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Will Obama really take back outsourced jobs?

AvantiKumar | Nov. 21, 2008
Some Malaysian tech leaders don't think so

Following US president-elect Obama's recent declaration to bring outsourced jobs back to the States, there was an expected surge of concern from Asian outsourcing companies.

Indeed, it was one of the topics of an inaugural outsourcing conference in Malaysia, as well as uppermost in many of the conversations I had when attending conferences in Kuala Lumpur this month.

To illustrate the major views of Malaysian tech leaders, let me just talk about the most recent conversation I had. It was with TL Wong, chief executive officer of a business process outsourcing firm, Zeltrans, which is just three years old. He responded to a question about how the economic downturn was affecting his company.

TL said that for outsourcers, the downturn may be a good thing. He told me he had been approached by two more large American companies which wanted to cut costs by outsourcing to his company. Then he mentioned Obamas intention.

Naturally, I asked him for his take on Obamas intention. TL said there were two camps among his peers. Some companies were scared, but the majority thought there would be no or very little real action possible by Obama on this. "And if there was, the US is going to find it a very expensive exercise. What always counts at the end of the day is: the bottom line. Always will."

Lessons from a movie

This conversation reminded me of a movie aired on a satellite channel here last week, Outsourced. A pleasant comedy about a US novelty company that fires a whole department in the States, in order to outsource its order fulfilment process to a small town in India. I would like to highlight the one scene that stood out for me:

An Indian girl, working at the call centre, takes a difficult call from a disgruntled American, who was about to order a small product for about US$50, but then went into a tirade when he realised he was talking to someone in India.

His complaints, long and bitter, are about all the people thrown out of jobs by outsourcing, including many of his family members.  He would never lower himself to deal with non-American goods and companies anymore, he says. The Indian girl tells him she understands, and says she can point him to another company, wholly based in the US (a bluff, by the way) that could sell him the same product, without any foreign party involvement whatsoever.

The caller is interested. "Exactly the same product?" he asks.

"Absolutely. Made, sold and delivered solely in America… The only difference, of course, is that it will cost you just an extra US$212...Would you like the URL of the company, sir?"


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