Asa part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Thakur.
Ben Thakur started his career building next generation technology for world class companies. As CEO of eTeam and High5, he has enjoyed building talent based organizations and maximizing the potential of people, process and technologies to produce high quality work in a cost effective manner. He is excited by collaborating with passionate clients, partners and professionals to push the boundaries of technology solutions and services, and giving back to the world.
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 started out as an engineer, but early in my career I got to work as a consultant for a number of very different technology companies. Getting exposure to so many niche technologies gave me the ability to understand how best to sell the things we were implementing, and I eventually learned how to sell to Fortune 1000 companies. In that time I learned that a lot of the projects I was working on were being outsourced to big-box companies, like Deloitte and Accenture. Eventually, I started working with those larger companies and selling to them.
My experience with technology and working with these large companies gave me a vantage point into big supply and demand gaps within these industries, especially when it came to available talent and future skills needed for these organizations. In 1999 I started eTeam Inc., with the goal of helping companies stay ahead of that curve. This year, we launched High5 as a continuation of that goal.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
What I’ve learned over the years is there are so many situations that can seem bad at first but turn out to be blessings in disguise. For example, since I started eTeam, I’ve witnessed several market crashes: Y2K, the dot com crash, the mortgage industry meltdown, and more recently the pandemic crisis. While those events are very challenging in many ways, each has resulted in new opportunities to emerge stronger than before. To do so, businesses have to be willing to reinvent themselves. It’s those situations that make it possible.
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 first started my business, I tried every trick I could think of to get around the gatekeepers that were guarding access to key executives. It turns out that they are usually pretty good at their jobs. Over time I’ve learned that trying to go around them is a much less effective strategy than cultivating a relationship where they are your biggest allies.
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?
There are a few! First, my parents. I am so grateful for the work ethic they have instilled into me. Next, I’m grateful to my wife for her support and partnership over the years. We started eTeam together, in a 10’ x 10’ office, and she’s made sure the journey has been fun ever since. I am grateful to my employees for standing by me, even in situations where I may not have the right answer. And I’m grateful for my clients. It’s because of them that I have had a playground to solve real business challenges for them, and bring forth real solutions which go beyond just serving them — but improving the industry as a whole.
Lastly, I’m grateful for life! It’s taken a lot of time in meditation, but I appreciate now that life is the reason I’m experiencing any of this. I’m very thankful that I’m alive.
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?
A diverse executive team brings diverse experiences, from diverse backgrounds and diverse situations. Having different perspectives helps to prepare you more for when things are not going well — in so many ways.
For example, diverse cultural backgrounds in your workforce can help you in servicing diverse customers. Your customers should be a reflection of your team. To best serve a diverse customer base you have to have a broad range of sensitivities built into your team.
Diversity also leads to stability, scalability, and growth — which is a function of scalability. Because our leadership team is diverse, we’ve been able to expand globally. As a company, we knew we needed to branch out beyond the U.S.. That was only possible by bringing in a diverse group of people to drive that growth. When you have people from different backgrounds coming together, you add a lot of empathy to your organization which really opens up who you can connect with, both internally and externally.
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.
First and foremost, you have to provide a platform where everyone is heard. Secondly, opportunities must be level for all parties. Third, you have to do your part to invest back in your community.
At eTeam and High5, we believe in creating talent and growing from within as opposed to always looking outside for talent. It’s fundamental, but you have to be able to provide opportunities for people regardless of their background. Sometimes that means giving people a platform to catch up in areas where they may be lacking. But they’ll be grateful for that chance to grow.
We also work closely with our clients to help them achieve diversity goals. We want to be aligned with their goals, and make meaningful contributions to those initiatives.
When it comes to social responsibility, we make sure to integrate into all of the geographies we are in. Both internally and the clients we’re serving. That gives us the feeling of community.
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?
