Driving Disruption: Ayon Banerjee Of Persistent Systems On The Innovative Approaches They Are Taking To Disrupt Their Industries

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Staying True to Core Expertise: Despite the dynamic tech market, we remain focused on engineering excellence, leveraging our expertise to deliver tailored solutions that address the unique needs of our clients.

In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes, but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ayon Banerjee Chief Strategy and Growth Officer, Persistent Systems.

Ayon Banerjee serves as the Chief Strategy and Growth Officer at Persistent, leading the charge in steering the company towards its next phase of growth. In his strategic role, Ayon orchestrates high-stakes initiatives, from large-scale engagements to mergers and acquisitions, and transactions involving the PIPE-owned portfolio companies. What sets Ayon apart is his dedication to shaping and executing our overarching strategy, with a keen focus on driving innovation in disruptive technologies, especially in the realm of Generative AI.

With a career spanning nearly three decades in the technology and telecom sectors, Ayon stands as a consummate leader. He has had a global impact in his prior organizations, having successfully led and scaled operations across the United States, Europe, and Asia, extending into the growing markets of Africa and Latin America. Ayon’s exceptional leadership acumen and hands-on operational style have consistently helped him deliver impact to his clients, his shareholders, his partners, and employees alike.

Before his role at Persistent, Ayon was the President at ANSR, where he played a key role in shaping organizational success. His journey includes a significant stint at Boston Consulting Group in New Delhi, India, serving as Managing Director and Partner in the TMT space. In prior roles, Ayon was at Nokia, Cisco, HP, and Tech Mahindra, to name a few.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

My journey into the tech sector wasn’t meticulously planned, but rather something that unfolded organically. Growing up, societal norms dictated that success often stemmed from professions like medicine or engineering. While I initially pursued a career in engineering, it quickly became apparent that my true calling lay elsewhere.

Over the span of three decades, my journey has taken me through a myriad of business management roles across varied sectors and global companies. Each role has contributed to shaping my holistic understanding of various industries, from crafting strategic initiatives to guiding teams toward success.

An important phase in my career occurred during my tenure at Boston Consulting Group, where I spent six transformative years challenging convention and embracing change. Now, back in an operational role at Persistent, I bring a wealth of varying experiences, underscoring the importance of adaptability and seizing opportunities as they arise. As I navigate the ever-changing landscape of the tech industry, I remain steadfast in my dedication to driving innovation and leading with purpose.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

In reflecting on what truly sets Persistent apart, I find myself drawn back to a pivotal moment in the summer of 2020. It was during my days as an advisor when I had the privilege of closely engaging with Persistent, particularly with Sandeep (Sandeep Kalra, CEO and Executive Director, Persistent), as the Company embarked on the journey to reach a billion dollars in annual revenue. Over the course of six months, I delved deep into the fabric of the organization, its rich history, its foundational values, and the driving forces behind its success.

This immersion resulted in a profound admiration for Persistent — an organization characterized by immense heart, small enough to care and big enough to scale. It exudes a consistent commitment to adding value to clients and nurturing its employees, a rarity in today’s business landscape. At its core, Persistent is propelled by a potent combination of technological capabilities, fueled by the leadership of Anand, the founder (Dr. Anand Deshpande, Founder, Chairman, and Managing Director, Persistent Systems), and the strategic acumen of Sandeep.

What truly distinguishes us is our devotion to our purpose, unwavering through the ebbs and flows of growth and expansion. This consistency in vision, coupled with a firm commitment to our values, has been the foundation of our journey thus far. To me, these are the attributes of an organization that has always had a very strong goal and has consistently lived up to it without deviation. Even today, as we aim to double our annual revenue from 1 billion to 2 billion dollars in the next three years, we are not deviating from our fundamental vision.

You are a successful business leader. Which three-character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

In reflecting on my journey, I attribute my success to various character traits that I have acquired along the way, each essential in navigating the complexities of leadership.

Firstly, I attribute much of my success to my high empathy quotient. Whether interacting with team members, peers, or superiors, I consciously treat everyone with equal respect and understanding. This inclusivity has fostered strong, cohesive teams capable of weathering even the most difficult circumstances.

Secondly, resilience has been a cornerstone of my leadership philosophy. Having navigated through three global crises — including the dot-com bubble, the global financial crisis, and most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic — I’ve learned firsthand the importance of remaining resolute in the face of adversity. During turbulent times, I’ve prioritized keeping my teams motivated and focused, understanding that as a leader, my presence sets the tone for the entire organization.

