Desiree Bombenon is president and CEO of SureCall Contact Centers.
What is SureCall and what does it do?
Bombenon: SureCall is a purpose-driven global business process optimization company. I know that’s a mouthful but it’s really what we do.
We utilize our award-winning call centre team to design custom front-end and back-end solutions for businesses of every size. If your business is a startup, in accelerator mode, scaling or in full swing, we’re there to make your life less stressful. Everything from being your virtual receptionist to full-scale emergency escalation, or being your online self-service support.
Handling all company social media response has now grown into a large part of our business. We handle streamlining processes through our awesome design team, which allows our customers to focus on their core business.
What’s the history of the company and how has business been in recent years considering the state of the economy in Calgary?
Bombenon: We started off over 35 years ago as Page-Direct Ltd., you may remember that if you were in Calgary way back then. We grew into one of Alberta’s largest communication companies dealing with pagers and cellular phones.
As we started to see the shift of paging to smart phones, we decided to sell the paging division and focus on cellular, which was taking over the communications world. We had a small dispatch centre that was used for paging. Rather than dissolve that area, we started a small after-hours service centre so we could keep our team employed.
This became a great recurring revenue stream for our company, especially for Alberta oil and gas companies who needed 24-by-seven emergency response centre, and work-alone programs.
In 2013, our company decided to do a pivot and rebrand; our client base was heavily skewed towards oil and gas and I predicted the high price of oil was not going to last. We also wanted to diversify and move into a global market. We rebranded and in fact reincorporated to SureCall and began an entirely new strategy that focused on emerging markets, more complex design process and social media.
As our company strategy diversified the type of business and clients we had, the makeup of company revenues moved from about 80 per cent oil and gas to less than 30 per cent. I think that was just good timing. We then continued our global focus and distinguished ourselves from our competitors by moving to a custom-designed solution, and away from the cookie-cutter type templates used by our industry.
Our most impactful pivot was moving from a profit-driven company to a purpose-driven one in 2016 with the launch of our GoodCall program, which contributes two per cent of our top line revenue to charitable and not-for-profit causes locally, nationally and internationally.
We are also a Certified B Corporation, and that has helped attract a lot of new business, because we are focused on utilizing business as a source for good.
What’s your sense of where the Calgary economy is at?
Bombenon: As a board director with the Calgary Chamber, I get a really good sense, when speaking to our members and also from what I see around Calgary in general, that things are picking up.
I still hear a lot of hard stories out there but overall I truly believe in the grit of this city. We have been through this before.
I also notice that when you ask people how business is, they sort of avoid being too enthusiastic, even if they’re doing well, because they understand the hardships of others.
I think there a lot of good news stories out there that need to be told, because we are the type of community that will come out of this stronger. There are also a lot of new exciting startups, innovative companies, and people willing to invest not only money but time to help these businesses succeed. There are so many incubators and accelerators going on right now in Calgary, I really think whether it’s our energy industry or other industries, Calgary’s economy will bounce back.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome as an entrepreneur?
Bombenon: Where do I start?!
So many challenges, as an entrepreneur you’re the one taking most of the risks, but you’re not just taking them for yourself, you’re taking them for all the stakeholders, so there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility and stress associated with that.
Also as a female CEO and leader, the last 30 years has had its challenges with getting in front of potential clients and being taken seriously in my role. This has gotten so much better over the years, but I still see a lot of pushback in male-dominated fields, trying to get a foot in the door.
A large challenge was definitely our decision to pivot to a purpose-driven company. There is a lot of convincing and evidence that’s required to move all stakeholders to a new mindset that’s not just about customer satisfaction and making good money. When you decide you’re going to impact the world in a meaningful way, you have to have the buy in of everyone, front-line workers right up to the bank and shareholders that financially support you.
The cultural shift that has to happen is extensive and must filter right through the entire organization. Once that has happened, maintaining it is an ongoing work in progress.
The reason why we chose to move away from our old business model was because we had challenges with people. I know that most organizations do, but when people are your product, you have to make sure you’re seeing the long-term return on culture. This is an continuous challenge, finding the right people who fit your culture and DNA. We have found some very innovative ways to do this, but it isn’t easy … if it’s easy, you’re doing it wrong.
What advice would you give to an aspiring or young entrepreneur on what it takes to be successful?
Bombenon: I really wished someone had told me years ago that you don’t have to get it right the first time, and failing is the only way you will become truly successful. The best way to learn how to do things the best way possible is by doing it wrong in the first place.
I would also say to remember that success is an outcome and not something that just happens to you. It’s not a one-time event, you have to work hard at it every day.
Being successful also means you have to be grateful to everyone around you who has been part of your support team. Entrepreneurs may have the great idea but it takes a team to make it happen.
Lastly, don’t give up when things get really tough and you want to throw in the towel – that’s just the time you should kick it up a notch. I know it sounds crazy, but push through and make that one thing happen, because when it does … suddenly you can do anything!