Sure. The CEO needs to take ownership for the good and the bad. As a CEO, the buck stops with you — you can’t see yourself as a victim. If there’s a problem within the organization, rather than blaming a specific department, team, or individual, the CEO must hold themselves accountable. Good or bad, these things are happening because of you. The good news is that when you acknowledge successes you get to raise up the people that supported it, and when things are bad you have the ability to fix them.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
That the CEO has all the power. I would basically say the CEO, at the end of the day, is a servant to everyone. I believe in servant leadership. No matter how big you become, no matter how small the client, the client is a client. That $1 from a small customer is just as important as your $1 million client. You should only take on the business if you can do it justice and give the client respect.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I really didn’t have a lot of expectations going into it, but there have been changes in my own perspective. For example, I probably suffered from more victim-thinking in the early days, but that has faded with time and experience. What I’ve learned is that when you accept all of the good and the bad in your life, you become more grateful. Because of that I’ve taken more ownership over the business over time.
I’ve also learned the value in being truly customer experience-focused. When you first start out, you may make a deal and think first about what’s in it for me. Now, I understand it’s much better to first think about what’s in it for them — and then how that becomes what’s in it for me. Eventually, you have to get to the point of “what’s in it for them” anyway. So, cutting to the chase from the start — by flipping it — is a much more efficient way to go.
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?
I think anyone can be an executive, but they need to start off by managing themselves. After that, everything else flows. If a person can manage themselves, only then can they truly picture managing 10 others, then a thousand, or eventually more.
It really goes back to taking ownership. Not just of the business, but of yourself. You’ve got to be able to be the CEO of you, before you can run a company. And I think it comes from within. We are all born with the same consciousness, but we’ve all undergone conditioning that holds us back — makes us think of us as less versions of ourselves. Once you get a handle on that, you can skyrocket.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
I believe that culture is the lowest level of behavior that an organization will tolerate. For example, Tim Cook might set a bar for the level of creativity that is required for each individual at Apple. Because of that, their culture is one of creativity and innovation. If a business wants a different type of culture, it comes down to setting the bar for the types of behaviors it wants to be known for. At eTeam and High5, we want everyone to feel safe while taking risks in innovating. So that’s the kind of culture we implement, based on behaviors that support it. In the end, business leaders need to think about what’s most important to the culture, what behaviors align, and what is the minimum acceptable level to support.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Most importantly, I do my best to share my own knowledge with others. I start every day with a routine. I exercise, medidate, learn, and give. I plan each activity out by writing what I will do to accomplish each. When it comes to learning, that usually involves 10–15 minutes each morning listening to or reading a book. I then share what I’ve learned with my entire company before I get into the day’s work duties. Often, those shared learnings are supported and supplemented by thinking I’ve done during the exercise and meditation portions of my morning. Lastly, I try to give respect at all times, and lead by that example. In my opinion, being open and sharing my own experience with others is the highest form of giving.
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.)
- Don’t lose hope. If things aren’t going according to plan, know that there is opportunity lurking — you just have to find it.
- Be proactive. Start with a plan for each day as opposed to reacting to what the world is dishing out.
- Sharpen your sword. Learning is probably the most important aspect of life. The beautiful thing about knowledge is that nobody can take it from you. Be a lifelong learner.
- Have a balanced outlook. Ensure you can enjoy all the riches that life has to offer. With your finances, your business or career, your fun, your health, and your relationships. Make time for ‘me’ activities, and then make contributions to your surroundings.
- Avoid victim-thinking. Take accountability for the good and the bad, and take control of the outcome of every situation.
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.
I want to get a million people involved in creating opportunities for 10 million people. It’s part of the drive behind High5, the total talent experience platform we launched earlier this year. I believe we’re in a world of work, and platforms like High5 can help aggregate a lot of people to create those opportunities. With a single source for people to improve their skills, find jobs, and interview for them, we can create great positive change in so many people’s lives. Jobs are a fundamental human need in our society, and provide folks with a sense of purpose and a means to take care of themselves and their families. So, that’s the movement I would want to spark.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Live in the present moment.” It’s what meditation is all about. Meditation is where you find godliness within you. And it doesn’t matter what your definition of God may be. But the moment you start living in the future or the past, you begin to limit yourself and the way you interact with others in the world. It’s the reason kids feel like they can do anything. They’re living in the present moment.
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
One day I’d like to meet Bollywood actor, Aamir Khan. He’s inspiring! Everything he does is with a lot of passion and enthusiasm.