When the call came in the middle of the night, Felix Serrano answered. He had to. It was his job. Little did he know that working overnights in a call center would turn into so much more.
Raised in Puerto Rico, Serrano (MBA 2011) started working third shift in the TeleTech call center in Aurora, Colorado, to support himself while he pursued his associate’s degree. He made the most of his college job by learning different functions of the work through internship programs while studying for his bachelor’s degree.
Serrano progressed through various roles, leveraging hard work as mentors took him under their wing to teach him the different operations of the business. Serrano moved to Alpine Access, where he had his first taste of a flexible, work-from-home call center environment.
“A kid that started out taking calls now was managing thousands of people across multiple locations in India, the U.K. and North America,” he said.
Eventually, Serrano hit a ceiling. He was passed over for promotions despite ample qualifications and experience. He asked his company to invest in his MBA in lieu of an annual bonus, citing his performance record and status as a key member of the team.
The U.K.-based company not only paid for his tuition and expenses—it also made schedule accommodations that allowed him to pursue his Executive MBA at Daniels, where he connected with Professors of the Practice-turned-mentors Kerry Plemmons and Scott McLagan.
“That became the differentiator,” Serrano said. “The MBA program helped me think differently. It taught me new concepts and helped me understand the mechanics of global business more comprehensively. It was huge for me, in terms of how I’d then ‘show up’ and approach a variety of business situations. Balancing two full-time jobs—work and school—certainly increased my capacity to absorb and produce more.”
After graduation, the more prepared Serrano burst through his ceiling. A series of advancement opportunities led to his first C-suite promotion. As Sitel’s chief operating officer, he had the opportunity to build one of the largest work-from-home, service delivery businesses in the industry, employing over 6,000 employees worldwide.
“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we are creating a new sector and employment opportunities for people that don’t have other options because they need to work from home. I have a calling here,’” Serrano said. But with a growing family and a corporate job keeping him on the road, Serrano wanted to be home more so he could attend his children’s activities. He and his wife, Minerva, decided to start their own company. At the end of 2018, they started Activus Connect.
Top of mind for him were two goals: First, pay his employees a living wage while allowing them the same flexible work-life balance he sought.
“If we can pay people a really good wage and they don’t have all of the expenses of getting up and going to an office, that becomes an even better living wage,” Serrano explained.
And second, invest any profits back into the community as a socially conscious business.
“I think that the days of corporations racking up tons of cash without giving back are numbered—social problems aren’t just for government institutions; they belong to the private sector too,” he said. “We wanted to make a strong commitment that we’re going to support organizations that need help and that make a tangible difference.”
Activus Connect gives to child-focused organizations like The Orphaned Starfish Foundation and Friends of Puerto Rico.
At the one-year mark, Activus Connect had over 150 employees operating in 48 states and Puerto Rico. The company grew to more than 600 employees by February 2020 with a new government contract.
The company trains a mix of full- and part-time ambassadors to handle complex customer interactions—the things a bot can’t handle. Activus Connect’s employees represent many major brands, delivering customer experience solutions around retail, insurance, medical, telecommunications and other industry verticals.
“I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur,” Serrano said. “Part of getting my MBA was opening my eyes a little bit more. I’ve been surrounded by many entrepreneurs who challenged me to want to do more because I could. It’s about more than making good money—the EMBA program taught me you can make a difference.”
Serrano strives to set a positive example for his three children and to inspire other minority business owners. Minerva, a University of Colorado Denver MBA alumna, is the majority owner of Activus Connect on a 52-48 split.
“We wanted to be certified as a woman- and minority-owned business to show that diversity and inclusion are good business decisions, that it can be done,” Serrano said. “There are very few women executives, so this was a great opportunity. Here I am, married to a woman who is smarter than me on my best day. I want her to inspire our daughter and so many other women. For all of the talk about the business success I have achieved, it’s most important for me to be present as a father. Kids see that example. I think you can do both.”
Editor’s note: We reached out to Felix Serrano to inquire about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Activus Connect—an organization that was well-positioned as a work-from-home business before the crisis struck. He said the company’s growth rate is ‘breathtaking.’ As of March 30, 2020, Activus Connect employed 450 contractors and over 500 full- and part-time employees across 48 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. “We are building up capacity to support federal emergency response services—being SAM.gov registered provides unique access to government contracts,” he said. “I feel particularly proud that our ambassadors work from home and, therefore, less in harm’s way.