What started as a summer job to make ends meet turned into a surprising career
for Nick Jiwa (’91).
The alumnus worked at a call center in 1986 and couldn’t wrap his head around the concept. “But I needed the money,” he recalls, “and so I stuck with it.” More than three decades later, Jiwa has revolutionized the call-center industry. His company, CustomerServ, has created a matchmaking process for clients and vendors to successfully connect.
And his immigrant story is quintessentially Baruch. He chatted with us recently about his career, his upbringing, and his time at Baruch.
You were born in Tanzania but grew up in Queens. What brought you here and what did you enjoy most about your NYC upbringing?
My family emigrated to NYC in 1974 when I was 6 and like other immigrant families, there were challenges. But the struggle is what made my NYC upbringing so special and something that I would not trade in for anything in the world.
I lived in Rego Park, Queens in the 1970s and 1980s and my neighborhood was like one big family. We were fortunate to have each other, and we created lifelong memories together.
Why did you choose to attend Baruch and how would you describe your college experience?
My guidance counselor in high school recommended that I apply for the SEEK program at Baruch and that is how I got in. I am grateful that I was able to attend Baruch because it was a great experience and the right fit for me. The Baruch campus was walking distance from where I worked in Manhattan and this enabled me to work full time and take on a full credit load each semester.
Baruch was an underrated business school, and I recall that over 35% of New York City’s accountants graduated from there at the time.
Your interest in call centers happened thanks to a summer job in the ’80s. What about the industry drew you to it?
It was the summer of 1986 when I got referred to the job and at first, I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of a call center. But I needed the money and so I stuck with it. In hindsight, this was probably the single most important decision of my professional career because it led to a rewarding and memorable three-decade journey in the call-center industry.
I was drawn to the industry for many reasons. For starters I’m a student of marketing and communication. I was able to work with and learn about so many different brands and their marketing strategies. The industry also provided me with the opportunity to lead and interact with people from all walks of life.
Read more about my experience in my article, Call Center – The Accidental Career Path.
What compelled you to start CustomerServ?
I had the idea in the late 1990s, but I wasn’t ready for entrepreneurship yet. In 2006 the timing felt right, and we created CustomerServ to solve a specific problem in the call-center industry.
Vendor selection is central to successful call center outsourcing, yet too many client-vendor relationships fail and so our company provides a more predictable path to outsourcing success. We created a matchmaking process and an ecosystem for clients and vendors to find each other in a controlled environment— through us, thereby mitigating the risk of incorrect vendor selection.
We have learned a lot, and over time, built a very special organization that has created thousands of new jobs in the U.S. and in emerging economies worldwide.
How has the call-center landscape changed since you first started in the ’80s?
The industry has changed dramatically. In the 1980s, call center outsourcing was a nascent idea, with only a few providers struggling to establish a marketplace. Like many high growth industries of today, our industry required “acceptance” as well – that it was okay to outsource your coveted customer communication to a reliable third party. Early adopters to outsourcing in the 1980s-1990s included AT&T, JCPenney, GM and some of the most iconic brands in the world.
In the 1990s, nearshore and offshore call centers took off and spurred the globalization of our industry. And technology has completely reshaped the way that a modern call center operates. IoT (Internet of Things) and other business applications have transformed call centers from once handling only transactional processes to now leading the way in supporting the most technical and complex outsourcing needs.
Finally, what is your number-one piece of advice for the recently graduated Baruch students who hope to be a successful professional like yourself?
First, define what success means to you. Success isn’t just about achieving financial wealth. Success to me is also about impact and legacy. It is my leave behind. If you care about being successful, then you must start within. Are you making an impact in people’s lives? Are you an honorable person? Before you pursue success, identify what it means to you and let that definition guide you in your future endeavors.
Second, trust your gut and pay attention to your instinctual feelings. Whenever I ignored my gut, I made the wrong decision and paid the price because it is too easy to rationalize and overthink something. Draw on experience and gut instinct to help you make critical decisions in business and life. Your instinctual radar can be one of your greatest assets, even more valuable than your best business ideas.