Tarun Raisoni, Co-Founder & CEO of global enterprise IT solutions provider Rahi, at least partially credits spending 10 years at Cisco around the turn of the millennium with planting in his mind some fundamental questions about how best to implement company culture.
“How do you implement culture? How do you make an organization more accountable?” Raisoni remembers. “The issue is not when everything is in hyper-growth, the issue is when you come out of it.”
Raisoni spent some time with a startup after Cisco, and another four years with a subsidiary of the 125-year-old Emerson Electric – a company that has only had four CEOs over the course of its history. (“In today’s world, how do you get to just having four CEOs in 125 years?” he enthuses in amazement.)
These and other formative observations were on Raisoni’s mind when he started Rahi: “Our core company focus is customer success. We call it Customer First.”
After starting Rahi in 2012, Raisoni spoke to some long-trusted customers and gleaned that they were attempting to solve a problem: not being able to build data centers fast enough.
“The cloud back in 2012 was not the way cloud is known today. And the cloud is primarily just somebody else’s data center. It’s not yours, right? And you consume that data as a service at various levels,” he says. “You may consume software as a service, you may consume platform as a service, you may consume Infrastructure as a service.”
Those data centers weren’t popping up quickly enough because there was still the customizing of products and the building of new technologies to be done.
“They wanted somebody to come in and help them create and build the data centers as soon as they could. And it also needed a different focus,” Raisoni says. “There were so many parties and vendors that they had to work with, and each vendor introduced their own lead times and their own challenges. And these companies are consistently looking at ways to optimize and make it more efficient.”
Rahi helped to consolidate all of that.
“I brought one idea to the table, and my customers give me 10,” he says. “We listen to our customers very intently. And they love giving us these problems, and also guiding us in how they would want us to solve those problems. So that’s the reason we started the company. And it has been a fun journey for me,” he says, reminding us that company’s name literally means “someone on a fun journey.”
CULTURAL VISION & SERVANT LEADERSHIP
As far as the enviable culture at Rahi, Raisoni says trust, support, and open feedback are the foundations of everything.
“When you join Rahi, you don’t have to earn trust. You get trust day one,” he says. “If somebody new comes in and they say, ‘Hey, I have these 10 ideas, then we want to hear those 10 ideas. So giving people trust when they join an organization on day one, and not having them have to earn it again and again, that’s the way our team behaves.”
“The second pillar for us was open feedback. Constructive feedback. Being direct is very important to us. Not having to sugarcoat your way around critical feedback that you want to share with a team member, and that goes all the way to the top. We don’t have to do any sugarcoating here,” he continues.:
First-time CEO Raisoni says the filling the role has been a learning experience, and that he was lucky enough to be able to rely upon the counsel of several mentors along the way. Among the lessons he has leaned on is one regarding the delicacy of delegation.
“I believe delegation, to a certain extent, is great,” he says. “Delegation in empowerment is phenomenal. Delegation in providing ownership is even more phenomenal. But I think delegation of a problem can be very challenging. You have to work with the team and figure out how you are going to solve that problem. And sometimes that is the basic tenet of what we call servant leadership.”
“I’m not your boss. I’m part of your team. I’m going to help solve this problem with you,” continues. “And that’s what I’m here for. And that can be construed in multiple ways. Some may call it spoon-feeding. But what I’m after is trying to make sure that the more complicated the problem, the more support my team gets.”
Raisoni credits his upbringing in India, and the way he as a child observed his father’s handling of running a relatively small manufacturing plant.
“I used to watch him go on the manufacturing floor, work with his team, and really offer that guidance and support. And that was really what was instilled in me as I grew up,” he remembers. “I would see him every day go and put in his hard work trying to figure out how to do that.”
The idea of servant leadership just makes sense to Raisoni: “It’s pretty plain and simple, right? If there is a problem, we get together as a team and we try to solve the problem. I think listening is very important. And I think making yourself available to listen to that feedback is even more important.“
“I will spend countless hours on complaints,” he continues. “A complaint is a compliment. And a complaint is a compliment because it means that they really care. That’s why they give a complaint. If they didn’t care, they would move on. And so then we focus on ways in which we can solve the issue.”
On top of the diversity he experienced growing up in India and then moving to the US when he was young to pursue his education, Rahi’s customers are a truly global group and that requires an openness to and understanding of unique cultures. In fact, Rahi has operations today in 30 countries, all of which are based on teams made up top to bottom of local talent.
“As we work with these clients, one of the things that we realize is that we really need to adapt to and understand their culture very well,” Raisoni says. “The business cultures are very different as well, and as a necessary result of that, we made a concerted hiring effort to bring diversity into our business. And the reason was primarily to first serve our customers well.”
Based on this global culture, the Rahi teams had gotten used to videoconferencing ahead of the curve, fostering a huge trust base over time. In other words, they figured out early how to foster and sustain a company culture.
“In a small company, that’s a lot easier. And we are still today pretty small at less than 1000 employees,” Raisoni reminds us.
“I think the second reason why our teams have bonded so well is that people genuinely care about each other,” he says. “At the start of COVID, a lot of our team members in China and in Taiwan saw that it has just started to hit us. So they had a leadership call with me and the rest of my team where they told us, ‘We are getting guidance here to wear masks, and we really recommend that you guys adopt that early on.’ And so the day that we started seeing COVID happening in America, we actually went 100% masks right away.”
FRESH CHALLENGES DAILY
Rahi’s employees face a new challenge every day, their Co-founder/CEO says.
“And we solve the new challenge together as a team. For people who are wondering what to do during the next phase of their career, they should know that we are the company that’s trying to blaze the way in terms of solving these challenges. They are going to benefit by actually being able to solve new challenges with the team. That team is supportive, that team is here to support you 100%,” he says.
As for other benefits of working at Rahi, Raisoni says, “We really believe in this equity ownership culture. We want to bring the core team members into Rahi. And we want to enable equity ownership for them. Because they that is really the best mechanism for financial freedom.”“That’s the best way for us to motivate our team members. To truly enable ownership and participation in the business,” he continues. “If that eventual greater financial freedom gives you an opportunity to do something else with your life, we have a culture where we throw you a big farewell party. People come into Rahi from various organizations where they were literally fed up with the politics. That’s the number one reason they want to leave and come to Rahi. They’re not looking for more money, they’re just fed up with the daily politics and not being able to deliver and they want to change.”
INTO THE FUTURE
“We always create a three-year vision plan. And we try to map our organization to that three-year vision plan,” Raisoni says, adding that COVID had knocked them off a five-year streak of consistent growth at 40-50%.
“When there’s growth, a lot of the pains get hidden, because those problems you never see. But when growth disappears, you start seeing all the problems. Those come to the front. So COVID was that year when actually in the first half of the year, our company growth just went down to zero. And it brought up all the problems that as a team didn’t recognize early on,” he says.
“So we just decided that the second half of 2020 would be our growth comeback in every country that we serve today. One of the things we have decided in the next three years is that we want to create the appropriate process frameworks and support resources that will allow us to really grow our organization sustainably,” he continues. “we are looking to not just grow our business, but we are also looking to disrupt in a very meaningful way the industry that we are in. And we strive to do better at it every day. So that’s what I would say like if somebody is looking at joining us here at Rahi.”