Build in two-way communication: At DMI, have open forums and chats. We have quarterly all-hands meetings. I personally have an open door policy, walking the halls and interacting with employees. We also have an employee feedback email address that we regularly promote. I try to emphasize that we will let you know what’s on our mind. So you let us know what’s on yours. After all, at the end of the day, we’re both here for the same purpose- to make this company the best place possible.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jay “Sunny” Bajaj, CEO and Founder of DMI, a global leader in mobility solutions and digital transformation. Sunny has led DMI since 2002, from the company’s humble beginnings as a startup to the worldwide company it is today, with hundreds of commercial and government clients and thousands of employees. Sunny has built a respected, fast-growth business that is pioneering digital, mobile-first transformation for government agencies and commercial enterprises around the globe. Throughout his 20-year career, Sunny has been recognized as an award-winning culture builder and a Smart100 CEO winner, an exclusive group of 100 top-performing and highly-respected CEOs in the Washington, DC region. DMI has received numerous awards for corporate excellence, including being named a 10-time winner on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing private companies in America, a GovCon Government Contractor of the Year, and multiple Washington Post “Top Workplace” honors. Sunny holds a BA in Economics from the University of Maryland with relevant coursework at the London School of Economics. Since 2016, he has served on the Board of Advisors to the University’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Both of my parents independently built successful businesses. Dad emphasized education and has an undergraduate, a master’s and a doctoral degree. Mom was from the proverbial “school of hard knocks.” She didn’t have any formal business training but was a go-getter. I watched her become a very successful entrepreneur. Later in my life, I watched my father become a successful entrepreneur. I realized there’s no right or wrong way. In becoming an entrepreneur myself, I’ve focused on taking the best of both approaches to build a world class business.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When I started this business, I told myself that success will not defined by revenue number or head count. Success for me and DMI is achieved when your customers say that you’re the best partner that they’ve ever worked with and when your employees say you’re the best company they’ve ever worked for. Here’s an example of success for me. DMI held a company “Tech Chef” event a couple years ago where teams competed on our balcony in cook-offs to win prizes. Literally half of the external folks who attended, including clients, followed up to inquire about employment with our company. When customers tell me they want to work here, I know we’re doing something right!
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
One project we are particularly proud of is taking place in Cambodia, where DMI has an office. A number of our employees are leveraging their experience in UX Design to pay it forward by providing industrial-grade design training to university students in Phnom Penh. Cambodia has a strong creative culture based on traditional materials, arts and crafts etc. but little training for today’s digital world. Seeing that there were no schools where one could learn UX Design, DMI supports our employees in creating this coursework. Our team on the ground finds it personally gratifying to help others in this way. Conversely, it also pushes our staff to grow as UX Designers. Definitely a win-win.
Ok, lets 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?
Leadership in today’s business climate is usually “dollar-focused” rather than “mission-focused”. To use a sports analogy, many professional athletes these days are more focused on themselves as an individual and signing a contract for big money, as opposed to being focused on playing for a team that wins. Quite simply, in both sports and business, winning solves a lot of problems. I find people want to be part of a winning team; they want to associate with something bigger than themselves. Being part of a family, a collective unit that’s doing great things and winning is a euphoria that’s contagious. A lot leadership these days just doesn’t get that.
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?
When employees are unhappy, they’re not motivated, not creative, not living up to their full potential, and ultimately not as productive. What’s more, high stress and lagging morale can often lead to health issues. And if your workforce isn’t healthy and productive, the company won’t be profitable. It’s just that simple. Conversely, if people are working together, excited and happy, I find you get a “force multiplier” effect. Thus, one of the biggest aspects of my role as CEO is doing my part to keep people inspired.
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?
1. Hire the right people and let them do their jobs. When first started DMI, I knew that if I wanted to achieve the vision I had of building a large company, it would take a team effort to accomplish. From the beginning, I’ve empowered people, delegated, trusted them and held them accountable. That was the mantra from the beginning. Let’s empower folks because the only way we can scale and really build something of substance is to hire the right people and empower them to execute. My assistant, Erin Brady Miles, is a great example. She had no formal office job training but in her interview I explained my vision and she got it immediately. She displayed the right attitude and is a tremendous asset for our organization.
