The Charleston Digital Corridor's Leadership Profile Series is focused on the individuals who are driving the Charleston tech scene forward. This series is brought to you with support from Charleston Southern University.
Ravi Sastry is vice president of sales and marketing for Immedion, a cloud, data-center and managed-services firm based in Greenville, S.C., with offices in Charleston, Asheville, Columbia, Rock Hill and Cincinnati. Immedion was founded in 2007 and has about 80 employees.
Where did you grow up? What was life like?
I grew up in India. I came here when I was young. My father traveled around quite a bit, so we lived in a number of places – North Dakota, Michigan, Pennsylvania.
You now live in Greenville, S.C., where Immedion is based. How did you end up there?
I ended up going to school in South Carolina and working for an electronics company in Greenville. I did that for a number of years, and we lived overseas in Europe and Asia. I ran some of the international business for that company for over 15 years. I moved back to Greenville four times, and the fourth time I moved back, that was kind of it. I started a consulting business that I ran for about seven years, and I ended up coming to work at Immedion about six years ago.
I'm lucky because I get to travel to some really cool small cities, between Asheville, Greenville, Columbia, Charleston, Cincinnati and Rock Hill – those are kind of my epicenters and spheres of influence.
In your own words, what does your company do?
We provide IT infrastructure for local markets. We take care of all the computers and the sensitive data and provide a service that is highly redundant and robust, and it's on a local level with local staff.
The IT world is very complex. It's changing all the time. We're not on the bleeding edge of technology; we're not on the trailing edge of technology. We sit in the middle to make sure that we are providing the services that our clients need, from bringing in physical equipment into our data centers, to managing a cloud environment that they're asking for, and also providing the services they need if something happens.
What was your first job, or most memorable early job? What did you learn from it?
I grew up being a lifeguard. If I had to go back again, I'd probably do that the rest of my life. It was fantastic. It was easy. I had no responsibilities, and it was a lot of fun. But, obviously, that's not something that's sustainable.
The first real job I had was in Philadelphia working for a guy in a sales department for a high-tech company. That was my first real sales job. I was a sales rep in Philadelphia covering Eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Not a dream spot, but it was great fun because I got to really go out and do what I wanted to do, be in front of people, talk to them about our products and what we can do, and that really helped me.
He was a real mentor for me. I was there for a couple years and really learned, because I was young and didn't know anything. He really molded a lot of the things that I do now in terms of how we sell and how to sell and what's the proper way to sell and the proper way to influence people, the proper way to network. I teach a lot of those types of things, hopefully, to our people.
What drew you to your current business?
One factor is technology. Prior to knowing anything about Immedion, I was computer savvy in terms of my own computer and knowing what to do, but also I've always been in the high-tech world. That's what I've been doing my whole life.
When I was running my consulting business, I used that as a vehicle to find the next place to go to work. I was not one of those who was going to go start my own business. I wanted to go find a place to work that allowed me to maximize the skills that I have, allowed me to be interested in a company and an industry that I'm comfortable with.
I also asked, "Who's the leadership?" If the leadership is there and they can allow me to do some of the things that I would like to do, then it was fine. I really enjoy working for Frank Mobley, Immedion's CEO. I like what he has to say.
How would you describe your organization's culture?
First and foremost, we're in the IT business. For a lot of folks, that comes across as very structured, very analytical and very process-oriented. And, yes, we do have that. We are structured. We are process-oriented. We are analytical in what we do. That's the way I've been raised in the high-tech world.
There's the old adage that says you work hard and play hard. Well, I think we work hard and probably play little. And that means that we take this business very seriously. This is people's livelihood that we've got in our hands. It's their data. So when we're at work, it's serious stuff. We have to make sure that everything is working, everything is properly being handled, everything is processed properly, we're handling the customers properly, etc. It's very much a customer-service-oriented culture. Everything is about the customer. From Frank our CEO to the person who is handling the front-line calls, and everything in between, it's customer first.