Lastly, central to my approach is the commitment to customer-centricity and authenticity. I firmly believe that keeping the client at the forefront of every decision ensures long-term success. Additionally, I’ve learned the value of embracing my authentic self and acknowledging my strengths and weaknesses. Rather than striving to be someone I’m not, I surround myself with individuals who complement my skill set, thereby creating a collaborative environment where everyone can thrive. As I move forward in my career, I embrace the role of an orchestrator, recognizing the power of collaboration and collective expertise in achieving organizational goals.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

Challenging decisions are inevitable, and I’ve encountered quite a bit of these throughout my career. One standout decision remains etched in my memory — a choice that not only challenged prevailing patterns but also probed the deeply rooted values of the organization. During my tenure managing a global business unit, I faced the challenging task of dealing with an underperforming region that was thoroughly embedded in the company. The decision to shut down this geography wasn’t easy. It required careful consideration of the situation and alignment with the organization’s overarching goals, even if it meant deviating from established patterns.

Decisions such as these emphasized the necessity of making tough choices based on facts and executing swiftly and decisively. They have taught me the importance of leading with compassion and conviction, especially when faced with adversity.

These tough decisions push both the organization and its employees beyond their comfort zones. Though initially met with resistance at times, the broader influence ultimately matters most. The key lies in approaching them with empathy, conviction, and a solid decision-making process, with swift execution becoming paramount once the decision is made.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?

Disruption, fundamentally, marks a departure from the usual — breaking the cycle of established patterns that have persisted for an extended period. It represents a radical shift that challenges conventional practices and necessitates adaptation. It’s about recognizing that embracing disruption as a catalyst for innovation and growth. Take Artificial Intelligence (AI), for instance. While some may view it as a threat to traditional job roles, it also presents opportunities to revolutionize efficiency and productivity. Adopting a forward-looking approach towards disruption is crucial, leveraging emerging technologies and trends to our advantage.

Rather than seeing disruption as a hindrance, we should see it as an opportunity for reinvention. It’s not just about surviving in a changing landscape but thriving. By sharpening our skills, refining our business strategy, and embracing new possibilities, we can navigate disruption with confidence and emerge stronger than before. Ultimately, disruption isn’t a roadblock — it’s a pathway to innovation and success, guiding us towards a future of endless possibilities.

How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?

In the tech industry, disruption isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a fundamental force shaping our competitive landscape. I perceive it as both a necessity and a strategy, prompting me to embrace change deliberately and actively seek opportunities to innovate and evolve.

A prime example of disruption in recent years is the emergence of GenAI. With significant transitions on the horizon, tech companies are experimenting and identifying ways to enhance efficiency and productivity, leading to rapid evolution in the landscape of GenAI.

AI has been integral to Persistent’s core for years, and we swiftly recognized the immense potential of GenAI, seamlessly integrating it into both internal operations and client services. Its incorporation into daily tasks has become indispensable, significantly boosting my efficiency and effectiveness. From streamlining client research to honing investor presentations, GenAI assumes a central role in our processes.

However, disruption transcends mere business strategies; it reflects in all aspects of life. For instance, consider how GenAI has revolutionized our daily routines. Personally, I’ve utilized GenAI for various purposes, from creatively enhancing photos to addressing complex client challenges with pioneering solutions. This reflects my proactive approach to disruption.

Today, as I prepared for an upcoming client meeting, I used GenAI to identify the core issues faced by the client. Converting these insights into actionable strategies for how Persistent can assist the client, I realized that this mindset goes beyond my professional sphere — it influences my everyday decisions. It embodies the ethos of adapting to transformation, leveraging technology, and continuously seeking opportunities for innovation.

What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?

I strongly believe that continuous evolution is essential for growth, especially in the technology industry, where competition is fierce, and innovation is crucial. Whether it’s exploring new growth strategies or reimagining client engagement approaches, I approach leadership with a focus on continual improvement and adaptation.

Drawing inspiration from Andy Grove’s philosophy that “only the paranoid survive”, I take a proactive stance toward anticipating and addressing potential challenges or disruptions. This mindset instills a sense of preparedness and agility to my leadership approach, ensuring that we are not only responsive to change but also preemptive in shaping industry trends. By embracing a culture of perpetual improvement and remaining vigilant to shifts, I strive to lead by example, inspiring my team to push boundaries and redefine what’s achievable.

Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

Resistance to disruptive ideas is indeed common, and I’ve encountered my fair share of it. People often resist change either because they’re comfortable with their familiar routines or because they lack trust in the proposed changes. However, I firmly believe that what worked in the past may not necessarily lead to future success. Therefore, it’s essential to approach each situation and decision independently, evaluating the process thoroughly. Whether it’s embarking on a new venture or refining an existing process, continuous evolution is crucial for growth.

In my experience overseeing transformations for a global business, I’ve encountered significant resistance. Initially, I attempted to drive top-down directives, but I soon realized its limitations. True transformation, I learned, stems from within the organization. Empowering middle management is a game-changer. Rather than driving change from the top, involving middle management in the process leads to greater buy-in and success. I call this the “impact center” — to recognize the pivotal role of middle management, promoting ownership, and empowerment. I’ve learned that corporate culture heavily influences our approach to disruptive ideas. In cultures open to change, addressing opposition is easier with a rational approach. Conversely, in change-resistant environments, a different strategy is required. Empowering middle management to champion change fosters ownership and ensures success from within.

