What’s the Scoop in Lithuania?

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SSON interviews Lukas Jankauskas, Managing Director of the Kaunas Communication Centre / Unicall Lithuania, Unicall Central & Eastern Europe

BH: Mr Jankauskas, thank you for talking to me today. I am interested in the advantages of running a business from Lithuania – specifically, services delivery businesses. Could you give me some background on Unicall generally, and specifically on your local operation in Kaunas?

LJ: Unicall originally was established in Norway in 2006 and is generally a call centre business. Currently, within the Unicall group we have ten call centres in six different countries in Europe – that’s Norway, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Poland and Czech Republic. In Lithuania we have a call centre in Kaunas but half of our activity here is a back office services centre. So from Kaunas we do all the IT support, back office work, finance, and quality assurance for the other call centres in the Unicall group.

BH: When was the shared services centre set up in Kaunas?

LJ: The company itself was established in 2004; then, in December 2006 the company was bought by Unicall and the shared services team was established.

BH: Did Unicall already have a shared services business before the merger?

LJ: Not before that. Actually, once the company had established a few call centres in Norway they realised that they needed some help with technical and quality issues, and reporting. It was expensive to do that from Norway. Unicall already had links with the company in Kaunas for call centre support and IT support. The owners of Unicall had decided that they wanted to buy the company since we already had some people speaking Nordic languages here; and that’s how the shared service centre was established.

BH: What was the attraction of Lithuania for Unicall’s European operations?

LJ: At the time of the acquisition, the main activities of the Kaunas centre related to call centre work – sales, customer service, etc. When Unicall was looking for a place to establish its shared services – IT support, finance, back office and quality assurance – it decided Kaunas was the best solution. It would have been quite expensive to do that from Norway, and here in Lithuania we already had some people speaking Norwegian, including myself. So we built a shared service centre.

BH: And so where are you today? How many staff do you have in your Kaunas unit?

LJ: We have 80 people working in Kaunas. Of course they are working on different things but we do have 20 people providing back office support for other countries in the Unicall group. We have ten IT staff, a reporting department consisting of three people, and also a finance department, which does all the accounting for two countries and provides some support for the other ones.

BH: If someone was thinking about starting a services delivery centre what could you tell them about Lithuania? Why might Lithuania be a good location for a shared services business?

LJ: First and foremost I would say Lithuania is very cost effective, it’s not expensive at all to do business from here. I would not say that it’s "cheap" because there are cheaper places, but it’s cost effective. We have a very loyal team – people who like to do what they are doing and are willing to do everything at 100%. So perfection is one thing we aim for here.

BH: What about the attrition rate? Are you finding that competing call centres or shared services centres are being set up? Is it becoming difficult to retain the staff once you’re trained them?

LJ: Of course the competition has increased in the last two years. Some big players have come to Lithuania, like Barclays, Western Union, etc. But it is not impacting our operations or our ability to hire talent. In Lithuania there is no big competition as in some older markets for service centres, like Slovakia. And we have a lot of good people, good specialists, engineers, linguists … People who know languages. Of course, if you are looking for specific skills, for example the Norwegian language or the Swedish language, the competition is quite strong. But there’s always a solution for that and one of the solutions we take care of ourselves is to train for these languages in-house. To retain trained staff in the company is not a problem if you treat them as co-workers. If employees feel that they are the core of the company's success and they have a chance to influence the company's life, they will be willing to stay in the company.

BH: Do you think Lithuania is a natural fit for Scandinavia as opposed to other areas in the world? Is there more of a cultural affinity with certain regions?

LJ: I would say that Lithuania is kind of in the middle between West and East. We have experience, of course, from being part of the Soviet Union, so we know the culture from that side. We are, of course, in the EU since 2004, with all the benefits that brings, and we know the western countries also. We also know the culture of Scandinavia because that region is close. Central and Eastern Europe, likewise, are a good fit because we share a common history from the Soviet Union’s time.

BH: What about Asia? That’s a growth market for so many organisations. Do you think Lithuanians are well suited to service the Asian marketplace?

LJ: It depends on what services do you want to provide. If you are talking about simple transactional processes, then it’s not cost effective to do that from Lithuania for Asia. But if you are talking about IT, finance, and other skills requiring more knowledge and education, then Lithuania is a perfect place.

BH: There’s a lot of talk, as I’m sure you know, about developing centres of expertise as a services support, and it sounds to me as if what you’re describing means that it would be a good market for Lithuania.

LJ: Yes. If you mean developing added value, and services requiring more experience, then yes.

BH: Are there any plans for Unicall to expand beyond Europe? And in that case, do you think you would still be leveraging the shared services from Kaunas?

LJ: The board of directors is, of course, planning for the future, and if we would look 10-15 years ahead, then the rest of the world is definitely in our plan. But since the company is still young and we are just establishing ourselves in Europe, I think we’ll have enough to do here in the next couple of years.

BH: To what extent is talent being supplied in Lithuania? Are shared services leaders finding the kind of people they’re looking for – IT graduates, language graduates – in Lithuania today?

LJ: At the moment there are a lot of technical universities that are preparing a lot of good people, both in IT and languages. But what is good about Lithuania is also that universities are open for discussion and when a company says that they need 200 people a year in some particular field, then the universities are willing to develop new programmes; in other words: to adjust the programmes to the companies’ needs. So actually if a company is coming with a long-term plan then it’s a perfect fit, because they can influence the university programmes.

BH: Invest Lithuania is very supportive for new businesses. Have you benefitted from the support that they provide to the development of companies in Lithuania?

LJ: Yes. That company is really helping a lot when you are trying to find new partners and new markets and starting to set up operations in Lithuania.

BH: Thank you so much for your time, Mr Jankauskas.

LJ: Thank you.

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