And I think that we have a very open culture in terms of getting things done. If people have something that they want to talk about, we talk about it. If people have something that is good or bad or there's a situation that's going on, we discuss it, and then we decide what we are going to do moving forward. We are conservative in terms of making decisions that are impacting the company, but we make them fairly quickly. There's no red tape associated with that.
What is your management style? Why is that your approach?
I'm very driven, and I drive by metrics and reports. However, my style is to be in front of people. I spend probably 60 percent of my time in front of the folks that work for me, asking, "What are we doing? What can we do to make you more successful? What are we going to do with this particular situation?" It's an open-door policy. We can talk about whatever they want to. I think the motivation is really making them successful.
We are in a high-tech world where we're managing fairly young folks, the millennial people. You must have a certain way of managing those folks different to where I am. I'm the oldest guy in the company. We have a number of young folks that work for us. Great people, very smart. They know what they want, they know what they're doing, and so you have to have certain ways to manage them. And it's not always about the money itself. It's about praising them when you need to and having closed-door discussions when you need to, and ensuring that we're doing what we can to make them successful.
What lessons have you learned from good bosses? Bad bosses?
To me, a good boss is one that communicates very well, and I think I do that as transparently as possible. There are certain things in the company that you have to keep confidential, and I understand that. But it's communicating constantly, letting people know what's going on, letting them know that you're there for them, letting them know that, "Hey I'm here to support you." I think that's really important.
Bad bosses, to me, are ones that manage a certain way one day and manage a certain way the next. Inconsistent. Because then you don't know where you stand. And I think that's bad, and it brings a lot of bad things with it.
Do you have a routine that's important to your day? A morning ritual, meditation, etc.?
I get up very early, and at 5:30 I'm in the gym. I work out and I do a bunch of stuff and then I'm in the office usually between 8 and 8:15. Then it's, "What happened the previous day? What's going on?" Catch up on email, etc. I usually have a schedule already lined up for the week, so I know what meetings I have to be at and where I am traveling. But that first hour in the morning is very routine for me. Go to the gym, get to the office, line up everything that you need to do for that day and let's go. That usually doesn't deviate very much at all.
What's the hardest or most important lesson you've learned in business?
The hardest thing that I have learned, and it's a constant issue, is finding the right people to do the job. It's a challenging thing that you will always have in any business that you're in. You always hear about the "Good to Great" story where you find the right people, put them on the bus, and get them in the right seat. Well, getting them on the bus and putting them in the right seat is easier. The first part is the hardest. Finding the right people.
And even through the interview process, even through all the things that you do, you really don't know until they're in the job for six months to a year, and by then you spent a lot of money, spent a lot of time, done a lot of things. And, unfortunately, sometimes it doesn't work out. So you have to make changes.
So I think the biggest challenge is finding the right people. I think that's a huge challenge for everybody, especially in the IT business because it's hugely competitive. It is ever-changing. It's highly technical. And especially when you are in a sales and marketing function, you're trying to find that holy grail of a technical person who's comfortable with technology but also has a relationship and a personality that can walk into a room and have some command of it. It's very hard to find.
What obstacles have you faced in business? How have you overcome them?
Technology is ever-changing. There's a lot of people involved in it now. You have big guys like Amazon Web Services and Google and Microsoft Azure folks that also provide the cloud environment. So how do you compete with them? We do things very similar to what they do, and our costs are similar to theirs. They are now penetrating into our markets. We've done a pretty good job of explaining to customers that, "Hey, you're talking to me. I am a real person. I'm willing to manage your cloud environment for you. I'm not sure how that works with the big guys. Who are you going to talk to, and how are you going to get support?"
Another obstacle, as I mentioned, is getting the right people. We've used recruiters in the past, and some have been good and we've had some success with that. I think the biggest success for us comes from finding people through a referral process. Just trying to put a resume on the Internet and trying to hope something happens doesn't work. That's kind of like saying, "I am going to do a bunch of cold calling and hope a client comes in." That doesn't usually work, either.
What do you look for in the people you hire?
I look for attitude, aptitude and altitude. Attitude – do you have the right attitude, do you have the passion, do you have what we call the entrepreneurial skills and want to do that? Aptitude means do you have the knowledge and the education and the comfort level of being in a technical company? And third is altitude – where do you want to go? Do you want to stay in the current job you're in for the rest of your life, or do you have a passion to want to do something else?