2. Foster Collaboration: You know that quote “A man or woman can run fast. A team can run far”? I truly believe that. We live in an environment now where people want to be part of a family or a team, or something special. I realized early on that paychecks and benefits are important. But often that is not the sole reason folks are coming to work. If you can create a collaborative environment where employees feel they are a part of something special, it tends to be a recipe for success. As an example of a quirky and fun way we have fostered collaboration, on DMI’s 15th birthday, we created a so-called digital water cooler. It was basically a flat screen TV in our break room, separated into “Brady Bunch Squares” where employees could wave and communicate with their colleagues from offices around the world in real-time. It reinforced such as sense of “oneness” we are now implementing it permanently.
3. Treat employees like people. I understand companies are pressured by dollars and cents. But leaders need to realize that employee morale, health and happiness is an elegant currency. It’s an intangible but it is a currency. It needs to be weighted up there with the dollars and cents because it pays off. Recently, Will Broome, CEO of Ubamarket, one of our customers, said “Your team goes above and beyond to get the job done and create something special.” When companies treat their workers right, I find employees tend to pay it forward.
4. Build in two-way communication: At DMI, have open forums and chats. We have quarterly all-hands meetings. I personally have an open door policy, walking the halls and interacting with employees. We also have an employee feedback email address that we regularly promote. I try to emphasize that we will let you know what’s on our mind. So you let us know what’s on yours. After all, at the end of the day, we’re both here for the same purpose- to make this company the best place possible.
5. Understand that the CEO sets the tone: A CEO’s core values permeate throughout the business. If the CEO is respectful, collaborative, team-oriented, creative and hardworking, it will set the tone for the rest of the business. It’s really important that no matter what you have going on in your personal life, your actions and inactions speak volumes. For example, I’m young and high energy. DMI is young and high energy. I’m not mega-formal. Our culture is business casual. I like to work around the clock, be available to support the team. Thus, employees will call me after hours, every day. I think that my example of being an executive but also a human has led to our success because people realize at DMI, in the end, people can just be themselves.
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 sounds cliché, but we need to ensure employees are able to find the proper work — life balance. At DMI, though much is expected from our staff, we make a concerted effort to emphasize flexibility. If you need to work from home, it’s fine, as long as you get your work done and perform with excellence to serve our valued customers. Again, it all goes back to trust in your workforce.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?
I’m a huge sports fan and really see myself as a coach. Inclusiveness is huge at DMI. I am always conscious to make sure we don’t leave people out. Everyone knows we’re part of the same team and here for the same purpose. I truly care about our people and tell them often about how appreciative I am of their contributions. After all, at the end of the day, our employees are the fabric of our company and any company.
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?
In the tech sector, there tends to be a relentless focus on the end user. But I often find it interesting that often, when it comes to employee culture, the end user doesn’t seem to matter. Bottom line, my employees are human. When my mom ran her business she taught me “Love is free.” It doesn’t cost any money to show someone you care about them. If you show that you care, people will go to the moon and back for you. That’s how my mom ran her company and that’s one of the reasons she was very successful. I strive to model that philosophy.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Though we all have busy lives, I routinely encourage employees to take a break and spend time volunteering as individuals, or with family and/or colleagues. Volunteering not only creates better environments for others, it facilitates a sense of accomplishment and can be a gratifying method of networking, empowering staff to meet a wide variety of people from all walks of life.
Near DMI’s headquarters in the Washington DC area, we participate in monthly lunches at the Fisher House at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, as well as dinners at the NIH Children’s Inn, where we serve food to patients and families. Every year, we are proud to participate in Wreaths Across America during the holiday season to honor fallen servicemen and women. Our offices throughout the U.S. and internationally lead mentorship and outreach activities. Our volunteer committee routinely organizes donation drives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I once asked my father “Dad, why do you work so hard?” He said, “Son, I never want to be 80-years-old sitting in that rocking chair looking back on life wondering what I could have or should have accomplished. I always want to leave it all on the field knowing I had no regrets.” That’s my favorite quote and pretty much how I live my life.
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. 🙂
There’s a ton of compelling research on the business value of diversity of thought in the workplace. In short, our differences in background, race, gender, religion, age and life experiences make for stronger and more successful teams. We like to use the #IAMDMI, meaning we are all one company, “One DMI”. It sounds simple but I would be honored if our hashtag inspired folks everywhere to see past their differences and understand how much we are all truly connected.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.