UST Global’s CEO Sajan Pillai: “Believe in a purpose higher than yourself!”
CEO Today speaks to Sajan Pillai about UST Global’s beginnings and the amazing growth story of one of the fastest growing digital companies in the world today.
What were your main strategic goals for UST Global in the very beginning?
We had started 17 years ago with 14 people. Today we are 17000 people spread across 4 continents and 25 countries. Some of the world’s largest corporations are our clients and they consider UST as their strategic advisor and partner.
We started at the cusp of the private equity/venture capital flow into dot-coms – money was plentiful but value was scarce. We decided we weren’t going to chase venture money and go to the dot-coms – we didn’t find a sustainable value proposition there. Instead, we focused on the Fortune 100 companies. This was counter-intuitive as people often told me that if you’re entering a market, you need to go after the mid-sized and small players versus the large ones. But if you have one of the best execution models, why not work with the best? While the market was swarming with tech players that were primarily offering traditional outsourcing services, we positioned ourselves as a visionary company. We spurred innovation by striking major product development partnerships. Every year, we helped clients take products and services from concept to the marketplace.
When we started, we figured that in order for a company to be successful for the next millennium, you need to have a purpose larger than oneself — something beyond a traditional sense of business operations – and hence our mission of Transforming Lives; which continues to guide us in this amazing journey.
How did you manage to attract Fortune 100 clients?
It is our client intimacy model that draws top Fortune 100 clients towards us. Our business model of ‘fewer CLIENTS, more ATTENTION’ has been one of our key differentiators since 1999. This model helps us seize the opportunity to design business as a human experience in these digital times. Rather than following a transactional vendor delivery model, we always go beyond the contract. UST brings a human-centered, emotionally fuelled approach to design which enables our customers.
We codify emotional insights and frame design challenges around emotional outcomes. This allows us to deliver a competitive advantage to our clients. We use pre-fabricated digital building blocks and automated processes to produce rapid, high-quality prototypes.
The ability to take risk, to see things differently, and to have an ecosystem of partners to help — the social capital we bring to the table — makes us different from the rest. Our customers recognize and appreciate this difference. Our domain expertise, our ability to extract deep consumer insights combined with technology and talent enable us to digitally accelerate our client’s businesses.
In terms of market competition, where does UST Global stand globally today?
We do have a few powerful and well-respected competitors around the world, but we do things differently. Customer experience is the key element and building social capital is extraordinarily important, as is human capital. We create jobs, we train and invest in human capital development, and we spur technology and innovation. We transform the societies in which we operate.
As one of the fastest growing digital & IT services companies in the world, we deliver speed and agility where it is most critical for our clients’ business. I believe we are very well positioned in the current market scenario to deliver a competitive advantage to our clients. We partner with our clients to pre-empt digital disruption – creating digitally enabled experiences that uncover and expand new ways to create business value.
We are successfully guided by our mission of transforming lives. As we transform lives, we are focused on our customers and their consumers. Our design capabilities enable us to bridge the gap between insight and action through our digital levers like mobile, social, analytics, cloud, cyber security, and augmented intelligence. We are uniquely positioned to enable client success through our pillars of Digital Transformation, Human Centered Innovation and Accelerating Possibilities.
UST Global is at the forefront of the innovation and digital disruption. Through our cutting-edge, consumer focused innovation, we deliver real-world solutions that enable our clients to profitably transform their businesses and the lives of their customers.
What are your plans for the company for the rest of 2017 and beyond?
We are firmly focused on being an innovation-led company and UST will continue to be “Everything Innovation for Our Customers” for 2017 and beyond. We are harnessing the power of nuanced platforms across domains for our customers and their ecosystems. Our high-fidelity digital consumer insights and augmented intelligence will drive business transformations for our partners. I also believe in the transformative power of technology and when combined with the inspired mind of man, it can change the world for the better. At UST Global, we are acutely aware that society is changing one algorithm at a time. So, we rely on our ‘3A’ model of AI, Algorithms and Analytics to make a significant difference to our customers and communities around the world. This is how we choose to transform 3 billion lives on this planet. That’s the magnificent future we are shaping through innovative technology.
How do you see the company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
At UST, we all have a dream – the Dream 2020. And a significant part of that dream is to become a Fortune 500 company by then. From a company partnering with Fortune 500 clients, we have to start thinking like one. Each of us at UST is going through this transformation. Life at UST empowers and enables every Ussociate to think like the leader of a Fortune 500 company. Because here, each of us is a passionate entrepreneur. Our leaders create an environment that takes success and transforms it to significance for our 17000 associates. That is how we will succeed in this dream. Through our significance.
What makes your leadership team unique and how/why did you create it?
Most of the leaders at UST have been in the company since its inception and have hence, seen it through its magnificent growth. They all play a critical role in designing and nurturing culture and innovation in UST. Each of them brings unique insights to the team. I believe what makes them unique is the spectacular chemistry between them. They all complement each other well and that’s one of our greatest strengths.
What would you say are your five biggest accomplishments?
Creating a global digital technology company focused on customer experience. And the rate at which we have grown is something we are all proud of – UST remains one of the fastest growing companies in the world! The secret sauce is we are simply fearless and right from get go, that is the culture that nourished us forward in this growth.
