Hi everyone! Welcome back to a new episode of The Leader Show with Lou Carter. Today, Lou interviews Sudhir Agarwal, the CEO of Everise. They discuss how Everise became a Most Loved Workplace® and Sudhir’s journey as a leader.
So, without any further ado, let’s jump right in!
Lou kicks off the conversation by asking Sudhir to share his professional journey. Sudhir replies by highlighting his 24 years in the service industry. He then talks about how he got tired of working in companies with a lot of bureaucracy and politics, which eventually led him to start a people-first company; Everise.
He is also happy about the fact that Everise has been recognized for its people-first culture over the last seven years, which is undoubtedly spectacular.
Subsequently, Lou and Sudhir discuss the importance of focusing on people rather than office politics in creating a positive work culture. Lou highlights Henry Ford’s method of choosing employees based on their behavior towards others, and Sudhir emphasizes the importance of treating employees like people.
Sudhir also mentions the importance of listening to employees and judging them based on their behavior towards others, including those in service roles. He urges managers to prioritize the needs of their employees and focus on creating a positive workplace culture.
Next, they discuss how creating an environment free from financial pressure and office politics can encourage innovation and creativity. Sudhir states that Everise rewards employees for thinking out of the box and avoids traditional appraisal systems that can stifle creativity.
Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of listening to employees and responding to their feedback in order to create a culture where innovation can thrive. In any corporate hierarchy, innovation often comes from the bottom of an organization, from employees who are closest to the problems and challenges faced by customers.
By creating an atmosphere where employees can share their ideas freely, without fear of ridicule, Everise has been able to incubate innovation and promote a culture of continuous improvement.
Moving on, Lou and Sudhir discuss Everise’s accelerator program, which identifies employees with great potential and fast-tracks their careers. Sudhir mentions that Everise views all employees as champions and sets a path for them to achieve their career goals. The company prioritizes promoting from within and provides training programs and coaching to help employees develop new skills and move between functions.
He further emphasizes the importance of accelerating employee growth as a key factor in Everise’s success, noting that many of the company’s employees have been with him for over 15 years.
Next, Sudhir mentions how Everise supports employees throughout their thick and thin rather than just at specific points in time.
He cites how Everise went the extra mile to support its employees during the pandemic by equipping them to work from home and converting its offices into vaccination centers in the Philippines. They also ensured that any leftover vaccines were given to employees and their families.
On this note, the CEO suggests the importance of putting employees first and taking care of them as a key factor in building a successful and sustainable business.
Lou asks Sudhir about the Global Exchange program in his company and how it can benefit employees who are new to the workforce. Sudhir states that anyone who is qualified for the job and has the right mindset should be given a chance to work with the company regardless of their physical status or age.
According to him, diverse cultures working together can help organizations think globally and act locally, thereby helping advance the company’s business.
Moving on, Sudhir emphasizes the importance of empathy as a skill set for their team members. He strongly believes that every leader as well as their teams must have empathy. Being a team player is also a crucial factor in their industry, and working as a team is what differentiates Everise from other companies.
The people at Everise never shy away from taking tough calls, and sometimes, letting go of a person from a role that doesn’t suit them is better than having them continue. Sudhir suggests that being passionate about what they do is essential to their team members.
Apart from that, he discusses the importance of being a team player and the significance of working together to grow in the industry.
Lastly, Lou asks Sudhir to advise CEOs on how to lead a Most Loved Workplace. In reply, Sudhir suggests two practices.
Firstly, he recommends that leaders should hire people who are a good fit, even if it means creating a new role for them. He points out that leaders should never shy away from hiring someone smarter than themselves, as their performance will eventually reflect positively on the company.
Secondly, he emphasizes the importance of humility in leadership, as designations can be taken away, but one’s personality and attitude toward life cannot.
Lou and Sudhir go into much greater detail over the course of this conversation.
Thank you for listening.
Louis Carter : Hi everybody. Welcome today, to The Leader Show on Newsweek. We're here with Sudhir Agarwal, who is the CEO of Everise. Thanks a lot for joining us. Thanks for coming today.
Sudhir Agarwal : Louis, thanks a lot for inviting me on your lovely show.
LC : Well, congratulations on becoming a Most Loved Workplace and really want to today learn about you as a leader and what you do and to really create this environment, this culture of being a Most Loved Workplace today. Tell me more about you, though. I wanna learn about you first.
SA : Well, I think you know. Thanks a lot, again. I think it's, you know, on behalf of all 16,000 of my colleagues, you know, we are extremely delighted to be featured in this distinguished list of companies. You know, a little bit about myself. I have spent the last, I guess, 24 years in counting in the service industry. What used to be a boring, I would say not the right word, outsourcing industry. That's where I started my career.
