At the end of 2015, Vivek Gupta was vacationing in Key West with his family when he got a phone call that changed the direction of his career. It was Sunil Wadhwani, Mastech co-chairman, looking for a new CEO.
Gupta says when someone so well respected in the IT industry wants to speak with you, you don’t say no.
Gupta had spent his professional life at Zensar Technologies, working in Asia, Europe and the U.S. For more than 30 years, he’d filled various roles at the Indian software and services company, which operates in more than 18 countries.
Over that time, Gupta had come across many people who worked for Mastech, and he knew the respect the brand generates. But his interest was piqued by the challenge being offered.
“The talk was about taking the company on a different journey, a transformation journey,” he says.
Not only would he be part of a well-respected company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, he’d have the opportunity to transform the business as the president and CEO.
So in March 2016, Gupta took his second job.
Ask stupid questions
Mastech was started in 1986 by Wadhwani and Ashok Trivedi, who are now co-chairmen. They evolved the startup IT staffing firm into an industry powerhouse.
By 2000, the company was doing project work as well as staffing. After an IPO, Mastech changed its name to IGATE Corp.; in 2008, the company split, with the staffing piece taken out of IGATE and returned to the name Mastech. IGATE was sold for more than $4 billion in July 2015.
Six months later, Gupta got the call.
Mastech wasn’t in trouble. It was still growing faster than average for the industry.
“It was not even coasting along. It was doing decently,” Gupta says. “My job was to see how I could get this company to grow better than that and also transform. It’s like re-engineering a plane while it is flying.”
Trivedi, Wadhwani and the board wanted Mastech to become more, but they left the strategy up to Gupta.
“That broad canvas interested me even more because I already had lots of ideas in my head, which I had been toying with for the last few years, and I was able to put all of them into the task at hand,” he says. “Within the first 60 days, I came up with the strategy for the transformation of the company to make it a digital transformation services company. I presented it to the board and the board loved it.”
While Gupta had worked in technology, he’d never been a part of an IT staffing business. His inexperience was helpful.
“I had to learn when I came on board. I was asking stupid questions, and sometimes it’s good to ask stupid questions because people keep doing the same thing for so long that they don’t think outside the box,” he says.
Gupta questioned the status quo of every step, process and activity. He applied common sense. For example, everybody knew what reports to send to the CEO. Every day, Gupta’s email was diligently populated, but he wasn’t sure he actually needed those reports.
“I said the best thing to do is switch all the reports off and ask for the reports that I really need,” he says.
He also got closely involved with marketing and human resources, because he wanted to make sure those two areas connected to his thinking.
Gupta’s vision was to make Mastech more than a supplier of digital technology staff. It would have the ability to do digital transformation projects and grow its customer relationships. However, the company had to first define “digital.”
The Mastech team narrowed digital down to social, mobile, analytics, cloud and artificial intelligence. Then it created centers of excellence around those digital technology skills, hiring new people, and redeploying and training existing employees. The company also added project services around Salesforce, SAP HANA and digital learning.
“While this was being done, we decided that we are going to change the name of the company from Mastech to Mastech Digital,” Gupta says. “All this that I’m talking about happened in the very first six months of my coming on board.”
Mastech Digital is a mature company for its industry, so the new name, logo, colors, etc., would provide a young, vibrant feel.
From the day Gupta walked in, he also wanted to create a homogenous culture.
“You could see that there were different cultures in different parts of the organization,” he says. “Some were legacy Mastech, which had an amazing culture in the past, and some newer areas probably hadn’t fully absorbed.”
One way to bring the organization together was to refer to all workers, whether they were contractors or employees, as associates. You are either a field associate or an office associate.
“It’s a small beginning but it changes the culture in the organization,” he says.
Gupta also wanted to be able to reach all 1,100-plus employees to be able to update them about the plan and its progress.
“They were watching the change. They were part of the change. And they loved it,” Gupta says. “In fact, we even had a little contest inside the organization, what logo would you like between two or three choices. So it’s not that suddenly a CEO comes from outside and he just drops a bomb and tells everyone this is the new way of doing things. They were enjoying the fact that they were part of the ride. Their ideas were being heard.”
The next step was to acquire more capability. Gupta says Mastech Digital decided to focus on analytics first, with the idea of taking on artificial intelligence next, because of the growth potential of those two areas.
