As the CEO of Hitachi Vantara, Gajen Kandiah leads a company that offers IoT, data analytics, storage, artificial intelligence and cloud computing; in short, all of today’s key emerging technologies. Consequently, his position – overseeing 10,000 employees – requires him to be current with a remarkable mix of trends, yet also to be focused on the future, an action he calls “skating where the puck is going.”
In a wide ranging conversation about tech and culture – covering topics from data analytics to the importance of diversity – Kandiah spoke with me about Hitachi Vantara’s current and future strategy.
- Hitachi Vantara’s recent acquisition of Global Logic, a San Jose-based provider of digital engineering services.
- Kandiah become CEO relatively recently, in July 2020; he spoke about his experience so far.
- The struggle that many companies have in finding success with data analytics, and some examples of companies that have succeeded, with a view toward the social good.
- What it means to “skate where the puck is going” in the the tech market, and the trend toward customers that seek holistic solutions and partnerships, not just products.
- How the pandemic has driven an ever increasing focus on maximizing the value of data analytics.
- How his experience as an immigrant to the US has shaped his management philosophy.
- His own struggles with Imposter Syndrome, and how he uses this to avoid complacency.
- His deep commitment to diversity and inclusion as essential element of success in business.
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Edited highlights from the interview:
Hitachi just announced it is acquiring GlobalLogic. The company is based in San Jose, they provide digital engineering services. What was your strategy in acquiring GlobalLogic?
Software is eating the world. It’s a software play in many ways. It certainly enables an IoT play, the edge play, the data, data-driven play, if you will.
But in essence, for industrial companies and enterprise organizations to compete, increasingly, software is becoming a core requirement for them. And it’s true for us as Hitachi, as an industrial company, but it’s also true for our clients. And as we were looking for a set of capabilities that could enhance and accelerate and catalyze us as well as our clients, we identified GlobalLogic.
We’re very excited with their core capability, their delivery, the extensive delivery capability, their software engineering capabilities, and most importantly, their ability to work closely with clients to identify new sources of revenue and then build the software that enables them to go and capture it.
The importance of data and maximizing the value of data has really come to the forefront these days, that a lot of companies have gathered a lot of data, oceans of data. I think sometimes they don’t know how to get the most from it. What about some success stories? What’s a company that really has succeeded with data, along the lines of powering social good or an environmental cause?
And so I’ll echo your point, and I think one of the things that we’ve gotten really excited about is the concept of data-driven outcomes. By company, by industry, by segment. But the reality, and you nailed it, is data is growing exponentially and the ability, outside of a select few companies that you keep hearing about all the time, good deeds, bad deeds, you name it, is extremely low.
So talking talking about data and powering good, you know the work that we’re doing with the Rainforest Connection around deforestation is something that is truly both meaningful, powerful and close to my heart.
We are working with them to identify, to predict…a deforestation, illegal deforestation event using data, using sound and to be able to rapidly respond to someone that may be preparing to cut down a forest somewhere in the world and get the law enforcement there ahead of time, even before the event occurs. And I think that’s just a small example of how you could use data to power good and truly you know change some of the environmental elements that we have been talking about.
You’ve talked about helping Hitachi Vantara “skate where the puck is going.” I think it’s really tough to figure out where things are going in today’s marketplace. What does that mean to you to skate where the puck is going in a strategic sense?
You know, in today’s world, especially with a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel around the pandemic, we’re living in a world that business schools do not have models for, right? in many cases, people are coming along who have great strategies, but have never dealt with this type of a situation.
So it is super important for us to listen to our customers, listen to market signals and derive the point of where the puck is going from that process. So it becomes much more client-intensive and lot more listening intensive.
One thing we do see is this preponderance of data, data really exploding and the pandemic has only accelerated that. The second thing is the movement to the cloud; the third is the coming together of both the infrastructure and the products and the digitization of them.
We see our clients sort of either in trying to catch up with data and how to utilize data, in some cases able to make some meaningful sense of data and in very few cases capable of deriving new value from dat. And we think as a data company, based on where we come from, from storage, we have the opportunity to help our clients on that journey, and that’s sort of where we expect the puck to go, and that’s where we want to play.
I know that part of your strategy and your life has been shaped by the experience of being an immigrant, remarkably, when you are young, your family was forced to immigrate to the US to flee a civil war. How has it influenced your experience, being an immigrant to the US?
You know it’s funny, right, When I first came here, you know we were like you know… The only thing we knew about the US was you know either Charlie’s Angels or Sesame Street, right, so you know and I’m sure you can relate…
So you expect that when you arrive here right and you end up an immigrant, you know you have a couple of bucks in your pocket and you’re in a neighborhood that you can afford, right? It is what it is.
So being the land of opportunity really comes to the fore, and especially going through the political season of last year and so on and so forth. I strongly believe that this is the country that gave me the opportunity to explore, push, learn, understand.
If you were willing to work hard, then we come from a family that works hard, a country of people that works really hard for what you want, this country gave me the opportunities. I had a really strong foundation with my parents you know, father being a military officer from the army, my mother being a Montessori teacher. And being an only child right, so there was a lot of focus on me – and you know there was some disappointment that I’d never turned into a doctor or lawyer or an engineer…
My dad has always been one of these people about, “Listen, listen, listen, listen.” Always listen, because you need to find your own voice, but listen first. And so this concept of ‘you have two ears and one mouth, so you have to listen twice as much as you speak,’ was something that was ingrained in me from the early days, and it’s been a part of the journey, and it’s been a hugely helpful part of the journey.
To first identify who I am and what I bring to the table, then to open up and speak about it. And then as I have had the opportunity to lead teams and companies at this point, to ensure that I’m giving my team the opportunity to voice their opinion, pull it out, understand, connect the dots together, and then set the path forward. So it’s been fantastic – though the beginning wasn’t that great, getting to where we have been has been great.
To wrap up our conversation, I think it’s important to talk about this idea that you’ve stressed, which is leading with inclusion. What does that mean to you, and how does that shape your approach?
First of all, we can all do a lot more around inclusion. I think that it’s a shame that we’ve continued to have to talk about diversity and inclusion on an ongoing basis. But that said, I have found that diverse and inclusive teams tend to be far more effective and successful than sort of the typical executive committee or board room that you would see. Because I think that there’s a sense of balance between market economics, how aggressive do you want to be, the environment, safety, security, privacy…
There’s a lot of things that matter in today’s world that didn’t in the past. And the ability to balance all of that in the context of a P&L that you operate is a critical, critical thing that a chief executive needs to do. And I think to do that you need a diverse team and you need an inclusive team. The diversity of thought that that team brings to the table helps you balance the approach and the strategy that you set for your company, and it factors into how you navigate. Because I think intelligence and empathy are both important, and you don’t always find one person with both.
And again, back to this notion of inclusion, I think however you cut it, I think the more diverse your team is, the more inclusive your leadership style is, the better it is for your business, and so that’s why I’ve been stressing inclusion.
I think one of the best things about our current era is for all its problems, is that that idea [of diversity] is very much on the rise, and I think companies will benefit as they embrace that.
And I think, Jim, that the pandemic actually has accelerated the opportunity for us to bring people who we may not have had access to, who may have gone off to raise their child, or whatever it may be, and was not quite sure how to get back to work.
With clients being more open to your working from wherever you are…Work from anywhere…You now have access to a pool of talent, a very diverse pool of talent that can now become a part of this journey, and I think that is something we should absolutely take advantage of.