And really, after having spent, I would say, close to 19 years in it, working for some great organizations, you know, I came to a point where I got tired of working in companies which had a lot of bureaucracy, right? And where people were focused more on taking care of things internally and not spending time actually with people and focusing on the end clients, right? and then secondly, the most important point is politics, right? Where you were always, you know, watching your back and not being able to give full to your company. So that's what gave me the idea where I wanted to kind of start a company which was truly a people-first company. And I'm glad that over the last 7 years, you know, we are being recognized for that.
LC : It is key, isn't it? Getting rid of those office politics folks, focusing on people is really the key. It's you know, so many times in all of o ur careers, I'm sure that we've noticed that politics just get in the way. And we focus too much on just the work and not enough about people. When I was preparing for our interview today, I was reading a little bit about Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company and how he chose employees at the top level, at leader level.
And he would put two employees together who really had the same exact qualifications in engineering, same grade schools, and he would notice whether or not they would put pepper on their steak first, or after they tasted it, number one. And if they were polite to the waiter or waitress.
The first lesson there for me was, well, he believes in people who test things and then makes choices, which is great for quality assurance, right? And the second is, are you kind to people? And I know Everise, obviously you choose a lot of employees and choose them for other companies too. How does that play into what you do and how you choose employees?
SA : You know, people always ask me this question: What is your secret sauce? There is actually no secret sauce. I will go back to that exact example that you give, and I'll pick two words, which is, we use common sense, okay? People wanna be treated like people, okay? And you know, it's really funny, right? Because all organizations traditionally and today all designed like a pyramid, and I, you know, just by design sit on top of the pyramid. But the reality is all the people on the top are actually the cost of the company and the people who actually generating revenue are on the bottom end.
So, what we did at Everise was we just flipped the whole pyramid and we said, our job is to be here for our people who actually serve our customer’s customer. Whether that's on the phone, whether that's on email, whether that's on chat, and our whole existence is to make their life easier, to make sure that we create a workplace where they can thrive. If they have issues, we are there for them. And at the same time, just listen to them.
And you know, your point of what you said, I actually judge a lot of people on those small things. Or when you go into a restaurant, do you address someone as a waiter, or they actually have a name tag? That's what a reason. Because they have a name like you, Louis, it's a name. But just because they are maybe not as privileged as we are doesn't give anyone the right to talk down to them. I think that also happens in organizations. I think you know, and I realize this when I left my company, you know, a lot of people who are really close to their titles, and when you leave your job and you become an entrepreneur, no one will pick up your phone because of your title.
They will pick up the phone because of who you are and the mark that you've left for them. And, that's what I keep telling people, and that's what I keep telling our managers that, you know, just be there for our people and ensure that we, again, listen to them more than anything else.
LC : And it's so important for innovation too, isn't it? Because I know you, your part of your culture is incubating innovation. Tell me more about what that means with incubating innovation and how does that play out at Everise.
SA : You know, so I'll simplify that for you. When is a person able to innovate? Innovation is nothing else but being creative. When can a person have their creative juices flowing? It's when you are free when you don't have to worry, okay, about monetary pressure. So we try and take care of that for our people as much as we can, you know?
Number two, ensure that there's no politics in the work environment. So you actually work in an environment where you are rewarded for thinking out of the box, right? We don't have any of the traditional appraisal systems, which means that we will only appraise you after a year, or we will only give you a promotion after a year.
I, in fact, just yesterday promoted someone who's only been with us for four months because the person is doing a great job.
So, you know, I think these are all traditional mindsets which actually stop people from being innovative and creative because of systems and processes that companies put in place. We have tried to take all of them and break free away from that so that our people can think freely. Our employees, actually, our employees write to me all the time.
You know, we have multiple mediums, you know, internally, whether we are on teams on social media, whether it's on LinkedIn, you know, and that's, there's a reason why our Glassdoor ratings are where they are now. Can we make everyone happy? No, we cannot. We try to but yeah the absolutely the answer is no, we cannot. But yes, we will listen to them and we will respond to them.
And I think if you have that culture, you are able to create an environment where innovation happens. Because at the end of the day, innovation starts right at the bottom. Most people think innovation starts at the top. It actually doesn't, because people who are close to the problem are actually people who are talking to the customers, and they know where the problems lie.
So, you have to create an atmosphere where they can share that innovation idea freely without having the fear of being ridiculed for it.
