Sanjib Sahoo has not only achieved significant success in the technology industry but also earned the prestigious Bharat Samman Award (previous winners being the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Abdul Kalam etc). From childhood challenges in Kolkata to transforming organizations through digital innovation, this leader’s story is a testament to the power of determination, humility, and a relentless commitment to making a positive impact.
This is an exclusive article series conducted by the Editor Team of CIO News with Sanjib Sahoo, EVP and CDO, Ingram Micro A.K.A. digiGOAT.
Tell us about your journey which led you to be a successful Chief Digital officer and win the Bharat Samman Award?
It all started in Kolkata, where, as a nine-year old who had just lost his father, I faced the reality that even in this best of all possible worlds, one may not be able to have everything one wants. Growing up in a very modest household, from very humble beginnings, I came to realize that to be successful you cannot limit your challenges and must challenge your limits.
From that moment forward, I have been driven to make meaningful impact in the world — a true quest to enrich people’s lives, and to contribute in a manner that will make the world a better place than it is today. This was the last few words my father told me while he was passing away- “make an impact!”
From Kolkata to Wall Street and now as EVP and CDO of a global $50B tech business leader, I have come a long way. It wasn’t a straight line. It has been riddled with many twists and turns, challenges, and hurdles, failures, mistakes but through it all I have remained focused and fueled by a passion to always do more for others and make an impact in everything I do.
Early in my career, I was presented with a disruptive opportunity that would enable me to join a small startup that was trying to democratize trading for the whole world on browser and later mobile platforms. At that time, I had a stable job in a large company, but there was something behind the purpose of that small startup that made me want to take a chance -it wanted to empower the masses and democratize online trading. I did and it led to an opportunity to create the world’s first streaming browser-based trading platform in Wall Street and changed the trading industry forever. Today that platform is acquired by E-Trade and now Morgan Stanley. That was an exceptionally fulfilling moment personally and professionally and was a milestone for the Financial Services industry.
A few years later, I was presented with another opportunity to drive digital change for a company in the logistics industry. This was a new challenge because it was in an industry that was unknown to me. I had grown up in Financial Services, and Logistics felt foreign. Yet through the course of my interview discussions with the company, I realized I could truly make an impact on the lives of billions of people around the world by transforming the transportation industry and I joined them.
We developed an incredible team and transformed the logistics company via building a platform that was fundamental to the growth of the company. This growth was made possible on a foundation of strategic transformation that resulted in us conceptualizing, designing, and going to market with a hugely successful, multi-modal marketplace for transportation and logistics. The fact we were able to realize this digital disruption in a legacy industry (trucking) was a tremendous accomplishment for me and my team. For the second time in my career, in a brand-new industry (transportation logistics), it was experience very enriching to raise the bar in industry.
Fast forward to present day at Ingram Micro. Here we are creating a transcendental digital experience platform within the technology distribution industry. Our efforts are establishing a foundation of digital technology that will change how we work, as well as the industry itself, and touch more than 90% of the world we live in. This business transformation will be the biggest contribution and one I am honored to lead.
But the greatest highlight in my career has come from the many thousands of people who have worked with me over the years, who work with me today and who have come up to me in gratitude for helping to inspire positive change and greatness in their own lives.
My contribution to improving the careers, mindsets, and lives of many of those individuals who have worked with me, in some way, form or manner, marks the greatest high point of my career. And, I have only been able to achieve this by staying true to my core values of integrity in everything I represent, curiosity for everything I want to know, ingenuity in everything I create, and above all humility in everything I do. And as I reflect on the incredible Bharat Samman award, it is this accomplishment of cultivating the next generation of problem solvers, leaders, and disruptors that I am most proud of. If I can do it, hopefully so can many others. That’s what I feel about this award, a sense of aspire to inspire.
Did you always wanted to make a career in the IT industry?
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to contribute towards making the world a better place. Very early on in life, I recognized that one does not have to be leading a country or a government or a company or even a team to create a better world. One must only aspire to be the change that they want to see around themselves. I have always wanted to contribute towards better outcomes for every organization that I have been part of. Technology for me, felt like the most intuitive opportunity to solve most of today’s pressing problems – whether it is creating technology to democratize investing, or leveraging technology to disintermediate a traditional asset heavy business, I was always drawn towards wanting to use technology to solve business problems. I did not plan to be in IT, it happened by chance. I was studying Economics but got through a course with Computers and Management for my masters and the journey started there. I found IT very logical, and it sparked my curiosity. It is a huge enabler and can truly change the world. Today every company is aspiring to be a technology company.
What were your aspirations? What factors led you to start a career in the technology industry?
I believe that great aspiration without contribution is without significance. My aspirations were always to make meaningful impact on the world, not by trying to change the entire world at once, but by focusing on my own actions and choices in everything I do. I realized very early on, when I was in school, that leading by example, and consistently striving to become a better person, can help me contribute to a more positive and compassionate world. That is what I have always aspired to.
The technology industry happened by chance and by choice. When I was coming out of college, I could already see that technology was bound to be disruptive. But it occurred that a lot of technology was being delivered without meaningful aspiration behind it. And I wanted to change that. For me the power of technology, was in the power to deliver the greatest business outcomes that would change people’s lives. That is what I focused on, when I started my career in the Financial Services industry.
I never limited myself to an opportunity and I never wanted to stay stagnant. I kept pushing myself to do more. I kept challenging myself. I focused on the art of possible. I wanted to be someone of substance and keep a legacy. I aspired to be a leader who can inspire greatness in others and in some way make an impact to the world.