We profoundly impact the communities we work in. UST’s Step IT Up America program is a one-of-a-kind program that changed the course of history for countless minority women technologists in the US. We launched it in 2013 with the vision to train and recruit 5000 talented ladies across ten inner cities. We wanted to create a new era of social capital and be involved in something bigger than ourselves. The program attracted the attention of national media, national leaders and the White House. I particularly recall the visit of former Vice President Joe Biden to one of our SIUA classes and he said he was proud of them. That will remain a cherished memory for all of us at UST. Many of our customers now partner with us on this unique and transformational model and now, we are replicating its success in Poland, Israel and the UK. In India, we created and launched ‘Impact India’, a program to train and recruit differently abled professionals. Today, we have several differently-abled associates who are part of our teams.
We have initiated several initiatives to create jobs and make a significant difference to the economy and future of countries like Mexico and Costa Rica. UST Israel is now in talks with the government of Israel – a country known for its track record in start-ups and innovation – to start leveraging their local talent.
We are bringing technology to citizens. This year has brought with it a milestone moment for UST. We built a sophisticated e-governance platform for the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and have emerged a trusted partner in India’s digital transformation journey. Through this, no citizen has to ever go to a government official for any transaction as the platform enables him/her to facilitate all operations through a mobile app. Our solution in this case was inspired by the need to do away with red tape. Technology, in this case, is about valuing human dignity. We also created a digital platform for another state which will empower them to conduct all online examinations, corrupt-free and seamlessly. My teams are in discussions with other states and potential customers to implement similar solutions for them as there is a substantial need for digitizing governance across India.
UST Global has combined anthropology, arts and technology to create the next generation digital approaches. This combined methodology has earned us the status of an innovation partner for many of our customers. Even in Europe, a continent known for its innovation genius, we are being recognized for our solutions. The fact that UST runs the Block chain Lab for Santander Bank in Spain bears witness to this. We have partnered with many other top global brands to transform them digitally as well.
We have adopted cutting edge technologies like Artificial Intelligence early on for Intelligence Augmentation to help amplify the level of human intelligence. This enables analysts and decision makers to draw insights from data and launch actions from insights real time. This was simply not possible before. The technique was to leverage knowledge graphs and other automated mechanisms to absorb industry best practices and design blueprints. One of the areas where we have showcased how AI helps augment human intelligence is in a call center. Here AI has been used to assist humans as co-pilots. In addition, we have created products using our proprietary Xpresso.ai platform for social media monitoring (social context) and providing insights into consumer behaviors.
Life at UST which transforms every associate’s success to significance. This transformation fires us all.
Which one of your experiences was foundational? Which experience prepared you to be a CEO?
The desire to dream big and the drive to make it real. I believe it was my entrepreneurial mind set right from my student days. I started my first company during my engineering college days.
What is the motivation that drives you? What keeps you going?
The vision to transform 3 billion lives through technology.
What would be your top three tips for other CEOs?
- Believe in a purpose higher than yourself. That will lead you on to an incredible future.
- Always remain curious. A curious mind learns faster and stays connected to the ever-changing rhythms of the industry and customers.
- Develop a positive and solution mind set. There will never be a dearth of problems and naysayers. But it is a positive and fearless attitude that fuels you forward.
About Sajan Pillai
Sajan Pillai is the CEO of UST Global and a member of its Board of Directors. As CEO, Sajan is responsible for the company’s growth and acquisitions and he leads the company’s global business operations through its state-of-the-art centers across 4 continents in 25 countries.
His leadership has seen UST Global grow significantly. He led the company’s founding team in 1999 and from 14 employees, the company has grown to more than 17,000 employees today.
Sajan fosters the core value of innovation in the company and ensures an ongoing environment that attracts dedicated and talented people, whom he then empowers to uncover new, measurable and sustainable ways of providing value to UST Global clients. He is currently leading UST Global to digitally disrupt and transform global businesses to make them commercially viable and profitable.
Sajan has held several senior management positions in the software industry. He also architected and managed large software systems for MCI Telecommunications, US. He also holds patents in Internet Computing and Data Systems.
Sajan’s industry recognition includes being chosen as one of the elite 100 CEO Leaders in STEM by STEMConnector. As Chairman of the Diversity Committee of STEM, Sajan designed and introduced ‘Step IT Up America’, a program to train and hire 5,000 women technologists – an initiative that has been endorsed by political and industry leaders internationally. Now the program is being replicated in countries like Poland, Israel, UK and Australia as well.
Sajan is as enthusiastic about nonprofit work as he is about business, and serves on the boards of multiple nonprofit organizations: the California Science Center, the Global Virus Network and Centro Fox in Mexico. The California Science Center provides hands-on activities around the principles of air, space and flight. The Global Virus Network strives to achieve accelerated and innovative solutions to human viral diseases. Centro Fox is the first presidential library in Mexico; contributing as a library, museum, study center, and forum for the advancement of democracy.
He has been featured in Reuters, LEADERS magazine, Knowledge@Wharton and interviewed by The Washington Post, Silicon Review for his views on technology and industry trends. Sajan was also chosen as one of the elite 100 CEO Leaders in STEM by STEMConnector. Sajan is equally passionate about social capital and education and has spoken extensively on the subject to educational media in the US.
About UST Global
UST Global is a digital technology services company that provides next generation digital solutions for Global 1000 companies. The company’s mission is to ‘Transform Lives’ using the power of digital technologies. As they transform lives, they are focused on their customers and consumers. The organisation’s design capabilities bridge the gap between insight and action through digital levers like mobile, social, analytics, cloud, cyber security, and augmented intelligence. UST Global takes innovation to the market with speed and agility; thereby ensuring commercial viability and profitability.
With a business model of ‘fewer CLIENTS, more ATTENTION’, the company strives for excellence in providing their clients with the best service and commitment to long-term client success. Headquartered in Aliso Viejo, California, they are, today, over 17,000 associates operating in 25 countries across four continents.