Yan: Hi Naren, thank you for taking the time to chat with me today and sharing your journey to becoming a key player at SAPTopia.
Naren: Thanks Yan. Hope the weather is good in Canada these days? Here in Chicago, smoke from North of Canada is giving us a hard time right now, a lot of smog.
Yan: Actually, we only had smog yesterday, here in South of Quebec, seems the prevailing winds have not carried much smoke yet. We will see in coming days, we are hoping for some rain!
Yan: Naren, we only spoke a few times since I joined the team, but I’ve heard of you over the years when you guys were a vendor of mine, and I did appreciate our call the other day. Min speaks very highly of you.
Naren: I appreciate that. I have a lot of respect for Min and the team. Over the years, I believe I’ve become a key asset within the team.
Yan: I can confirm that (giggles). Min mentions your name every time we have a complex project ahead of us or discuss future plans and technologies we want to invest in. I guess that answers the question!
Yan: Naren, I don’t know you personally very well, and I assume our readers don’t either. So let’s start with something that struck me during our first call: you seem like an extroverted individual, whereas many IT professionals I know tend to be more introverted. Can you tell me if I read you right?
Naren: Yes, Yan, you’re spot on 😊 Throughout my education, starting in India, I always felt a bit out of sync with other students my age. In our culture at the time, the focus was primarily on studies and academic performance. If you wanted to succeed, you had to excel in school, and grades were of utmost importance. As a result, many young people in India, at least in my generation, didn’t invest much in developing social skills. This became a challenge for many of us as we entered adulthood.
In my case, I was somewhat of an outlier. While I did well in school, I wasn’t in the top 1% because I had varied interests and excelled in sports. What my parents initially saw as a disadvantage actually helped me when I eventually moved to Germany for my Master’s degree. Being involved in sports allowed me to establish relationships with other students from various backgrounds and forced me to develop not only academically but also in terms of networking.
I even learned German so I could participate in and enjoy cool events.
Yan: Wow, that’s impressive! Do you still speak German these days?
Naren: I can understand pretty much everything and can hold conversations in German, although I wish I had more opportunities to practice.
Yan: So what brought you to Germany in the first place?
Naren: In the early 2000s, there was the .com bust, and job opportunities in India were scarce. Moving to the US wasn’t straightforward for me either, as I couldn’t obtain a visa to study here. I felt like I was hitting a wall. A friend suggested that Germany could be an easier entry point, and I was accepted at Magdeburg University, which is located about two hours from Berlin. So that became my ticket to move forward around the end of 2001.
I stayed there from 2002 to 2006, and after completing my degree, I was able to move to the US on a work visa. Initially, I took a one-year position with a smaller company in 2006, but then I had the opportunity to work in Chicago, where members of my family were already working.
Yan: So was it in Chicago you got into SAP, it’s not accessible for everyone in IT, some people find it hard to make it onto that technology?
Naren: Actually, when I studied at Magdeburg, SAP had a collaboration with the IT department and they had labs so we could study the ERP technology. I had a chance to start working on SAP right from my degree. So when I later reached the US, I had a background and using my network of connections was able to make it and start my career on SAP from the get go.
Yan: How did you eventually come to work for SAPTopia?
Naren: An opportunity was given to me as my brother was working as an SAP expert in the Chicago area, and had worked with Min Yu, they were getting along pretty well; from 2007 to 2010 I was at Accenture. At some point Min and I met at an event and the connection was good. Although I did not have prior Vistex experience, Min knew from that contact that I could be an asset and decided to bring me onboard.
Yan: so you already had experience with Vistex when you met Min?
Naren: Actually, no. Knowledge of the Vistex application was not accessible unless someone would train you and invest in you. Min put a lot of energy to bring me up to speed, and I very grateful he did. The technology and the process complexities are a challenge in itself, having someone believe in you is a must.
Also, it was a turning point for me, as in 2010-2011, Accenture was not able to help me pursue the Green card process for some reason, and offered me a good job in India if I went back. I was interested but my wife not so much, and she had good reasons. Most of our family and friends were now in the US. My mom had also moved here too by that time, so I think it was a good decision for us to stay here.
As you know, when Min believes in you he will invest and that’s what he did when he brought me onboard. It allowed me to have a great career since, stay in the US and enjoy being close to my family and friends.
