As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Anurag Pal, CEO of Escalon.
Anurag Pal has over 25 years of experience in finance, sales and marketing and senior management roles at Fortune 50 companies. Under his stewardship, Escalon has guided over 3,000 companies across 22 countries with many growing from one employee to IPO and beyond. Mr. Pal holds an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Engineering in electronics and communication engineering from Punjab Engineering College.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I have worked in Industry and been an entrepreneur, and every time I was an entrepreneur there were all these things that were essential yet completely noncore that took up so much time. If we tried to do them ourselves it usually ended in disaster, and if we tried to outsource, we had so much overhead managing all the different vendors — hence this vision of starting this company and this career path was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I hired our first batch of three employees, we then led them through a two-week training session, and I got on a plane right afterward. But when I landed 20 hours later, I had emails and voicemails s galore telling me that one of the new hires had quit and one was not going to work out. I went home, showered and was on a plane back in eight hours to go hire the second batch.
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?
I cannot single out any one person — everyone we met along the way — but our families to begin with because starting a business is asking a lot from your immediate family. I am also grateful for every person who has been or is still an employee here all our amazing customers, our partners, everyone who has been kind to us along the way. We stand here because of all of them. As I often say — I have 800 kids.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Diversity of thought is essential to continually foster innovation. And the only true way to have that diversity is to have diversity starting at the top — so in my mind it is an essential element for organizations that continue to innovate and thrive.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I think it needs to start with making sure inclusivity is reflected in your culture, and if you have a set of values explicitly laid out for the organization, then inclusivity needs to be one of those values. But making it a living, breathing thing requires continual effort. You need to continue to emphasize inclusion in word and in action. So, whom you hire, where you hire from, whom you promote and how you continue to make sure that everyone has a voice and that voice becomes the collective voice is essential.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
You mean other than being good-looking and charming ☺ Well I think it is not a job that is very well-defined. It is one of those amorphous roles where you know when someone is doing really badly or really well, but in many cases the CEO is sometimes at the mercy of events over which they have no control, much like presidents. At its very core, it means leading a group of people toward a goal, which can change based on external events. I think the best definition of the daily role of a CEO was explained best to me by someone who said –“How many ties did you break today?” Meaning were you able to move the organization along since you can never keep everyone happy.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
That it is an easy job — not really. That you have a lot of power — well, not really. That you don’t report to anyone — completely untrue — every day you are responsible for everyone in the organization.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
How lonely it can be at times. I was never really warned about that!
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Being an executive is very much like being a parent, and I often find the best executives are parents. Because the jobs in many ways are very similar — you have all kinds of employees (just like kids), and you need to be able to inspire them through words and by example, keep them engaged and set the right boundaries with freedom to help them develop while continuing to keep them focused on a goal.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
My advice is simple. Figure out (and this really takes some soul-searching) what work culture you truly want to establish first. This will be a combination of who you and the founding team are as people, coupled with what the business needs. Once you have this established, then you need to communicate it again and again and again and do that in actions and words, until it becomes a part of the fabric.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
By ensuring a diverse set of people have fulfilling, challenging jobs in up-and-down economic cycles, serving numerous not-for-profits gratis or at significantly reduced rates, and donating time and money for a variety of causes that make the world a kinder, gentler, cleaner place. For example, we are holding an online India COVID Relief Fundraiser on July 15 to raise money to build an oxygen plant in India. We are proud of this sort of work as one example — https://info.escalon.services/fundraiser
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Never run payroll yourself for someone else — In our first month, a payroll associate was out and I ran payroll 15 minutes late and to make sure people got paid on time, I had to wire money from my personal checking to the payroll company. Still gives me nightmares.
- Hoard and plan your time — it is your most precious resource. I realized this when three months into the job, I was triple-booked and was 90 minutes late for a school pick-up, with two 6-year-oldswith tears waiting in the parking lot. The chewing-out I received that day changed the way I viewed and planned for time.
- Avoid getting too high or low — it is a marathon and not a sprint. The first 2.5 years I would have these incredible highs and then days where I felt the earth couldn’t open a hole big enough to swallow me. Keep in mind things are never as good or as bad as they seem in that moment.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. That doesn’t mean everyone needs to know everything at all times; it means be as open and as transparent as possible, and make sure people have the information they need to continue to stay inspired and be effective. Sometimes you assume that just because you have formulated a strategy or plan or even a tactic, everyone else can magically read your mind. I did not realize that just the basic two-minute elevator pitch of what we were trying to do was only known to me and my co-founder three years into starting this journey internally, and that was eye-opening.
- Don’t put off the difficult conversation. Sooner or later, you will need to have difficult conversations, with your team, your customers, your partners. In the early years I would desperately avoid these conversations, hoping some of those situations would resolve themselves. As I look back on those situations, in each one the conversation would have made things significantly better if had done it right away. The difficulty of those conversations is always overestimated in your mind while the severity of those situations becomes magnified by delay.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Have every company resolve to be carbon neutral within 5 years (including the carbon footprint of all their employees). It is the greatest threat facing humankind and needs immediate action.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s better to be a pirate than join the Navy (Steve Jobs). I say this out loud every time I wonder why I chose the entrepreneurial path.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Elon Musk — who else alive has done more to change the future direction of mankind than Mr. Musk — I am a big fan boy.