Sajjad Syed CEO ExD has had a very diverse career spanning Energy, IT and Public Sector. After his engineering from RPI, NY USA, Sajjad joined Schlumberger Inc as a Junior Field Engineer. At Schlumberger, Sajjad had the opportunity to lead multicultural teams that provided services to large multinational companies in Europe, Middle East, Africa, South Asia and North America.
Interview of SAJJAD SYED CEO ExD
After Schlumberger, Sajjad had a stint with Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB). At PITB, Sajjad was instrumental in getting Oracle Corporation to invest 20 Million USD in Punjab and then ran the program that was awarded the Global Best Practice by Oracle Corporation.
Sajjad’s first stint in dire IT consulting started at PWC where he led the technology team that delivered some very challenging projects. He then joined Oracle as Regional Business Manager responsible for ERP business in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Bhutan. After Oracle, Sajjad joined SAP as the Managing Director for Pakistan. He established SAP as a major ERP player in the market.
In 2010, Sajjad setup Excellence Delivered (ExD) with a mere capital of 2,500 USD. He brought together a team of young and highly motivated professionals. ExD is now a major player in the IT industry. Today the company has offices in four countries with over 300 consultants and provides IT services in a verity of industries including Textiles, FMCG, Pharmaceutical, Utilities, Education, Energy, Public Sector etc.
PW: Our readers would like to know about the origins of your company.
Sajjad Syed: ExD was founded on the belief that a global brand can originate from Pakistan. After working with large global companies like Schlumberger, PWC, Oracle and SAP, I realized that not a single global or regional brand can trace its origins to Pakistan. I was in software services and ERP sector, so providing SAP and Oracle ERP services became a natural choice.
In the ERP services sector, we saw a huge opportunity due to the quality of service delivery track record of the local and regional players. The larger and established players were not focusing on the local market and the price to quality ratio left much to be desired. With this in mind, we set out to create a global company with an aim to deliver an exceptional value to our customers. Eight years on, we are well on our way on becoming a global company; we now have clients spread across four continents and have now gone far beyond our initial set of services and are currently forging into Mobile Development, Internet of Things, Security Services, Outsourcing and a host of other services.
PW: What are the core values that define the corporate culture of your company?
Sajjad Syed: Our core values define who we are as a company. We do not comprise on them, whatever the consequences. We promise our clients:
- Unflinching Integrity
- Customer Centricity
- Passion, and
- Superior Profitability
Unflinching Integrity: Integrity is the basis of respect and human dignity. We commit to ourselves that we will not flinch on integrity. There have been many instances where we have happily given up business and taken the path less treaded but have not comprised on integrity. We live by this principle and do not, under any circumstances, compromise on integrity.
Customer Centricity: We exist because of and for our customers. We continually customize and tune our services to generate superior value for our customer’s investment. We consider our customers as our long term partners and our major asset. We have one of the highest customer retention rate in the industry and the primary cause of this is this core value of ours.
Passion: ExD’s ardent team of experts does not believe in entering into any line of business without the essential ingredient of passion. Passion is what derives our excellence, our innovation and our commitment to quality.
Superior Profitability: Our Superior Profitability is essential in order to enable us to provide exceptional services to our customers. We help our customers achieve that through the use of our knowledge, experience, skill and commitment. We, ourselves, use lean operational principles to be exceptionally profitable in order to continuously improve our service to our customers and motivate our team.
PW: You aspire to become a global company. In which other countries are you operating other than Pakistan?
Sajjad Syed: We have a fairly large presence in all the major cities of Pakistan (Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad). Internationally, we have presence in UAE, USA, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We recently acquired a company in Australia and are working through a series of alliance partners of UVAR and networks in 45 countries right now. This reach is unmatched by any other company in the country.
PW: What type of services do you provide to your clients?
Sajjad Syed: We aspire to establish long term IT services partnerships with our customers. Our services portfolio can be segregated into three categories: Technology, Outsourcing and Optimization. Through Technology Services, we provide Implementation, Support and upgrade services of major ERP’s including SAP, Oracle, Sentez, Retail Pro, Stealth, Salesforce, Success factors, Hybris etc. In addition, we do mobile application development on iOS and Android Platform and through e-Commerce tools like Magento and Shopify.
Our Outsourcing Division is involved in providing Accounting, Payroll and managed IT services to our clients. We have about 40 clients in 4 countries that have entrusted us with their back office operations.
The Optimization Division helps our clients optimize their current systems and processes. We help customers select technologies and restructure their systems to derive maximum benefit out of their IT investments by decreasing their Total Cost of Ownership and increasing their utility.
PW: You have just mentioned that you hire HR from different countries of the world. How do you compare Pakistani HR with the HR that you hire from the rest of the world?
Sajjad Syed: As we grow global, we need to integrate people from different social, cultural and regional backgrounds. We firmly believe that having cultural diversity in the company will enable us to be a better company in the long run.
