itel SPOTlight: Michelle Yeo
"I love the fact that we’re a Jamaican born company, and that we are in fact trendsetters. We set the bar high and now everybody else must follow."
We sit down with Michelle Yeo, Executive Vice President of itel’s People Resources & Culture (PRC) department. Working out of the Kingston, Jamaica, office, Michelle has over 10 years’ experience in the BPO sector, as well as Human Resources. She originally joined the company in 2014, heading our People Success department, before leaving for a brief time, triumphantly returning in 2023, where she resumed her role in what we now call PRC. With many exciting projects and innovations in the works, her main responsibility is to ensure that our people are happy in the workplace and that they see itel as the ideal place to grow their career.
We’re so glad to have you back, Michelle. Thank you for joining us today.
It’s great to be back. I’m so glad to be here.
So, you first started in 2014 as head of People Resources and Culture …
Back then, it was called HR. As we grew and developed as a company, Yoni gave me the opportunity to revamp the department and everything to do with human resources and talent acquisition. I changed it to the ‘People Success’ department, which eventually led to the name we have now: People Resources and Culture.
So, you have a long history with itel. The company was only 2 years old when you first joined. What are some of the changes you’ve seen?
When I started, we had maybe around 300 employees, and we were in one small location over in Montego Bay. Now, it’s quite different. We’re in seven different countries and have all these locations, and well over 6,000 people. We're not just a little BPO anymore.
After some time spent at Supreme Ventures, a Caribbean gaming company, you rejoined the itel family in 2023. What made you want to return?
I learned a lot working with Supreme Ventures. But, when Yoni reached out to me and asked if I was ready to come home, it felt just like that, coming home. I missed the people, and there was this excitement watching the company grow and evolve over the three years I was away. It was an easy decision to come back, and I have absolutely no regrets.
Tell us something about itel that inspires you.
The fact that we’re a Jamaican born company, and to see how we have evolved in the industry, that we are in fact trendsetters. We are the goal setters. We set the bar high and now everybody else must follow. It’s also a pleasure to work with Yoni, our Founding Chairman and CEO. Since 2014, I’ve heard his vision, believed in his vision, and now seeing it come to life, I think, for me, that’s the inspiration right there.
You have over 10 years’ experience in PRC. What drew you to this kind of career?
I've always had people-centric jobs. I first wanted to be in the hospitality industry. In fact, I have a degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management, specializing in Food and Beverage Management, which is funny, because now, I don’t really like cooking, unless I’m in the mood. I even worked for 15 years at Air Jamaica, until the airline closed. That’s when I decided I needed to explore other avenues and turned to the BPO sector, starting as a Trainee manager. The first department I happened to be placed in was HR, and that's where I've been ever since, developing those people skills that have helped me be successful in this career path.
Can you explain for those of us who might not know, what your role entails as EVP of People Resources and Culture? What are your responsibilities?
I focus on the people in our organization, the employee experience. I make sure we are pushing through, reaching all our goals, while working with different teams to ensure that our people are happy and want to come to work. I’m also extremely interested in ways we can be more efficient as a department and as a company. Things that could be upgraded or automated, to make sure that we have the time to spend with our people, understanding their needs, making sure we're meeting those needs as best we can, which of course improves our employee retention.
So, what, in your opinion, makes you the perfect fit for this role? What special energy do you bring to the table that sets you apart from the rest?
Working with people really is my niche. I can relate to anyone, from the man sweeping the grounds right up to the CEO. And when I talk to people, it’s just Michelle. I'm not this untouchable leader, I’m not my title, I’m just Michelle, and no matter which location I walk into, I check in with people on an individual basis. I also like to get things done. People tell me I’m a “do-er”. So that, paired with my people skills is, I think, my winning formula.
I hear you’ve done some amazing things already: you’ve ramped up engagement activities, you’re bringing individual PRC message boards to each location and you’re also relaunching the People Resources Now platform. You’ve been busy since your return… What else do you hope to accomplish?
More efficiency, and automation is a big part of that. Freeing up time, so the people in my department can spend more one-on-one time with our team members. I think that is one of my biggest goals, to make the department more efficient and effective, to better support the organization.
You must take immense pride in your role. What do you enjoy most about it?
When people are happier because of an engagement activity we’ve planned or we’ve made a change that makes someone’s life easier … Anything that I can do to make a positive impact, that’s what makes it all worthwhile. And I love the fact that even though we're a global company, I get to physically visit all the sites regularly. I get to create that special bond with my team members. And that's a big, big thing for me right now. I really enjoy it.
There must be challenges you face as head of PRC. Can you tell me about them?
In any role there are challenges, and for me, they vary day-to-day. The important thing is that once you've identified a problem, you need to find out all the details, get to the root cause. And from there, you can work on a solution.
It’s a key role that comes with many responsibilities. How do you keep yourself motivated?
Personality-wise, I’m a little OCD (obsessive compulsive), which naturally makes me want to fix everything. That gives me motivation. I also really love what I do. I really love itel. That’s motivation in of itself. And working with a wonderful team.
Even though your role might be seen as largely an internal one, how do you think it impacts the client experience? Or does it, in your opinion?
It certainly does. Happy employees are more productive employees. So, if I can ensure that my employees are happy at work, are confident that their needs are being met, they'll be more productive. That, in turn, means better outcomes for customers and therefore our clients, which aligns with our company philosophy of EX=CX (employee experience equals customer experience).
So, let’s get to know more about you outside of work. What do you enjoy most about working and living in Jamaica and Kingston in particular?
Well, I was born here in Kingston, Jamaica. I've lived in Jamaica all my life. My mother is Scottish, and my father was Jamaican, from Irish descent. I really don’t think I could live and work anywhere else. It's home for me. And our beaches are my favorite place. I love that I can just get up and go to the beach any time. Or if I want to go up in the mountains and have breakfast one morning, I can do it. All the options are there.
I also hear you’re a mother of two. How do you balance work and family life, and why is that important?
Though both my children are now in their twenties, and I’m on the verge of being an empty nester, during the length of my career I’ve always tried to balance work and family life. I think it's especially important. Because when one area suffers, so does the other, if you don't have that balance. That’s why it’s critical to make time for both.
What’s your favorite pastime? What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Of course, I love the beach. But generally, I like activities closer to home. Things like backyard barbecues with friends and family or solving puzzles. I love jigsaw puzzles! During the pandemic, I had all this time, so I built jigsaw puzzles for hours. And I like to physically do the jigsaws, none of this electronic version on the computer or phone. On the other hand, I also love to travel, and I'm known as a big animal lover. My dog is my third child.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that we may not know...
I have so many fun facts, it’s difficult to choose. One that people may not know is that I didn’t always work in office jobs. When I was studying Hospitality and Tourism Management, I was in fact a chef. And when taking my final exam, I cut off the tip of my finger, but I wrapped it up, and came back and finished. I even got an A.
That's amazing. Wow, you're a warrior. I can see how that dedication, passion, and tenacity has helped you excel in your career.
I’m also known for having a multitude of interesting pens in my office. Pens of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Even though I don’t really use them, I get a lot of them when I go to conferences, so I’ve amassed quite a collection.
That sounds great. And now we know who to ask if we need a pen.
(Laughs) Of course!
Well, thank you, Michelle, for joining us today. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. I’m sure our readers have enjoyed getting to know the main person behind PRC, bringing us all these amazing tools and processes that enhance and elevate the employee experience. Your story is an inspiration to all our itelers, proving how much you can achieve when you’re passionate about your work. With you at the helm, our company culture is in good hands, and I look forward to watching your progression as you bring all your great ideas to life.