The Founder, CEO and Chief Architect of enterprise software company Vistex, Sanjay Shah is a global businessman who has bootstrapped the company from its conception to its current role as a vital partner to worldwide titans like Apple, Walmart, 3M, Turner, Dell and Bayer. Under his leadership, Vistex provides software and services to help businesses take their products and services to the marketplace with state-of-the-art, goto-market programs and helps firms increase revenue and reduce costs with their business partners by managing trade, channel and vendor programs, pricing, performance incentives and rights and royalties.
THE SAGA OF SUCCESS
An Indian immigrant, Shah left Mumbai, India, to attend Lehigh University’s business school, earning his MBA at the young age of 21. As he puts it, “My story began in Mumbai. I lived in a close-knit community with my immediate and extended family, all living within a one-mile radius. I left Mumbai because I was searching for more. I wanted to go to a business school, and the U.S. was the logical choice.”
Earlier in his career, he held positions at high-profile companies like PricewaterhouseCoopers and General Motors before moving to Germany to work for software giant SAP. He elaborates, “After attending Lehigh University’s business school and earning my MBA in finance in 1989 at the age of 21, I took an accounting job at PricewaterhouseCoopers as an auditor. I was there for 6 months before deciding that it wasn’t the right path for me.” Sharing his experiences at General Motors, he says, “I wanted to get some operational experience in supply chain; however, my background and degree in finance weren’t quite the areas potential employers had in mind. I eventually found my way to General Motors and moved to Canada for that role. During my 2.5 years there, I learned how things were built on the shop floor, how products are put together, and the logistics and distribution networks of large companies.”
The turning point in his career was his association with SAP, which eventually played a significant role in shaping his career as an entrepreneur. He delineates, “I first came to SAP as they were expanding into North America because I was initially intrigued by their software work. I was with SAP for 6 years and called myself a company loyalist. Since I was so passionate about SAP, I presented a few ideas to the development management team as a way to enhance the functionality of their products. Although SAP liked the ideas, they said I had to develop them in Germany with their R&D team, and since I wanted to move my family back to the U.S., I decided to develop this product on my own. SAP agreed to support me by bringing it to market. I would like to say I became an ‘entrepreneur by accident,’ as it was never my intention to leave SAP.”
Driven by the spirit of innovation, Shah left SAP to develop an entirely new category of software, known as Go-to-Market programs. He says, “My day job became developing this software while also consulting on behalf of SAP. I had become a marketable resource to SAP by initiating and spearheading a program to support troubled customers.” Thus, the seeds of Vistex were sown in the year 1999. As he himself puts it, “My first year was 1999 and I was focused on writing software that met the needs of business functions not adequately addressed in ERP systems. I made my first hires in 2000 to help me engineer the software, and I’m proud to still have those employees working at Vistex. In 2001, we landed our first customer and also began expanding.”
Talking about his journey as an entrepreneur, Shah asserts, “Since our early days, we have continued to grow and create a business model monetized by licensing, software, annual maintenance and providing professional services to implement software. We now work with the biggest names in the business, such as Apple, Walmart, 3M, Turner, Dell and Bayer. We are a worldwide operation with 21 offices, 1,600+ employees and nearly $250 million in revenue in 2018, all without external funding.”
He declares with pride, “Our year-afteryear revenue growth can be attributed to the fact that we deliver value to customers. We have been successful in forging into new industries, upselling our current clients and expanding our customer footprint.” He further elaborates, “Earlier this year, Vistex achieved a new growth milestone – the first equity capital raise in our company’s history.
This set a new precedent for an enterprise software company to grow to a size and scale like Vistex without any external capital, and was an accomplishment I’m quite proud of. This capital investment supports a variety of company priorities and aggressive growth plans, including talent acquisition in sales, marketing and software engineering roles, and will help us grow globally.”
HAILING LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
The road to success for Shah was not an easy one, and was certainly laden with challenges. Sharing some of the specific challenges that he faced and the ways in which he overcame them, he says, “In the early days, we faced challenges in being a cost-conscientious company and had our engineers handle sales, rather than creating a sales or marketing division. Since there wasn’t any venture funding to propel us into the market in a flashy way, we were forced to be thoughtful in our partnerships, which is why SAP has been instrumental to our success. Partnering with SAP has propelled our ability to take our products to market.”
Shah’s greatest treasure is his heart of gold. As an individual who is inclined towards social responsibility, he asserts, “I know the importance of giving back. As part of Vistex’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, I formed the Vistex Foundation to focus on poverty, education, health and humanitarian issues in the Chicago area and around the globe. Projects have included food drives, programs for inner-city children and the construction of a birthing centre in Sierra Leone, all of which are supported by Vistex employees. A Vistex Hospital also opened this year in Bihar, India.” He can be best described as an epitome of selflessness when he declares, “I’m proud to pair the growth of Vistex and my success with causes that establish positive opportunities for others.”
A multitalented personality, Shah feels “privileged enough to pursue interests outside of my [his] career.” He worked hard to get his “pilot’s license,” enjoyed “going back to school to obtain a CPA,” and taught himself “how to speak German and write complex software code.” Expressing his gratitude for having an excellent support system, he adds, “These passions, paired with my family’s unwavering support, have been incredible. When my wife was pregnant with our second child, she stood by my side as I ventured into building my own software and career.”
Shah’s outstanding contribution to the sphere of business and technology has been recognised at various forums. He has received accolades and awards throughout his career, such as the EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 and Illinois Technology Association’s City Light CEO of the Year.
A self-made man, Shah is an inspiration for the young generation. His message to the youth is, “If I could go back and give my younger self advice, it would be to not follow any advice. There are many paths to success, and you should draw inspiration from those you admire, but not be caught up in replication of their triumphs.”