for our client.”
Having a soft spot for his people doesn’t mean Steve isn’t focused on leading his team to be their best. “I want to be number one,” he says. “I want to be number one every day and I want it by a landslide.” In early 2016, Steve’s team faced a challenge with ambitious goals from the client. Despite the stress posed by the challenge, Steve kept his team focused on delivering and coming out on top. By summer, they were the number one performing vendor site for the client.
“I drive and deliver for my team every day, knowing that if I can give them what they need, taking care of the client becomes a piece of cake.”
Whatever the challenge, Steve leads his colleagues to draw strength from the team. “For us, yes, we’re all individuals, but we’re all individuals in it for each other. It’s like the [Rudyard Kipling] quote, ‘The strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.’ That’s what gives us our family environment. That’s why we have a team here that I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Leading that team, guiding it and nurturing it, is what motivates Steve. “It’s really hard to lose when you’ve got each other’s best interests at heart.”