Oct 05
Sanjay Jalona - Trekkie on a Mission
Sanjay Jalona - Trekkie on a Mission
Sanjay Jalona appears coy when talking about success and gives fate a tad too much credit than perhaps he really ought to. Labelling himself as a happy recipient of that rare brand of good fortune which puts people in the right places at the right time, he downplays his own brilliance and the labours he put in to get to where he is today. Whether this modesty is instinctual or acquired is hard to say, but he comes by it honestly.
The right place Jalona alludes to is BITS Pilani and the right time, his four years there pursuing a degree in computer science in the late 80s. To him that was THE TIME to be in computers. The great Indian IT story hadn’t happened yet and firms which are household names today barely registered on the ears back then. Beginning his career in 1990 with Wipro, moving to Gemplus in 1997 and eventually joining Infosys three years later in 2000, he witnessed the early growth phase of the sector up close.
It was a phase he enjoyed greatly; learning to sell, develop business, build process design & implementation strategies. He grew both in confidence and stature and earned his spurs in the form of key roles & assignments that kept coming his way. At Infosys, his rise was meteoric and by the time he left the firm, he had become an important member of the leadership team, responsible for nearly a quarter of the business it did.
In other words, there was no good reason for him to quit his job at Infosys. And yet that is exactly what Jalona did. Moving to L&T Infotech – hereafter LTI – in August 2015, Jalona was a major coup for L&T which at the time sought a leader who could reconfigure its IT services arm for the next phase of growth.
So what was it that compelled him to leave a perfectly good job at Infosys and move to a smaller IT services firm?
“It wasn’t an easy decision. I always thought I’d retire from Infosys. But in LTI, I sensed an opportunity to lead in a way that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else,” Jalona explains. “As I saw it then, being large was no longer a guarantee for success. You had to be the “right size” and LTI was not only the right size but it also had the real-world experience and expertise that could be leveraged in a market that was fast pivoting towards digital technologies. The depth of industry-specific solutions I witnessed here was more impressive than any other larger peer.”
He was also awestruck by L&T’s mercurial Group Executive Chairman Mr. A.M. Naik whose passion for the business excited him. “There was a clear realisation that despite having being around for 15 odd years, LTI had somehow not realised its full potential and they now wanted to rectify that. There were enough signs for me to see that it could and the opportunity to create a next-gen IT services firm was just too good to pass up. Finally, my meeting with Mr. Naik made the decision a lot simpler.”
LTI was a bit of a revelation to Jalona. Not only did LTI have an impressive set of capabilities and a strong team but it was also willing to invest in talent.He was also amazed going through the roster of clients LTI had built over the years. Large accounts from multi-billion dollar firms which he thought only went to the big guys. “Unlike other mid-sized services firms, LTI had plenty of USD 50 million plus accounts and a customer base with a lot of potential for growth,” Jalona says. He was equally impressed with the tools, accelerators and IP LTI had in its bags.
One unique advantage according to Jalona LTI had over its bigger rivals was its ability to forge partnerships. “Large firms often make the mistake of doing everything by themselves. Their size makes it difficult for them to ink partnerships. LTI’s size gave it an inherent advantage over its larger counterparts. In today’s fast evolving services landscape, partnerships can help you hasten the process of innovation and give you quicker access to proven technologies and valuable IP which would otherwise take you years to build on your own.”
LTI had both its feet firmly on the ground. If it lacked something, it was a nudge (a push maybe) in the right direction. To break the inertia, Jalona began working on a long-drawn transformation plan. Step one of that plan included bringing in a new leadership team that identified with his ideas and his enthusiasm. A new sales head, marketing chief, a new chief operating officer, a chief financial officer, HR leader, and three new chief business officers were brought in. Together with a highly experienced and passionate team already at LTI, the new inductees formed what he calls “the dream team”.
With his troops by his side, he began putting into motion his strategy for the firm. The idea was to bring LTI up to speed with the changing environment. The move rested on shaking things up in four key areas viz., sales, marketing, delivery and people. In sales for example, he gave his team a mandate to learn to work with customers in a trusted advisory as opposed to simply taking orders. Part of plan also included enabling people differently and re-training them to be more effective.
In marketing, they needed to move from a low-stack, low recall brand to an entity with high-recall value. At its core the idea was to generate leads through effective marketing to shore up sales. Working closely with his marketing team, Jalona set about a complete revamp of LTI’s marketing efforts. Right from leveraging technology and data to gain fresh insights into customers to engage with them better to employing effective communication channels for delivering better experience to creating a compelling brand identity, he brought a whole new playbook to how LTI did things. In the churn, the company did away with its dated name i.e. L&T Infotech and emerged as LTI. “We did it to hew closer to the ongoing theme of digital transformation that’s re-defining business world over,” says Jalona.
Delivery and People transformation are two areas LTI continues to work at. Whereas one is about building capacities, creating new solutions and finding new ways of doing things, the objective of the other is to turn LTI into a place which attracts the best talent in the world. Jalona views each as being central to the success of the idea that is LTI 2.0.
Jalona’s grand LTI 2.0 plan hasn’t come at the expense of any dip in the firm’s business performance either. LTI went public last year and the company despite operating in a highly challenging environment has been bringing in impressive numbers. Last year in FY 2016-17 LTI’s revenue stood at USD 969.9 million growing at 9.3% YoY and the company registered constant currency revenue growth of 10.0% YoY. Its superior performance was the result of the aforementioned focus on partnering with clients in their growth agenda and offering comprehensive solutions across digital, analytics, IoT, automation and cloud. In fact, LTI’s digital business is close to 30%, one of the highest among all its peers. On the back of several multi-million dollar deals in its primary market in North America, its increased focus on Europe with new development and delivery centres in the region and key strategic partnerships with the likes of Microsoft, Cisco and AWS, LTI is likely to continue to deliver great value to not just its customers but also to its shareholders.
As the chief of one of the Group’s most forward looking businesses, expectations are high from Jalona in everything he does. With his every move being carefully watched and scrutinized, it must put him under constant stress. Does the pressure of it all ever get to him?
“No, it doesn’t. This is something that I have done all my life. Sure the job has its pressures but I try not to let it distract me from my mission – to create a company that the future generations can be proud of,” he replies.
Speaking of future, Jalona is a bit of a Trekkie, a fan of the show Star Trek. He watched it in his teens and became fascinated with the idea of not being content with what’s already seen, goals that have been reached. Like his fictional heroes whose mission never ended, Jalona’s too remains unfinished. More exciting adventures await!


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