Yan: Yes, I’ve known Min for 10 years, and he does care for the people around him, that’s how I got to join as well. Mutual respect is what brought us to work together, so many times. I also learned a lot recently about the whole visa process in the US. In Canada, it’s very different.
Yan: So on the more personal side, I’d like to ask about your family, especially your wife, did you meet in India or in the US?
Naren: No, actually we knew each other from India, as we both originated from the Hyderabad region but we reconnected and married around 2008. Now we have two girls, about to enter teenage years.
Yan: And going back to working on Vistex projects for SAPTopia, could you talk to me about the bigger projects you executed, and what are the challenges faced?
Naren: In many projects, I actually lead so I am customer-facing, and we often have a distributed team in the US or abroad, so I typically lead both on customer and backend, coordinating with the resources. It asks a lot of an individual to tackle the whole project but this is how our business model is until now. It is challenging but very rewarding, too.
Unlike system integrators, where you have a lot of management and coordination, our model is very slim.
Yan: would you like to have a guy like me take some of the heat sometimes? (laughs)
Naren: hey, I’d like that for sure!
Yan: as you know, we are adding more management in the future, as I come from a management background and some big projects are coming, we will make sure to take your advice and increase our management support to you, so you could do more technical work.
Min actually wanted me to join to see how we can add more to that dimension of the business, so I’m all ears.
Naren: regardless, we do the job so it’s not a big complaint (giggles).
Yan: moving to a more emotional question, in your life, what challenge was your biggest? Won’t make a romantic movie out of your answer, I promise.
Naren (smiles): in Southern part of India, if you’re not excellent at school, as I said, your worth is less. As I was not in the top 1%, it was difficult for me. In our culture, it was always better to talk less and listen more. So I carried this burden for a long time, until my sports and social skills, as I reached Germany, became an asset for me rather than a liability.
I did break bones playing sports, horse riding, tennis, and all, but I did help me invest in myself. You break stuff when you try stuff!
Yan: you do look like you’re in shape, do you still play sports?
Naren: yes, I’m active in cricket leagues in the Chicago area. I also still follow English Premiere League and Cricket leagues from India.
Yan: I also heard you went to Kentucky Derby with a friend or former colleague?
Naren: Yes, I even predicted the winner for this year’s event, some friends made money from my advice!
Yan: Great to hear, I’ll need to learn a thing or two about horses, but happy to know I can trust you if I decide to bet at some point 😊
Ok, now for the Elevator pitch moment. I’m going to ask you, either personal or professional, what is making you proud?
Naren: It’s like a sales pitch (laughs). Actually, when I started with SAPTopia, I was just like everyone else. But over the years, I grew as a resource and a leader. At SAPTopia, we don’t have an organization structure like you find elsewhere, with layers, etc. But you get the recognition, you build relationships within the team, and you get to feel involved and important.
This is something I am proud of, really.
Yan: I do concur that Min talks about you all the time.
Naren: I spent more than a decade around SAPTopia and Min, this is an experience I really cherish. To me or Min, it’s about being true to each other whatever happens.
Yan: I was going to ask about the future, when you look at what we do, do you see us delivering the same services in the coming years, or you are foreseeing something different?
Naren: that’s a very good question. Remember, we talked about what we can do outside of our current expertise? See, with incentives it’s going to be a very good market for the foreseeable future. For other specialties, like BTP, we don’t yet have all the information to expand. I know we are going to bring in new resources and invest in this area, I’m excited to see how we can expand on this technology and remain true to our core expertise we built up over the last 15 years.
We might also want to invest more in India, there are possibilities to have an even stronger presence there which would serve our bigger projects in the making.
Yan: As you know, I travelled to India a few times yet, I definitely want to go back so if this is a good excuse for me to travel there, I’ll take it (smiles).
My wife and I miss India, so I’ll be open to any discussion that would give me a reason to travel there again.
Naren: I’m travelling in december so you might want to jump in my luggage 😊
Yan: I’ll definitely consider it! Naren, thanks a lot for the time today, I am sure people will be interested to read this and know more about you.
Naren: pleasure is all mine Yan, and thanks for the time too. I am happy to have you on the team, convinced we have a good number of great projects ahead of us!