Karen Batungbacal

Karen Batungbacal: Mother of the BPO Industry

The business industry is a man’s world, some might say. However, Karen Batungbacal proves otherwise having been deemed as the mother of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry.

There is no doubt how the BPO industry has made such a huge impact here in the Philippines. It is still one of the biggest contributors to the growth of our economy changing how other countries see Filipino workers and the country. Once, we were just a country of domestic helpers and sex workers but now, we have penetrated the corporate world through our innate proficiency in English and the ability to provide quality customer service.

In a man’s world, Karen Batungbacal saw an opportunity and took it. She took a leap of faith and worked out her way into building a greater future for the Philippines. Once, she was just a jobless fresh Chemical Engineering graduate who was looking for a career but now, she is a successful CEO that has forever changed the country for good.

Starting a Career

Karen Batungbacal has a PHD in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University. Working on her dissertation, she spent 12-13 hours inside the laboratory which later on made her realize that this wasn’t her dream career. So, after a year, she decided to leave the university.

She interviewed for other companies in the US.

When I looked around [for jobs in America], I thought I still wanted to work in my industry… I interviewed with Pfizer, Mobil Oil, P&G, and many similar companies — I did interview with companies like that.

Yet, most of them offered her a position in Research and Development which was something she was not really aiming for. She turned them down.

Later on, here come American President Lines (APL), an international shipping company that offered her a management position. She was growing with APL but when she came home to the Philippines for a special project she met her now husband, Joey De Venecia III, US wasn’t an option anymore.

After APL, came a job in banking.

“I knew nothing about banking,” Karen admitted about herself at the time. “But they said, ‘No, it’s okay. You’re going to manage this function (Citigold). You’re going to have 7-8 relationship managers. You have managerial skills. That’s good enough for us.’”

From Citibank, Karen indulged into the telco business with BayanTel.

It was with BayanTel that she became one of the pioneering members of a promising company. It was also through BayanTel that the lightbulb moment of putting up the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry in the Philippines came to be.

Molding the BPO Industry

The first few years in the BPO industry, I was travelling around the world, selling the Philippines… In the beginning, business just wasn’t coming here.

In 2004, her mission led her to the doors of then Department of Trade and Industry Secretary, Mar Roxas. This was where Karen pitched her idea of marketing the Philippines to foreign BPO investors.

In the same year, Karen and her contemporaries co-founded the industry association that would become the IT and Business Processing Association of the Philippines (IBPAP), where she held the presidency for its first five years.

From then on, the BPO Industry in the Philippines continues to flourish into massive growth.

Karen Batungbacal’s Final Words

“This came after a lot of hard work, and also luck. I can’t remove the element of luck… It’s luck or grace, whichever way you want to look at it or position it.”

But she also stressed that luck will be nothing without hard work.

For aspiring professionals and leaders, she gives the following advice:

“Don’t not do your job. Focus on the job on hand.”

You might be driven to be an overachiever, or to contribute in other teams outside of your own, but never forget to do what you are hired to do. This is a most important principle as a professional.

“Achieve consistently.”

Don’t be a fluke. You might hit bumps on the road, but make sure you show that you can maintain the successes you’ve achieved.

“Find a mentor.”


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