We do not do any ethnic or social analysis and we normally select students from the best universities anywhere. However, my personal opinion is that Pakistani HR is second to none in the world. At the same time, our university and high school education needs to be more rigorous; the analytical and problem solving skills need to be enhanced; the students have to be made capable enough so they can be self-learners; some of the cultural aspects of education need to be looked at as well. The purpose of learning cannot and should not be to pass an exam rather it should be to learn.
We at ExD have set up our own network of academies where we guarantee jobs to anyone scoring 85% and above. We have partnered with ACCA and train about two hundred young ACCA students at any point of time.
PW: Are you satisfied with the quality of graduates being produced by our educational institutions, especially the private ones?
Sajjad Syed: Some of our institutions are producing excellent graduates; however we find that most of the programs are not rigorous enough. The students that graduate from most universities have not gone through the academic rigor that one would expect out of a bachelors student. In this case, once they get into a high pressure situation they try to cut corners or have serious trouble. We also find that the students are not reading enough literature books and are not spending time on sports as they are more likely to spend time on social media. This habit makes it very difficult for them to work in teams.
PW: As CEO of a rapidly flourishing IT company, what major challenges do you have to face?
Sajjad Syed: Our challenges are no different than the challenges faced by other companies. One of our biggest challenges is the brand name and the integration of our country in the global economy. It is very difficult for Pakistani passport holders to get visas. It takes time and hence impacts business. In addition, our country’s brand name is invariably linked to terrorism. This negative brand image makes another hurdle for us that our competitors in India and US do not face.
In the local business, the procurement policies of public sector are skewed to support the large international players.
PW: How would you define leadership in your own words?
Sajjad Syed: Leadership is all about trust. You are a great leader if your people believe in whatever you say and do. Leadership demands transparency, honesty and integrity. Moreover, a good leader always believes in giving rather than taking. If you see the legacy of great leaders like Jinnah, Atta Turk, Nelson Mandela, Lincoln they have given more to their societies than they have taken from it.
PW: Do you believe that you have a winning team working under you; and how do you motivate your team members?
Sajjad Syed: I learnt very early in my professional career that the primary asset of a company is its people and their motivation. Although we are now recruiting some highly experienced persons, yet, most of our team members are in their late twenties who started their careers at ExD. They are smart, young and energetic and we provide them an opportunity to grow faster than they would in any other company in the country. The result is a highly charged and a highly motivated team, that is not only highly committed but also responsive to the changing market dynamics.
We also try to motivate them by earnestly recognizing, acknowledging, appreciating and rewarding their efforts and services. Our compensation systems are very judicious, for instance, while the salaries may be different, the health insurance enjoyed by children of the security guard and the children of the CEO are exactly the same. As a result, all the members of our team are more loyal to the company than I am.
PW: Would you like to share with us some of the most difficult decisions of your professional and personal life? What lessons did you learn while making such decisions?
Sajjad Syed: Over 25 years of career I have had to make many difficult decisions. However, my personal mantra is that whenever you do have to make a difficult decision go back to the core and keep the value system in place. No matter how difficult the environment and circumstances may seem at the time, one should not compromise on the core values. If, these values are lost, one loses everything. Believing and standing up for one’s values requires sacrifice, bravery and usually short term financial losses, however, in the longer run it is almost invariably a better choice.
PW: In the hectic routine of your extremely busy life, how do you cope with the stresses and traumas of life?
Sajjad Syed: Personally, I believe that going through rigorous academic, engineering and management programs and working in high stress environments in Schlumberger prepared me quite well to handle work stress. As a CEO, the best way is to compartmentalize your brains so I don’t let stress of one segment of my life impact the other. As a CEO, I find that very effective, as it is important to have a clear mind and not to let one failure or issue bring down the entire day.
PW: What is your idea of happiness?
Sajjad Syed: I feel happy when I feel that I have made positive contribution to an individual or to a cause. For instance, once, we hired a very talented guy, who was getting just six thousand rupees per month by writing for some newspaper in rural KPK. His family told me that they had wasted their and their son’s time going to university. Had he become a driver he would’ve made more money. After two years of training and grooming he is now making one hundred and fifty thousand rupees a month. This is more money than his family ever imagined. He is now funding two of his other cousins through college. Impacting a person, a family and more importantly a negative mindset is something that excites me.
PW: What is your message for the youth?
My message to the youth is that they need to believe in themselves and not give in to spread despondency and hopelessness in the society. In the words of Richard Collin Bach “Every Cloud has a silver lining you may have to rise above to see it”
There are no short cuts to success; they need to put in the hard work. They need to develop their skills and realize that they are not only competing with their class fellows in college but also with the youth of the entire world. The world is becoming increasingly competitive and they need to spend their time very efficiently and productively. If they utilize the resources that they have productively, the world will be at their feet. As Quaid-e-Azam said “ With Faith, Discipline and an unending commitment to duty, there is nothing worthwhile we cannot achieve.
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