‘We want to fill the place’: Sydney call centre owner gets rock star welcome

It was standing room only at the Ashby Legion in Sydney, N.S., for the first meeting between former ServiCom call centre workers and their new boss.

Anthony Marlowe, CEO of MCI Canada, greeted about 350 people Thursday evening and was met with round after round of applause.

He promised all 600 or so former workers would get their jobs back at their previous pay rates.

The Iowa-based businessman even promised to improve the benefits employees lost under the previous owner.

‘Light the place back up’

Marlowe later told reporters that key employees would be back at work over the Christmas holiday.

“We’re going to start teeing up management,” he said. “We got to light the place back up, fire it back up right, [with] HR personnel, program management, leadership, etc.

“They’ll be kind of the tip of the spear in terms of working out the kinks and the paperwork and the processes and some of the integration and workflows.”

New call centre owner Anthony Marlowe told a crowd at Ashby Legion in Sydney, N.S., that all the laid-off ServiCom workers will get their jobs back. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Marlowe said the rest of the workers would start no later than Jan. 7, but need to be ready to go as early as Jan. 2.

No one seems to know exactly how many employees were on the payroll when ServiCom went bankrupt.

Marlowe said he didn’t have an exact figure, but whether it was 500 or 600 workers, all will be welcomed back.

“We want to fill the place,” he said. “Those contact centres aren’t built to leave a bunch of seats empty and we have plenty of contracts and plenty of work.”

Bidding war

When ServiCom’s New Jersey-based parent company JNET Communications folded, it had a couple of call centres operating in the U.S. and one in Sydney.

The operations had four contracts: GM’s OnStar, Sirius satellite radio, Allstate insurance and AT&T.

However, JNET had no assets and was heavily in debt.

Marlowe said the Sydney operation was very profitable, though.

He offered to buy its contracts in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for $400,000, but two other companies also made offers.

Marlowe’s company eventually won a bidding war, paying $1.5 million.

Former Servicom worker Maria MacDonald said the profitable Sydney operation was used to prop up JNET’s failing call centres in the U.S.

She said it looks like the Sydney call centre is in good hands with Marlowe, who said the Sydney Call Centre will remain separate from his other call centre and technology companies.

“As awful as this has been, this had to happen so that we can get our brand, so that Cape Breton and Sydney can have our own call centre,” said MacDonald.

Extremely grateful

Marlowe was greeted like a rock star, shaking hands and accepting enthusiastic well wishes as he entered the legion.

The employees said they were hungry to get back to work and extremely grateful their centre is being saved from bankruptcy.

During a Q&A session with Marlowe, several praised him directly and thanked him for reviving their hopes.

One, Elizabeth MacLean, said all she wanted for Christmas was a job, as she handed Marlowe a Santa hat.

Marlowe told reporters afterward he has about 1,700 employees in the United States and is used to crowds, but he wasn’t prepared for the big Cape Breton welcome he got in Sydney.

“I’ve experienced that before, but nothing to this evening’s level of sentiment and emotion,” he said.

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