I believe that a CEO’s role is not only to strategize, manage and supervise, but to engage, coach and mentor. It can be difficult to follow, but the rewards are great. That approach has allowed us to have an attrition rate of 2%, which is almost unheard-of in Silicon Valley.
As part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Rutesh Shah. Mr. Shah founded Infostretch Corp. in 2004, and serves as its president and Chief Executive Officer. A highly-respected quality and management consultant based in Silicon Valley, his extensive experience in software development processes has resulted in unique insights into methods for applying technology to deliver superior solutions. His ability to successfully identify business, technology and quality trends has made him successful in leading 200 consultants serving more than 50 clients and 120 projects. Prior to Infostretch, he served as Vice President of Reliability Services at Arsin Corporation, where he deployed quality solutions for mission critical distributed applications for clients like Bank of America, McKesson, Oracle, Informix, Charles Schwab, Wells Fargo, Varian Medical and E2Open. He has been a frequent speaker at conferences nationwide and various user groups where he has spoken about quality and test automation.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Iwas born in a business family and learned a lot by watching my dad, who was an entrepreneur. My education is engineering, but I am an entrepreneur at heart, I thrive to challenge the status quo, and love to innovate/create leveraging technology. I have started three companies (interestingly all three with the same partner) and while starting the third one I reflected with some of my past customers. They began telling me that they weren’t interested in products or technology alone. They were looking for “outcomes”. A light bulb went off in my head, and instead of starting a pure product/technology company as I would have done in Silicon Valley — we conceptualized Infostretch as a service provider that works with clients to create outcomes. We founded the company in 2004, and now we have more than 1,200 “Infoneers” working across the globe who share that vision.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Without getting too personal or specific, I would like to phrase this lesson I learned as advice to other entrepreneurs: don’t hire a lawyer in the first year of doing business. Your productivity will be 25% higher, and you won’t suffer from “analysis paralysis.” If you need outside advice, fine, but make your own decision.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Because much of our business is pre-testing digital products before they reach the market, we have been privy to some of the most amazing technologies ever to be introduced to the larger consumer markets. We were involved in such areas as the development and testing of the first ingestible sensor for medications, to helping drive advances in the connected car, as well as leveraging wearable IoT in the sports and entertainment industry. These advances are changing the way we live. It not only helps to save lives but also helps to improve your quality of life, as well as your skills in sports. All this contributes to and promotes healthy living.
Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?
People are unhappy at work when they either don’t share the company’s vision or they don’t feel appreciated. And, appreciation is not only compensation but the type of work they are doing; and, it takes a thriving environment where their work-life-balance is achieved. In a world where the digital talent pool isn’t as deep as it needs to be, there can be restlessness and high turnover if your culture is not aligned to your business objectives. If your teammate leaves the company, you sometime feel either abandoned or not good enough to get a comparable job elsewhere. Without a positive, team-building culture, a bigger payday will not make for a happier workforce. Empowerment must go up and down the line, everybody needs to know that they are making a contribution — they are making a difference — they should feel appreciated.
Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
These are all inter-related. If someone is unhappy at work, they will do a poor job, or it will be late and incomplete. Someone will need to do it over, or the team will grow in order to get the job done on time (which is often unproductive, in and of itself). When two people are working on a job that could be done by one, they’re both de-motivated. So, you have lower productivity and profit. It is a well-known fact that stress contributes to all forms of malaise: physical as well as mental. So, it’s a vicious spiral, eventually leading to staff departures or health issues. Often both. So the million dollar question is how to curtail the negative impact. We have created a “Mood-O-Meter” — a simple feedback loop — to identify unhappy employees everyday in the morning and evening on our internal portal. Of course, we provide full self-disclosure and immediately align someone to help them with an uncomfortable situation; this has helped us to prevent emotional damage and assist the employees.
Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?
It can be difficult to change a company culture if it has deviated from its core values. In my mind, number 1 is to start with hiring a team that shares your vision and passions. We paid particular attention to that when forming Infostretch in 2004.
Second, let your team build the foundation for the company while being customer centric, and get out of their way. When you hired the best people, let them do their job. If top management can impart that sort of value to the entire team, the results will be returned in multiples. I believe that a CEO’s role is not only to strategize, manage and supervise, but to engage, coach and mentor. It can be difficult to follow, but the rewards are great. That approach has allowed us to have an attrition rate of 2%, which is almost unheard-of in Silicon Valley.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?
It starts at home and continues in the schools. We have developed a sense of entitlement in the next generation. And, we aren’t teaching the basic things to students. That is to say that too many systems are teaching to tests, rather than to society’s or business needs. I propose to change the education systems to start focusing on creating a LEARNING CULTURE instead of a TEACHING CULTURE. On the positive front. STEM to STEAM is another change that I applaud: by addition of the Arts to the core curriculum of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. It is a proven fact that the study of music helps students’ learning abilities in all subjects, especially the STEM subjects that are so vital to our economy. And yes, STEAM will power the educational culture, which in turn will help change work culture. It will take time, but it’s worth it. Oh, and let’s start teaching kids how to balance a checkbook and fry an egg, for goodness sake.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
Silicon Valley pioneers William Hewlett and David Packard used to follow an approach of “management by walking around.” By this, they meant being in touch with their workforce as a matter of routine, not just on a whim. My personal style goes along those lines — “Leadership by Example and Management by Engagement”. I believe the real definition of a CEO’s title is “Chief Engagement Officer.” I try to engage customers, engage partners, and engage employees and the leadership team for the common objectives of our business. Such approach has helped me to make company direction not only my vision, but it becomes a collective vision.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Perhaps my partner, Manish Mathuria, who co-founded three companies with me. For the first two years, we worked side-by-side, seven days a week, without salary, developing this company. We would spend every weekend together, discussing events of the past week and how those events might impact the company in future. We still do that once a month. Having a partner who is honest can be a blessing because not only you can get a shoulder to lean on during difficult times, but also a true reflection for you to demand better from yourself every day.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I strongly believe that success is transitionary and can not be sustained if the community in which you are operating your business that is not sharing that success with you. I believe happy and healthy communities influence business positively. I have taken the 1% pledge where we use 1% of our time, 1% of our profit and 1% of our equity to help community causes.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two favorite “Life Lesson” quotes: “Be the change you want to see in the world” — Mahatma Gandhi and “It’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy” — Steve Jobs. “Be the change you seek” is directly related to my leadership by example style. I have observed that if you lead by example, your team creates a very different bond with you as a leader: you actually become a mentor and a trusted advisor, which results in a cohesive force for common objectives. Being a pirate is my way of looking at the outcome and not the process; it is important to be a pirate to bypass bureaucracy while being nimble, agile and creative to accomplish out-of-the-box outcomes in a difficult environment. I have realized much better innovative ideas while thinking like a pirate.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We must do more to protect our environment. Science has told us many of the things we need to be doing, and yet we seem to be dug-in against much of the progress. Fortunately, the truth eventually seems to have won-out over tobacco use, but air pollution still continues on a grander scale than ever. Whether you believe in climate change or not, all of us have an obligation to leave the mother earth a better place than what we received from our forefathers. The images of people walking around with gas masks to protect their lungs from dangerous air are compelling. Clean, renewable energy. There is some movement in that direction, but I’m not sure I would call it a groundswell. CEOs need to use our bully pulpit to engage –there’s that word again — the public in this discussion. I actually published an article on LinkedIn on this subject – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/going-green-action-plan-call-all-entrepreneurs-rutesh-shah/