Sajan Pillai, CEO, UST Global, in a conversation with PoojaKundoo, Editor at The CEO Magazine
Vertical Name :Incubator of Technology Powered Business
Sajan Pillai, CEO, UST Global, in a conversation with PoojaKundoo, Editor at The CEO Magazine
UST Global is a digital technology services company that provides next generation digital solutions for Global 1000 companies, with a mission is to ‘Transform Lives’ using the power of digital technologies. As we transform lives, we are focused on our customers and their consumers. Our design capabilities bridge the gap between insight and action through our digital levers like mobile, social, analytics, cloud, cyber security, and augmented intelligence. We take innovation to the market with speed and agility; thereby ensuring commercial viability and profitability.
With a business model of ‘fewer CLIENTS, more ATTENTION’, we strive for excellence in providing our clients with the best service and commitment to long-term client success. Headquartered in Aliso Viejo, California, we are, today, over 17000 associates operating in 25 countries across four continents.
When was the company formed? Tell us what was the driving force of your organization back then.
We started 17 years ago (in 1999) with 14 people. Today we are over 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.
What are the differentiating factors of UST Global?
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 fueled approach to design which enables our customers.
We bring cutting-edge technologies to unstructured and complex business problems through our three key businesses: Digital Technology Services, Innovation and Incubation Business, and Products and platforms. Our recently launched Innovation Pod and Innovation-as-a-service offerings are being used commercially by many Fortune 500 companies.
UST Global’s Innovation Pod™ is our innovation acceleration method that we have developed to discover and develop profitable digital solutions, for our clients, in 6-12 weeks with a small and highly focused team. The output of such an exercise is a Minimal Viable Concept (MVC). This helps quickly validate the concept while minimizing the expense and time of stakeholders.
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 — make 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.
How many employees are working here? What kind of culture exists in the company?
To keep up with the changing dynamics of market and business, we focus on employee experience and ‘going digital’.We have world-class learning and development programs to ensure our associates have access to the best learning resources.
What’s the most important thing you’re working on right now, and how are you making it happen?
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.
Currently, our focus is on building technologies, solutions around Design, AAA (Algorithms, Analytics & AI) and SMART (Social, Mobile, Augmented Reality, Internet of Things). For this, we have three innovation centers called ‘Infinity LabsTM’ in Trivandrum, Bentonville and Aliso Viejo.
We have relevant partners on board with whom we jointly innovate.
We recently collaborated with MIT Trust::Data Consortium for research and innovation of solutions for the data-driven society of the future.For our focus on AI and Machine Learning, we have collaborated with Stanford University, one of the world’s leading teaching and research institutions.
What have been the major milestones for the company since its founding?
Over the years, we have accomplished many milestones. Here are our top 5 achievements:
- 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 sector. 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 under-represented women professionals in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and veterans in the US. We launched it in 2013 with the vision to train and recruit 5000 talented women professionals across ten inner cities in the US.
- 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 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.
- 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.
Please tell us about the road map and future of your organization.
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.
Please tell us about your or company’s awards & recognitions, if any.
- We were recently honored with ‘Pro Patria’ Award by the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), California State. The award is in recognition of our ‘Step IT Up America Veterans’ initiative. ‘Pro Patria’ is the highest honor given to employers for support of National Guard and Reserve employees in California.
- We won ‘Employer of the Year’ (computer services) Stevie Gold Award. In addition, our Internal Communications practice was recognized with a Gold Stevie for ‘Achievement in Internal Communication’, and the HR team with a Bronze Stevie Award for ‘Achievement in HR technology’ for the design, development, deployment, and/or administration of HR-related systems or technologies.
- We won two Gold and two Bronze awards from Brandon Hall Group. The two Gold awards under the ‘Excellence in Learning’ category are for the ‘Best Use of Blended Learning’ and ‘Best Results of a Learning Program’. The two Bronze awards under the ‘Excellence in Talent Acquisition’ category are for ‘Best candidate experience’ and for the ‘Best Unique or Innovative Talent Acquisition Program’.
- We wonthe Golden Globe Tigers Award 2017 for ‘Excellence and Leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility’, for the third consecutive year for ‘Excellence and Leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility’. The award is also in recognition of UST Global’s smart solutions in transforming lives through technology.
- We were conferred with the prestigious Asia IT Excellence Awards, organized by CMO Asia. The top awards in two categories – “Use of IT for a Social Cause” and “Best use of CSR practices in IT Industry” – were presented during a ceremony held in Singapore.
How do you learn in your life and what is your biggest dream?
I believe that a curious mind learns faster and stays connected to the ever-changing rhythms of the industry and customers. I also develop a positive and solution mind set. A positive and fearless attitude fuels me to move forward.
At UST Global, 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 associate to think like the leader of a Fortune 500 company because here, each of us is a passionate entrepreneur.
What was your journey like to get where you are?
It has been an inspiring and phenomenal journey for all of us at UST Global. Our Fortune 500 customers and 17000+ committed employees are a testimony to our growing journey.
With our Dream 2020 ahead, we are in an exciting phase and we continue to enjoy the ride.
About Sajan Pillai
Sajan Pillai is CEO, UST Global and a member of its Board of Directors. Sajan is responsible for the company’s growth and acquisitions. 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. 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.
He has been featured in Reuters,LEADERSmagazine,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.