Could you help us with at least one real life scenario where you led end-to-end digital transformation of an organization?
I have led two and working on the third industry now in real time. I believe that the term digital transformation is outdated. We need to focus on digital operations. We will always be transforming. The key essence is driving business value. Building platforms is not easy and transforming organizations and their business models is not easy. Today, we are working on Xvantage that is truly changing the technology distribution industry and positioning Ingram Micro to be a platform company. This is complex, especially when it is such massive scale. From our vendors to our associates and to our partners, Xvantage is a complete end-to-end ecosystem that will change the way we do business.
What are your goals for 2024 as a Chief Digital Officer?
Most of us live our lives wanting to remain healthy. We eat right, exercise right, keep our mind clear, and measure our wellness and fitness from time to time. It is this fitness that serves as catalyst to keep us going in life. But when it comes to the organizations that we represent, we’re not as focused on the Digital Fitness that is fast becoming a cornerstone for success in today’s constantly changing world. This is why I’ve introduced a new paradigm shift in the way we assess our technology capabilities – I call it Digital Fitness. Our ability to stay Digitally Fit will lend ourselves to be flexible and ready when the right opportunities present themselves in the modern marketplace. My goal for 2024 is to make myself, my organization and our customers and partners more Digitally Fit.
In my current role, as Chief Digital Officer, we have built a Digital Twin for Ingram Micro. We call it Xvantage. Our goal with this digital twin is to create indelible experiences for everyone – our customers, vendors, end users, partners, and associates. With Xvantage we are enabling everyone to interact with us Digitally and Physically – in a manner that is consistent with delivering successful outcomes for all stakeholders.
What challenges you have faced and how have you overcome them?
I grew up in a very modest household outside of Kolkata in India. My parents had to work hard to make ends meet. When I was nine years old, my father passed away. From that point forward, my mother has been a tremendous source of inspiration to me, in the way she raised me, in the values she instilled in me, and in the way she conducted her life and mine against all odds. In retrospect, this experience helped me realize that success in life is not a function of limiting your challenges, but an outcome of challenging your limitations.
I still remember an incident when I was about 10 years old. I was tired after coming back from school, and my mom was still at work, so she could pay our bills. I was hungry and I saw a sweet stall outside my house where a vendor was selling Indian cookies for a few pennies. I did not have the money, and I could only look. As if by a random stroke of fortune, one of the cookies fell to the floor. It was dusty, but my hunger took over my intellectual faculties. I still remember dusting away some pieces of gravel and sand from what was perhaps the most delicious cookie I’d ever had till then. When I related the incident to my mother, I could sense that she was disappointed, but she did not reveal it. That night I learned a valuable lesson – whether the glass is half full or half empty is more about your state of mind than it is about the glass or its contents. I resolved then that I would change my view on life.
My focus shifted from being sorry for myself to wanting to make a difference in people’s lives. I had an overwhelming desire in me to always go the extra mile in everything I did. I resolved to be a constant learner, to be my own CEO. I resolved that success in life is as much a function of one’s contribution as it is of genius and aptitude. I worked hard. I listened carefully. I empathized with people. I tried to see things from different perspectives. It is remarkable what you can see when you’re willing to put yourselves in another’s shoes. And I am evolving. I have had many failures; I have made many mistakes. What I am today, is much better person and leader than how I was few years ago. I am learning every day, I am “imperfectly perfect” but a little more perfect every day.
Over the years, I’ve come a long way in every aspect of life – from the way I listen to the way I communicate to my willingness to help to my eagerness to learn. But through my journey, I’ve tried to stay true to the values that my mother passed on to me. My life’s inspiration has always been to approach life with a glass half full mentality. This has helped me tackle the greatest challenges with optimism and humility.
What advice would you give to fellow technology leaders and young IT professionals for their successful professional journeys?
I have always maintained that leadership is an invitation to greatness that we as leaders are able to extend to others.
For starters, I strongly believe “All extraordinary things are built by ordinary people willing to expend extraordinary effort”. Every one of the many thousands of people who have worked for me have done game-changing, life-changing things that have changed the course of the companies and industries we have worked in, as well as their own careers and lives. My leadership style has always been about enabling people to be the best that they can be in everything they do. And to that extent, here are some maxims that uniquely define my brand of leadership, which I hope has inspired many over the years.
- Be confident, not complacent.
- Be bold, not arrogant.
- Be curious, not irritating.
- Act smart, not over smart.
- Be nimble and humble.
- Be agile, not fragile.
- Be direct, but not disrespectful.
- Be your own leader.
- Communicate with compassion, execute with passion.
Here are some of my thoughts, that are reflective of the kind of emotions, ideas, and passion that I want to inspire in people
- “The most successful companies in the market will be aggressively digital and amazingly human.”
- “We must remember, digital transformation is not about technology alone. It’s about mindset and embracing a spirit of innovation. That is the first step.”
- “An important distinction for any digital transformation effort is to recognize there is no stop sign. It’s an iterative process, a never-ending journey.”
- “Never limit your challenges. Always challenge your limitations.”
- “We will perform while we transform.”
Life is a journey; we need to navigate it with learning every day. Thank you again for the opportunity to share my journey. I am incredibly humbled with the “Bharat Samman” recognition. I will keep learning and try to be a better leader everyday.
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