Then, second, is how do they fit into our core values? Integrity, initiatives, problem-solving and customer first - those are our core values.
What is your biggest pet peeve in business or amongst colleagues?
Lack of communication because you get surprised when that happens.
What advice would you give new graduates seeking to work in the tech industry?
In general, young folks that come right out of college, they're ready to take on the world. They think they know everything. They want to be challenged. They want to have continuous feedback on what's going on. I need more, I want more, I need another project, I want to do this, I want to do that. And my advice on that is, that's great; you have the right attitude, but it's how you do that. What's the esprit de corps in how you want to get that accomplished? There's a wrong and a right way to approach your boss in terms of what you want to do.
Work on being less aggressive, a little bit softer. Let's get you through the first six months and see what happens. Let's get you through the first 12 months and see what happens. Let's get you to two years and then say, "What's my two-year plan? What's my five-year plan? Where do I want to be in two and five years from now?" That's the type of thing that you've got to think through as you start your career coming into the tech world. Because not everybody is going to be able to run the company. Not everybody is going to be able to come in and say, "I will work here for a little while and I'm going to go do my own startup." Just be a little bit patient and let's see where things go as you look at what your goals are.
What do you see as the future of your company?
I think it's extremely bright. We are very focused on only a few things. We provide infrastructure services that are within our building, allowing people to rest easy at night knowing that their equipment and their cloud environment are being taken care of. We've been able to transform companies, our clients, from a CapX spending to an OpX spending, which means that I don't have to go spend millions of dollars on equipment. I can allow Immedion to take care of me on an operational expense.
We think that model will continue to grow because people don't want to be in the equipment business. They want to be in whatever business they're in. They don't want to have to worry about whether there is redundancy, are their computers going to be running. They want to be able to go work on their processes. They want to be able to work on their projects and take care of what makes the company more efficient from an IT standpoint, not necessarily the infrastructure side of it. We've seen a huge transformation in the last 10 years associated with this, and we're sitting right in the middle of that. We see a very bright future associated with that type of transformation.
Are you a Mac or a PC? iPhone or Android?
Our company is all PC, but I am a Mac user, and I get a hard time within the company about that. If something goes wrong, they always blame me for it. But I have been a Mac user, so it's hard for me to go back to a PC. I am also an iPhone.
What is your usual Starbucks order?
It's real simple. Black coffee. No sugar, nothing.
Outside of work what keeps you busy?
I have a family – a wife and two daughters. One just graduated from graduate school, and the other one is a junior at the University of South Carolina in the International Business program. So they keep me fairly busy. Golf, working out, reading, cooking. We travel some.
We keep busy trying to keep a balanced life. Immedion has done a very good job of that for me. In my previous life, I was on an airplane every day. I'd leave on Sunday or Monday and not come back till Friday night or Saturday. I did that forever. At Immedion, I have a more balanced work life now because of the places that I travel to. So that's been great. It allows me to do other things.
What has it been like building your technical team in Charleston?
We've had a pretty good success on the technical side of getting the right folks in here. It has not been a problem for us, and the local community has been great in helping us with that. We'll ask, "Hey, we have this position open and we're looking for somebody. If you know anybody, please let us know." That's how we've been able to get the folks that we have.
Do you see any challenges recruiting tech talent to Charleston?
We don't have as much of a problem here because our number of employees is fairly small. But I worry about companies like Boeing and Volvo and Mercedes and all that. How are they going to bring technical talent here, because it's only so big? One of the critical issues that the whole state has is how do we get people educated to come to work in the technical field? What do we do with the local technical schools, and how do we incentivize them to bring more people in to teach, whether it's mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science or whatever it is, and then make sure that graduates stay here? There has to be a linkage between the education side of it in the local market and the companies that are investing here. How are those companies going to support the technical schools? If that support is not there, then they are going to bring technical talent in from outside.
It's gotten much better, no question about it. That just has to continue. I think that's a core issue that has to continually be addressed.