What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”?

When considering innovative approaches to disrupting the tech industry, it’s essential to reflect on our organization’s foundational principles and strengths. Persistent has a rich engineering heritage, deeply rooted in pioneering technology solutions for our clients. While we’ve evolved over the years to embrace modernization and other emerging trends, such as cloudification and data-driven solutions, we remain committed to adapt to industry changes and upgrade our business models accordingly. Some of the key approaches include –

  • Staying True to Core Expertise: Despite the dynamic tech market, we remain focused on engineering excellence, leveraging our expertise to deliver tailored solutions that address the unique needs of our clients.
  • Strategic Focus: Rather than chasing every opportunity, we adopt a strategic approach by focusing on areas where we can truly excel. By concentrating our efforts on specific domains and client needs, we ensure that our solutions are highly targeted and impactful.
  • Partnership Ecosystem: Collaboration is at the heart of our innovation strategy. We recognize that no organization can thrive in isolation, which is why we actively cultivate partnerships with industry leaders and technology innovators. By leveraging the expertise of our partners, we augment our own capabilities and deliver comprehensive solutions to our clients.
  • Continuous Improvement: Innovation is a journey, not a destination. We adopt a philosophy of continuous improvement, constantly seeking ways to refine our processes, enhance our offerings, and adapt to changing market dynamics.
  • Client-centric Approach: Above all, our innovation efforts are guided by a deep understanding of our clients’ needs and challenges. We prioritize client-centricity in everything we do, striving to anticipate their evolving requirements and exceed their expectations with inventive solutions that drive tangible business results.

Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?

As mentioned earlier, my career has encompassed a mix of diverse roles. From selling products at an IT company to exploring networking, mobile technology, and value-added services, each position presented unique challenges and learning opportunities. These transitions introduced me to new domains and technologies. Despite the uncertainty, I embraced these disruptions as valuable experiences, shaping my career trajectory with continual growth.

Navigating through complexities in consulting and operational roles demanded a flexible mindset and a willingness to embrace the unknown. Throughout my journey, which mostly unfolded outside the Indian IT industry but included notable exceptions like my current role at Persistent, I consistently sought opportunities to broaden my horizons and deepen my expertise.

These experiences have equipped me with resilience and determination to effectively handle disruptions, reinforcing my commitment to personal and professional growth.

Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?

On a personal level, much like in my professional career, I’ve always been inclined towards activities that push me out of my comfort zone. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I ventured into unconventional activities such as motorcycling. In a remarkably short time, I transitioned from being a beginner rider to an avid motorcyclist.

Additionally, I just picked up scuba diving six months ago. I’m a certified scuba diver now, so I’m always looking to do something very different to break the monotony of my life. While not exactly disruptive, these endeavors certainly push me far outside my comfort zone, infusing innovation into my life.

In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

My reflections often center around the multitude of micro-decisions that collectively shape our organizational trajectory. Rather than dwelling on individual achievements, I focus on continually adapting and refining our strategies to stay ahead in the industry.

One of my main concerns revolves around evaluating our organization’s performance and identifying challenges on the horizon. This involves making swift decisions and addressing roadblocks without hesitation. Transparency is the key to my leadership approach. During staff meetings, I prioritize discussions on market sentiment and broader insights from the leadership team, empowering my team to meaningfully contribute to our collective goals.

Externally, I engage in conversations with a diverse array of individuals to gather insights into industry trends and emerging opportunities. These discussions inform my decision-making processes and help us stay ahead of the competition.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

One of things I’d really like to pursue is making healthcare more accessible and affordable for everyone, ensuring that no one is left behind when it comes to their health and well-being. I aim to gradually commit myself to this cause and give back to society, working towards a future where equitable healthcare is a reality for all.

Environmental sustainability is another cause close to my heart, inspired greatly by my wife’s dedication to sustainability practices. From advocating for recycling initiatives to supporting broader environmental conservation efforts, I hope to make meaningful contributions toward safeguarding our planet for future generations.

Similarly, education is paramount for empowerment and societal progress. Hence, I would like to contribute to improving access to quality education and providing support for educators. By investing in education, we can positively impact countless lives and lay the groundwork for a brighter future for generations to come.

These three pillars form the foundation of my vision for creating lasting and widespread positive change in society. I want to start focusing on these slowly but surely for the next couple of decades and aim to turn these passions into impactful movements that benefit communities globally.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

If you’re interested in following me online, you can connect with me on LinkedIn. Feel free to visit my profile at Ayon Banerjee on LinkedIn.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.