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Grandfather of invention is the force behind Vitel's growth

NEWS that a leading call centre in Glasgow has been taken over, heralding the creation of 120 new jobs, only serves to confirm that anyone who can sell coq au vin to pubs in Greenock and Port Glasgow is going places.

Bellcom Worldwide, the multilingual UK call centre, in Waterloo Street, is relaunched today as Vitel and is already on target to quadruple the workforce by early next year.

New contracts, with companies in the water and waste services, insurance, business improvement and energy efficiency industries, are to result in 120 new jobs by the end of this year.

Potential business with new and existing clients is expected to see staff levels rise to over 200 in early 2015, according to company.

Vitel, whose name derives from the words 'vital' and 'telephone', is now part of the newly formed Neptis Group. Its CEO Joe Costello, 53, formerly MD of the Glasgow-based Essentia Group, acquired Bellcom in March and has since seen the workforce increase from 50 to 60.

Carrying on the etymological theme, neptis means grand-daughter in classical Latin. Joe was bouncing his grand-daughter Amelia on his knee when he thought of it.

The move will link Vitel with Lucid PR, Events and Marketing, which is also part of the Neptis Group. In doing so it realises a vision of Mr Costello's to build a one-stop-shop service of business advice, marketing and PR expertise and multilingual sales and customer service facilities to clients. That's what Vitel will do.

He explains "Our unique set of skills sets Vitel apart from other contact centre operations. If a client needs to launch a new service or a product be it a wooden box or bicycle clips, we can offer strong business advice, creative PR and marketing assistance and expert sales support. We can provide the service from beginning to end and I don't know of another contact centre of our size in the UK that can do that."

Mr Costello said he is confident in the prospects for the business regardless of the result of the independence referendum.

As with Bellcom, he is also determined to continue to distance Vitel from the "sweat shop" and employee churn image of the call centre industry, by offering staff training and a promotion and bonus structure to help career progression and keep workers long term. The strategy also includes showing industry leadership in working towards paying even the most junior staff the Glasgow Living Wage (set at £7.65 an hour from April 1).

His ambition is to see staff in their 40, 50s and 60s helping teenagers who are just joining Vitel.

"What we are trying to do here is create a crack sales force which is well paid and wants to stay long term to develop a range of skills. We have a salary and promotion structure that allows us to do that.

"There are a lot of hire-and-fire places that treat people with a lack of dignity which I cannot understand. While the clients and services we support may change, the staff and emphasis on training to improve their skills won't."

The road to Neptis has had a few twists. One of six he was born and raised in Coatbridge, and describes his background as "very ordinary". His father spent his life in distribution and was latterly a school janitor. His mother was a nursery nurse.

His parents had always stressed that while the family didn't have a great deal of money, a clear path to success was still there for them all, through education. It was advice the young Joe took.

Initially he planned to become a history and modern studies teacher but changed academic tack at Strathlyde University and pursued a BA in business studies, specialising in industrial relations. He says it helped shape his own commercial philosophy, attaching great value to the individual human contribution to commercial success.

He started on the bottom rung of the ladder at United Biscuits in a territory sales job covering the west of Scotland. That's where the coq au vin came in, and indeed duck a l'orange.

These boil in the bag products came to symbolise to him how sales would always be any company's front line, the driver of everything else from training to HR and industrial relations.

He then moved to Guinness and progressed to be account manager for Scotland in charge of off trade. It coincided with the ground-breaking introduction of draft Guinness in cans, he recalls "An inspired product that was very popular - with a lot of explaining to do around the widget in the bottom of the can," he says.

After Guinness, posts with Scholl UK and PepsiCo Foods International followed.

In 1995 he became Sales and Marketing Director, with Henkel Arabia, a German Company in Saudi Arabia. He was responsible for all marketing and commercial activity in Middle East. His team managed the launch of Persil into Middle East.

He was in charge of a sales team of more than 200, mostly Indian and Pakistani as well as those from Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and the Philippines.

He says he can't speak highly enough of them. They had to make their job work or face being sent home. "So they made their jobs work, and I like to think the company showed them the respect they fully deserved."

After five years he decided he wanted to get back home to Scotland. "My wife Margaret Anne had her own career as a teacher and had stayed at home with our son and daughter. We made it work. They would come out to Saudi for all the school holidays and I would come home on leave for a lot of the time in between. But in the end I wanted to be with other dads on the touchline watching their kids play."

He looked to do something different on his return and ended up as MD of Network Scotland, a charity. It was running smoking and drug helplines and offered counselling for clients including the Health Education Board for Scotland and the then Scottish Executive.

But he had been charged with looking beyond Scotland and wider than publicly-funded bodies for clients. He saw that the skilled workforce held the key to that expansion.

The workforce could sell the organisation's knowledge of healthcare, nursing, and science in health and lifestyle management across the UK and Europe. He not only worked to ensure it retained many of the charity's values, but also established a separate charitable foundation to continue the original work. During his time as MD there (2000-2010) Essentia grew from having one site to five, including Brora in Sutherland. Turnover rose from less than £2 million to £13m and the workforce expanded from 60 to 500.

In 2008 Essentia was sold to The Listening Company, which in turn was bought by Serco. A two year "earn out" between 2008 and 2010 meant he was unable to work in the contact centre industry.

So a period of recreation punctuated with some blue sky thinking followed.

But he started to get bored and in 2010 he bought into Lucid PR, which was run by his cousin Peter Kane. He also backed his daughter and her husband, Anna and David Lang in their Cave Wall Studios recording and record label enterprise in his native Coatbridge.

After that it was just a matter of time until he lifted Amelia on to his knee and reached for his classical Latin book.

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