business

Ryla Teleservices: Know When to Make the Call

The second of eight ways entrepreneurs, investors and savers have made a million. Find out how they did it and read all eight.

Millionaire Lesson No. 2

Don’t be afraid to go out on your own if you possess the competence and know people who can help you reach your goal.

Mark Wilson had been managing Dun & Bradstreet’s call centers for 15 years when the company decided to outsource the business in 2001. Sensing an opportunity, Wilson immediately asked to be considered. There was only one catch: Wilson didn’t actually own a call-center business at the time. "I didn’t think I had that good a shot," he says. "But I did have my reputation." Wilson won the contract.

To get up and running quickly, he partnered with an established call center in Houston. At the same time, Mark and his wife, Shelly, worked on a business plan and recruited two former D&B colleagues, a technology expert and a training expert, to help launch the business.

Then Wilson knocked on doors to get help with funding. "Everybody was conservative about investing in a company with little or no revenue yet," he says. But he did attract the attention of a community-development venture-capital fund, which invested $700,000.

Ryla Teleservices opened in June 2002 and rapidly accumulated big-money contracts. Revenues topped $3 million in the first full year of business, more than doubled the next and were up to $17 million in 2007. After another round of financing, the company is going through another growth spurt and projects more than $30 million in revenues this year.

Why is Ryla so successful? As a domestic call center based in Ken­nesaw, Ga., the company attracts clients that have had bad experiences with call centers offshore. And some government clients, such as the Veterans Administration and the State Department, can’t send their call centers out of the U.S. Plus, being an early adopter of voice-over-Internet-protocol, or VoIP, technology has helped Ryla lower costs.

But the biggest edge, says Wilson, comes from the company’s workers. "We want this to be the best job they’ve ever had," he says. Turnover in the call-center industry generally runs from 60% to 70% per year. But Ryla’s turnover is just 30%, and many of the company’s original employees remain.

Ryla pays at least 60% of the cost of health insurance for the company’s 400 regular employees, and it sponsors budgeting and personal-development seminars. Wilson keeps morale high with his regular "huddles," where he stands in the middle of a circle of workers and gives them an update on the state of the company. "The key asset of any business is its people, and we’ve never lost sight of that," he says.

EIGHT MILLIONAIRE PROFILES

1. The Video That Took on a Life of Its Own

2. Know When to Make the Call

3. Pounce When the Time Is Right

4. It Started Over Cocktails

5. A Thirty-Year Plan to Make a Mil

6. Breaking With Family Tradition

7. Accumulating A Fortune on $11 a Hour

8. Suddenly It Clicks

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