LC : Hmm. And you call, it's interesting you call your, some of your employees "champions"—"Champions Goals.” Is that right? So, and you pride yourself in spotting those high potential employees as champions and fast tracking their careers through something. You call it an accelerator program. Could you tell us more about that accelerator program, and how that works, and how you lead that?
SA : So firstly, I think everyone in our company is a champion. Okay? And when they start, we tell them, you are a champion. Now where you wanna go from there is what your ambition is. You know, we will set the path freely for you. You know, I've been extremely lucky, Louis, when I started this venture. You know, I just gave people a call who worked with me.
And a lot of leaders today that are there in this company with me have been with me for 15 years, 16 years. And when I called them up and I said, listen, I'm starting a venture. I don't have anything, it's just an idea. They left their jobs and they came and they joined me. And you know, that was a very humbling, you know, that obviously gave me a lot of pressure because I'm not responsible for them.
But it also gave me the strength that, you know, we can all work together and create a company which is different which accelerates. There's a reason why we've been able to grow at 25% every year for the last, six to seven years. It's because of the ability to accelerate.
Also, whenever there are leadership positions, the first thing we do in Everise is we look internally. Okay, we will give people within our organization a chance first before hiring leaders from outside. If someone wants to move between functions and if they have the right skillset, we will do that. We will not hold people back just because they do not have the right skillset. We will put them through training programs; we'll put them through coaches, education coaches, and get them ready. And that truly is the accelerator program, right? Of how can we crystallize their career for them or how they will grow over the next 7 to 10 to 15 years.
LC : That's the thing. You see this whole life cycle don’t you. The life cycle of an employee rather than just a point in time. You help them throughout all of these, these individual experiences. It's not just one or two, like some companies, but the whole life cycle.
Oh, yeah. And listen, I think I will go back to one example, right? Which was, I think you know, when the pandemic happened, and I'll never forget that, in 2020, I was actually in New York, and you know, New York to Singapore. I live in Singapore; it is the longest flight in the world. And I got off a flight. I flew out on Wednesday, Thursday, disappeared on the flight, and landed in Singapore on Friday. And I hear the news that Philippines, which had almost 3,000 people for us at that point in time, is going into lockdown. Guatemala, which had another three and a half thousand people, is going into lockdown. And so did the US and everywhere.
But you know, our teams took it at a stride. We equipped each and every person to work from home. And we had 99% of our workforce up and running in less than three weeks. We just didn't end there. In countries like Philippines, we actually worked with the government, converted our centers into vaccination centers, and did a deal with them to say whatever vaccinations is left over every day. Because once they open, they have to use it. Please give it to our employees. That way you are able to vaccinate not only them but their family.
LC : That's really testimony in helping the entire whole system, isn't it? For employees, and you're looking at their entire ecosystem and not just that individual but their entire family. Does that come into play with your beliefs too, and how you lead yourself and your own family, and learning just about you individually? Because a lot of the times, when we know CEOs who lead Most Loved Workplaces, it turns out that they are truly dedicated to their families and communities. And that those are their personal values. They're also not just espousing the company, but they're actually living.
SA : You know, the first example I'll give you as far as Everise goes, and then I'll move into my personal aspect of it, is 70% of people that we hire, or champions or across the company, that we hire are all through referrals. Now, and we are talking large numbers. I mean, this year we would've probably hired about 5,000 people, maybe 5 to 6,000 people, and 70% of them actually comes through our employee referrals.
We actually encourage people to get their family members, get their friends, you know, and you will only get your family member or your friend or recommend someone if you are happy where you work. Okay? As far as I go in an extension to my personal life, I love what I do. And my family loves what I do as well. They try and play whatever role they can play in my life.
Because for us, work is not just work. You know, we are, I'm very passionate about what I do. My family is very passionate about what I do, and they support me in every way. I mean, simple thing, like, you know, our office in Singapore was actually, you know, my wife took up that as a project and she designed it, you know, she will come, you know, we have our Everise Care Foundation you know, which is in the steps of being launched, where actually we have the leaders wives who will actually be running that foundation.
It's not us, it's our partners. And you know, it's about how can we, you know, we do a lot of things in our communities. We just, by the way, you know we had our 10 years celebration in Guatemala, and we had people with their families over. You know, it's not just having, you know, you gotta make an entire community. And that's what we are trying to do is create an Everise community globally, you know, which come together.
LC : And that's what I'm seeing here too, is you have this global community, you have global exchange programs, you're speaking, and I was thinking it would be very interesting, especially for workers who are just employees who are just coming into the workforce, to have that kind of breath of experience throughout the globe. Tell me more about what brought you to this your Global Exchange program and how it's going for you now with your employees.
