Stretching a Portfolio All Around the Globe

Not only is John May TPUSA’s first domestic in-house counsel, but his responsibilities span the breadth of the company’s business—quite literally— around the world

While Teleperformance USA (TPUSA) has operated in the United States since 1993, it may be surprising to some that the company had no domestic in-house legal counsel until 2007. That is, until John May was hired as chief legal officer.

In addition to defining his new role and responsibilities, May developed strategies for managing the sprawling English World and Asia Pacific (EWAP) Group, which stretches from the United States, Canada, Jamaica, and Guyana to the UK and on to South Africa, India, China, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Australia. TPUSA is the global leader in providing outsourced omnichannel customer relationship management (CRM) solutions, offering its clients a wide variety of services in seventy-five different languages in sixty-five countries around the world. May was hired for contract review and negotiating client and vendor deals, but his portfolio then grew quickly to include HR, IT, intellectual property, security, and finance-related matters, in addition to managing issues referred to outside counsel.

In certain instances, May inherited existing matters that presented conflicting priorities. In HR matters concerning staff immigration, for example, permission to enter a country typically requires advance application, but business needs are often more immediate. So, May worked with external counsel to develop alternative approaches, such as temporary visas or employees working remotely.

May used such experiences as the foundation to build productive relationships with various departments. “When you come into issues that are already active, the best approach is to come up with creative solutions and then establish expectations for the future so the same things don’t come up again,” he says.

May had worked with TPUSA as outside counsel for nine years, so he already had established relationships with many key internal players when he arrived. To expand the legal department’s network and make it a strategic business partner, May’s team conducts meetings and training sessions for other departments. Important business-unit-specific topics are briefly presented to facilitate open communication, to integrate the legal team as business partners, and to keep everyone abreast of cutting-edge issues and trends.

These opportunities go beyond educating business units and extend to helping the legal department learn about outside factors—like governmental regulations—that can impact how TPUSA provides services to its clients in many different verticals. “Training also ensures internal departments are comfortable bringing questions to us, often before minor issues become legal claims,” May says. “Obviously, providing proactive advice on how to handle a situation is much more desirable than finding out about a problem after the fact.”

May works to maintain similar open lines of communication throughout the EWAP legal team. He enables individuals to rely on their own experience and expertise to handle issues as they arise, but makes himself available for matters that are unique or lack established protocols for responding. He also routinely holds regional and specialized subject matter meetings to discuss trends and emerging issues—for example, types of claims being addressed across EWAP’s more than twenty US sites.

“The best way to manage such a large team is to micromanage as little as possible and to make sure information is shared across multiple organizations without ever being siloed within any one team,” he explains.

One of May’s initial mandates was to manage outside counsel. In addition to increasing oversight of outside staffing on referred matters, May has also reduced the number of outside firms employed by TPUSA. Rather than separate local counsel for each state in which TPUSA operates call centers, he has created a smaller network of regional representation for certain types of cases. This still provides the necessary expertise in local rules, laws, and procedures, but eliminates the need to repeatedly introduce and educate new counsel on TPUSA’s business, culture, and priorities. Between 2015 and 2016, this approach helped reduce external legal costs by up to 25 percent.

The range of TPUSA’s omnichannel products—which covers inbound and outbound customer service solutions, work-at-home platforms, brick-and-mortar call centers, VoIP services, and offshore and near-shore solutions, among others—presents May with another tremendous spectrum of challenges. However, growing, ever-evolving security issues are among his greatest concerns. Together with the company’s security, IT, operations, and compliance organizations, the legal team has jointly developed security assessments and other tools that are used to develop customized solutions and to identify and analyze potential vulnerabilities, security requirements, and protocols. The company also has a global security and compliance council that meets regularly to review international security trends and internal security matters.

“The growing number, types, and sophistication of breaches experienced by various companies can make security a challenging proposition,” May says. “In addition to our own internal efforts, we can learn from what our clients are doing, many of whom, like TPUSA, are leaders in their fields. Sharing information with them becomes a critical part of effective security and creating mutually beneficial relationships.”

As he addresses the challenges of managing EWAP’s worldwide issues and operations, May adds that they need to continue to position the legal department as a value-adding business partner: “To do that, we have to develop productive relationships so we can spot issues and develop strategies before potential issues become real problems.”