Who’s to blame for Teleperformance’s woes? Les Anglo-Saxons, bien sûr

“Sometimes it’s good not to have a temper,” said Daniel Julien. “But sometimes things have to be said.”

Julien is founder, chair and CEO of Teleperformance, a Paris-listed operator of call centres and content moderation farms. The company’s full-year results presentation this week was his opportunity to vent — about press bias, bureaucracy and most surprisingly, the company’s investor base.

First, the back-story: Teleperformance shares plunged last November on news that Colombia’s Ministry of Labour was investigating allegations of poor workplace practices. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Forbes had alleged that moderators subcontracted by TikTok were paid low wages to sift through distressing content, and that the company had engaged in union-busting activities.

In response, Teleperformance immediately announced an exit from “highly egregious” moderation and committed to improved rights for its 440,000 employees worldwide. An internal audit signed off by an unidentified consulting firm found no evidence of wrongdoing in Colombia, the company said in November. Bureau Veritas was hired to independently certify that operations in six other countries met social responsibility guidelines. (BV offered a qualified pass.)

While talks with Colombian authorities continue, these public displays of contrition, self-examination and willingness to improve have helped rebuild investor confidence. Teleperformance shares have rebounded to approximately where they were before news of the investigation first broke:

Julien has a slightly different perspective on events. Criticism is “unfair, unsubstantiated, crazy, storm-in-a-glass-of-water polemic”, he complained at the results analyst meeting. The allegations came “suddenly out of nowhere” and have been “amplified” by parties undefined, which has distracted management “from its day-to-day task for almost three months.”

The Teleperformance presentation cited as evidence of a happy workforce an employee internal survey and two consecutive mentions in the “Great Place to Work” list. The deck also includes photos of the cafeteria, chill-out area and free ice-cream fridge at its El Paso, Texas, office:

All of which proves “no real trace of dirty exploitation like it was commented in the press,” Julien said. He singled out a Forbes article — which alleged moderators were trained using uncensored sexually explicit images of children — for specific criticism:

“The journalist who interviewed five or six ex-[Teleperformance] guys, who had worked in our centre at one point of time, did a strange job I have to say. She could have interviewed maybe the thousands of people working in El Paso and maybe she would have got another story.”

Julien, 70, is an enthusiastic free-form public speaker. This week’s performance included off-the-cuff commentary on Teleperformance’s Colombia office (“I don’t think there is one company in the country that has something as beautiful”); succession planning (“I’m in great shape!”); the Bureau Veritas report (“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to school but if you go to school this is an A! Not a B!”); and crisis management (the enemy “has eight heads”, so “kill kill kill kill kill”).

There was also some onstage smirking when Julien trailed off while talking about his personal enthusiasm for raising the ratio of women employees at the company to 50 per cent. He wrapped up the meeting by thanking the audience for taking two years of their time.

Such missteps are easily excusable. Precision and subtlety can suffer when improvising, particularly in a second language. But what should we make of the presentation’s section on the butterfly effect, which was contemplated for long enough to be made into a slide?

Having skipped across the stage to mime out how a butterfly “flips its wing thousands of miles away and he creates tornado in Texas,” Julien returned to the lectern to explain how this principle applies to equity ownership:

Look at what happened. Very simple. It has been concentrated on one country, France. The share of the French shareholders has reduced from 20 per cent to 13 per cent over the time, meaning there has been a kind of panic sale. And who took advantage of that? The Anglo Saxon. Their share is now 65 per cent. Their share of shareholding of the company is 65 per cent; plus 8 per cent. Fact. I let you make your own conclusion.

Is the intended conclusion here that “Anglo Saxon” investors have conspired with the press and/or Colombian government to shitbag a French champion with a view to building their own positions on the cheap? Or is there some other, more plausible conclusion we’re missing? Answers welcome in the comment box.

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