SA : So, I always believe that great organizations are organizations that can think global but act local. For you to think globally, you have to get different cultures to work together, okay? Because if it’s the same culture that's working together, there's no diversity. And if there's no diversity, they will not be able to think beyond them. So, we actually, you know, there's so many examples, but you know, I can definitely talk about one, a leader for, you know, who heads a global facility and procurement. You know, he joined us. He's been with me for 16 years. I gave him a call. He came; he was in India. From India, he moved to Philippines.
And Philippines, you know, in one of my visits I asked him, "So what's your dream? He says my dream is to go to America. So I said, "Go!" And while we speak, he and his family are in Florida. Okay? And the fact that, you know, you can make someone's dream come true, at least personally for me, is a very, very humbling experience.
We have leaders from Philippines who are in the US by the way. It's not the other way. You know, everyone says going west is the way to go. We have leaders in the US who are in the Philippines. We have leaders, so it's a cross pollination, because unfortunately, whenever companies talk about talent exchange programs, they always talk about it's going one way, which is towards America. Our head of operations for Asia actually moved over from the US and he lives in the Philippines.
So in my view, you know people who support me in my Singapore office are from all over the world. They're not just from Singapore. You know, so I think that's what you need to do when you institutionalize a global exchange program. In my view, it should truly be global. It just should not be on paper. And anyone should be able to apply to it. And if they have the right qualifications and, more importantly, the right mindset, you should give them a chance.
LC : And you're really breaking down barriers and boundaries when you're doing, saying that it can be anywhere around the globe. You can be in Florida yet still be in the Philippines, right? Because you're, we're in the remote workforce. And one of the other things I noticed about you and your company was the predominance of your D&I council.
Speaking of inclusion and understanding, you know, and the fact that you have this open door policy, very transparent, dispute resolution, and E-talks round tables, and you were mentioning women leaders the Global Women's Network, Salute Network, Pride Network, Ability Champions Network. It's really phenomenal.
You are opening yourself up to accept and understand how to work with people of all whether we say different but not less, right? Different, but not less, and allowing us all to have equity and unanimity across all different types of people, and understand it's not less, it's just different. So it's just, I saw…
SA : You know, a lot of companies look at diversity as a dashboard that they have to report to their board. We don't look at it. For me, diversity is a way of life. Right now, we have a program that hopefully, you know, it's been my dream to have this program, which hopefully will get launched in 2023, where we want, you know, now that anyone can work from home. You know, the last two and a half years have proven that we are trying this pilot out in Singapore. And if it works, we are gonna roll it out globally, where we want to take the work to people who actually want to work but cannot come to the office for work, for example, people with handicap; I mean, they are mentally fit. They can work, you know, single moms, you know, just because…. they can work.
So why can't you take the work to them? Elderly population people. I mean, 70% of our business is healthcare. No one understands healthcare better than, you know, that set of profile of the population. So why not take the work to them? Right? And, just so we keep thinking of different ideas, we don't stop at saying, "Okay, diversity is only what's your men versus women ratio, you know? That's it. I mean, for us, it's, "How can we push the boundaries? How can we do things that are innovative? How can we do things that are different and, most importantly, do things that are disruptive, right? I truly believe that, you know, great companies are formed when they think ahead of the curve.
Yes, you take bets, right? Yeah. Will you will succeed in all? Absolutely not. But, you know, whatever you do succeed in, you know, you will make an impact and you will make a difference. At the end of the day, we are in the business of creating jobs globally, right? And when we say we wanna create jobs globally, you should be able to employ as long as they are qualified for the job, irrespective of, you know, what their physical status is or their age is. You should give them a chance to work.
LC : Let's talk about the jobs [laughs], let's go into it. So, the jobs themselves, the functions of the jobs, let's talk through them, the industry, and then the necessary components of what you need what others should do when they apply to get these jobs. Tell us more about that.
SA : So, what's the basic DNA of what we do? The basic DNA of us is to resolve customer problems. That's why we exist. We exist to make our customers customers happy. When I say customers, customers, cause we are a B2B2C consumer a provider, sorry. So what's the biggest space that we play in? We play in the healthcare space in the US, which, as you know, is very wide. Now imagine you have a customer who calls you and says, "My father has just had a heart attack. I would like to know how to activate my insurance policy. At that time, I, as the champion, am a mentor to that person. I'm a guide to that person. I'm a friend to that person. I have to call the ambulance or ensure that the hospital has all the records.