The company hired an investment banker, and Gupta and his team reviewed four dozen potential targets for acquisition.
“We were looking for that perfect fit, a company which is not just going to come on board and sit on an island separate from the IT staffing,” Gupta says. “We wanted a company which will integrate nicely with what we are doing.”
After six months of evaluation, the company decided on the Canadian company InfoTrellis. Due diligence took another six months. Mastech Digital completed the acquisition in July 2017, paying $55 million for the data management and analytics company.
The purchase sparked interest from investors, which Gupta says helped validate their plan.
Gupta also had acquisition experience he could call upon.
“Right from the beginning we were very clear we are acquiring InfoTrellis for multiple reasons: 1) their capability, 2) their balance and people and 3) the culture. We wanted to make sure we did not kill these three,” he says.
Too often, people try to make the acquired company resemble the acquiring company, and then you no longer have the company you paid so much money for, Gupta says.
To avoid this, Mastech Digital looked at InfoTrellis as a business unit. It had its own salespeople, delivery experts, etc., but it came under Mastech Digital’s HR, finance, marketing and legal teams. Gupta used external consultants to help create a tight 90-day plan.
InfoTrellis is more project focused, while Mastech Digital is staffing focused. Over time, the interaction between the two will grow.
“(If) the plane is flying, you can’t just stop it and fix everything and take off again. You do it in a way which has the least disruption and the customers don’t feel that there is a huge change happening in the organization,” Gupta says. “What we did in the first 90 days was to let the business unit flourish. The second phase of integration, which is a longer phase, is cross-selling.”
As a result of the acquisition, Mastech Digital has 500 more employees than when Gupta became CEO. Of the more than 1,600 total, about 250 are in Pittsburgh; half of the new employees are from InfoTrellis, while the rest came through organic growth.
In three years, Mastech Digital’s annual revenue has grown from $130 million to about $180 million, and the company’s customer base and footprint are more global. It also has two offshore centers in India, thanks to the InfoTrellis acquisition.
“If you want to have offshore centers, you need to have more than one so that you’re able to have a business continuity plan,” Gupta says. “The centers also have been souped up. We’ve moved to better locations. We’ve doubled the capacity. We’ve hired more people.”
Mastech Digital will look to grow its data analytics offerings — organically and possibly through acquisition — and eventually turn to artificial intelligence. However, the line between the two is blurring, so a future acquisition could straddle both business lines.
“As we speak, we are preparing our strategy for the next three years,” he says. “We will continue to invest on the digital side over the next few years. Building new practices in-house organically and looking at the right kind of acquisitions which can help us complete or extend our offerings or maybe deepen the capability that we now have in a couple of specific areas.”
- A fresh perspective can generate constructive disruption.
- Don’t destroy what attracted you to an acquisition in the first place.
- Transformation is bolstered by a homogeneous culture.
Name: Vivek Gupta
Title: President and CEO
Company: Mastech Digital
Born: Ambala, India
Education: Bachelor’s degree in technology, Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi; advanced management program, Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania
What was your first job? I joined my first job straight from college. Zensar Technologies came to India and hired me. I didn’t leave for three decades. The first nine years were in India. Then I was sent to the United Kingdom to start a new business that involved IT services outsourcing. I came to the U.S. in 2002.
You’ve spent at least a decade on three continents. How has that changed your perspective? I’m actually a student of cultural differences. I read up on it. I talk about it sometimes. I write about it and do workshops. It’s very dear to me.
Most global organizations have teams composed of citizens from different countries, and cultural sensitivity can make such a big difference in making sure that the entire team moves in the same direction. It’s so easy to make mistakes if you’ve not been sensitized to the cultural differences.
Where might someone find you on the weekend? You might find me in my basement tinkering with my audio and video system because I’m a hi-fi technologies buff. I’m constantly tweaking what I have in my music system and home theater.
You’re a fan of gadgets. What has caught your attention recently? It’s such a fast-moving place. Whatever we see today is obsolete the next day. But I’m always on the lookout for what could be coming around the corner. I’m looking forward to the 8K projection system.
Then, of course, augmented reality and virtual reality sets are becoming so pervasive now. VR and AR aren’t just personal gadgets, I think it’s going to make a difference in business as well. My eyes were opened to this technology when my one daughter decided to virtually make a career out of AR and VR.