I have to talk to the insurance company. I have to talk to the hospital. At the same time, I have to tell this person don't worry. Everything will be okay. That's a very complex transaction that our people do. You know, and you can't really can't define that because, at the end of the day, you know, you are saving a life.
You're making a huge impact to someone's life. Let's give you another example. You know, we have a very large airline customer. You know, no one wakes up in the morning and says, "Let's call them and have fun.” No, they're calling you. because they have a problem. When someone calls and says, "Listen, I lost my baggage," I'm gonna break it on like the most simple example. At that time, all they are looking for is some help and guidance on can you help them on where their bags are, because that person could be on holiday and is now stuck with no stuff, right? And that's what we do. You know, we help people and make a difference to their life and try and take away the problems that have existed.
LC : What's cool about what you said is the complex transaction interaction that you have with that individual, it's both technical and human at the same time. And often doctors have that with patients. They have to give bad news. They also have to help them to work with the challenges that are before them, after the bad news, and work through that kind of grief process. Sounds like it's something similar with you and the folks that you place into these jobs and having that balance between technical and personal.
SA : Absolutely. And that's why for us, empathy is probably one of the skill sets that we look at, that every leader, especially my leadership team and their teams, have to have. This is not a place where an individual contributor will thrive. You know, there are other jobs that you can go to. You have to be a team player. You have to work together as a team.
The importance of working as a team really, you know, makes the differentiation in our industry, right? And that's been a biggest differentiator at Everise. You know, we don't shy away from you know taking tough calls, and a lot of times a tough calls is not because the person wasn't performing. It's basically because the person wasn't a team player at a leadership role. and we'll have a very open conversation. People also think that letting go of people is something bad.
Actually, I think the worst thing is you being in the wrong job is the most miserable thing any person can do. And sometimes, you know, if you guide that person and say, "You know what? You're not made for this, but go do this. You know, sometimes it's great. I mean, you know, when my team asks me, I mean, it's 12:30 in the morning out here, and they say, you know, will you do this late? I would love to do it, you know, because I'm very passionate about what I do. You know, time doesn't matter, you know, because we have some champions somewhere in the world talking to our customers right now.
LC : You know, it's so true in that having that global perspective ability to huddle and realize that there are some people who have different requirements in life, and maybe they are not in the right job. And goes to that very principle and value that you had, which is meet the employee where they're at, right? Meet them where they're at. Otherwise, you're just basically pushing them into something they may or may not want to do.
SA : In our industry, we do a lot of town halls, right? And town halls are really, when I go visit offices, you know, get a bunch of people together, or I'll do them virtually. And I actually start, I said, listen, if you wake up in the morning and you don't feel motivated to go for your work, either fix that problem or change your job; it's not the end of the world. And most people think, "Oh my God!" Okay, yes, there are, you know, there are obviously financial considerations. I'm not gonna take that away, but I truly believe that if you do something where your heart is in it, the results will be way more, and that job will be way more financially rewarding to you.
LC : So I'd like to end the shows by asking a question of CEOs saying so that you could speak to other CEOs, other leaders, and say to them, "Well, if you wanna lead a Most Loved Workplace, this is what I recommend you do every day, every day, do this one practice.” You know, I call them asanas or practices, right? That every single day, what would that thing be, that one practice that you recommend everybody they should do to make a Loved Workplace?
SA : I'll actually say two, but the first one, which is the most important, which I recommend that every leader is irrespective whether you wanna be in the top, most hundred places to work at or desire at, or if you just wanna lead a good company, is, you know, as leaders, as a CEO, I spend most of my time interviewing people. That's what I do. I probably interview, on an average, 10 to 12 candidates in a week, right?
My fundamental message that I give everyone is, when you find someone good, hire that person. If you don't have a role for that person, create a role and hire someone who is smarter than you. Don't shy away from hiring someone who will outshine you because when they outshine you, you will look better, right? And the second, which I would like to end with, is, as a leader, most important is be humble. because designations can be taken away like this. But what will never be taken away from you is your personality or your attitude towards life.
LC : I love that. That's such good. It's great advice. You know, we can have the title of CEO all we want, but there could be somebody new down the road or somebody else that needs to come in. We're in a title, we're in a role, a position. So staying humble and ensuring that we're in front and bringing in people that we know have capability, we have tremendous amounts of responsibility to be that global steward. Wonderful advice. It's just what was wonderful advice you've told. So you've said so much wonderful things today that will help so many people. And you lead a wonderful company that is definitively Most Loved, Sudhir Agarwal, thank you so much for joining us from Everise. Thank You.
SA : Thank you, Louis. Thank you. Have a good day. Bye.