Sanjay Shah ’89 MBA never imagined he would found a $250 million global software company. His aspirations, much like the man, were modest – to find a job in accounting and make his family proud. But providence favors the persistent, and before he knew it Shah would become not only a successful entrepreneur, but also a major contributor to the executive learning program at Lehigh Business, and the 2019 recipient of the prestigious Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
His family in Mumbai didn’t understand the need to venture 8,000 miles away to pursue an accounting career. But for Shah, he was intent on studying at the same place that had shaped his idol, the savior of the Chrysler Corporation, Lee Iacocca. And that, of course, was Lehigh Business. “He was an icon when there were no business icons,” says Shah. “And to this day, if anyone asked me what was on my bucket list, it would be an opportunity to meet him.”
Shah’s career began with a brief stint in accounting at Price Waterhouse and then General Motors, where he was introduced to what would become his passion, technology. This new fascination led to a position with SAP in Germany, and eventually to a new vision for helping organizations deploy their “go-to-market” capabilities.
Shah’s breakthrough idea was to advance the way companies manage their pricing, incentive, rebate, royalty and other channel programs by moving them away from spreadsheets to the fluid integration of an ERP system. The result was a better, faster, more transparent way to manage their business processes.
In 1999, Shah founded Vistex, Inc. in Chicago as the sole employee. Twenty years later, the firm has grown to 1,500 employees across 20 locations around the globe. With a portfolio of software offerings, the firm serves Fortune 1000 companies, such as Apple, Whirlpool and Coca-Cola. Most remarkably, Vistex has experienced positive, steady growth every year since its inception, with no operating losses and with no external funding – even during two major market downturns. A testament to the vision of the man in charge.
And for Shah, it all began with a dream to attend Lehigh, which he credits for preparing him for the world of business. “I came to the United States for Lehigh, and any opportunity that came to me downstream was because of my Lehigh Business education,” he says. Shah’s bedrock belief in Lehigh Business, and his own passion for lifelong learning, prompted a $5 million donation to elevate and name the Vistex Institute for Executing Learning and Research at Lehigh Business.
“I think with the rapid adoption of technology, there is an even more urgent need to skill or re-skill the professional workforce,” explains Shah. To differentiate its comprehensive educational solutions, “The Vistex Institute reaches beyond the traditional approach to executive learning by adding a strong original research component and greater focus on collaboration,” he says.
“We don’t sermonize based on a fixed body of management knowledge. It’s very collaborative. We equip businesses with the frameworks and insights they need – often customized for their professionals – to better prepare their teams for continued success.”
Shah’s generous spirit is not limited to Lehigh Business. In 2012 he founded The Vistex Foundation, which provides aid around the world, including programs for inner city children, the construction of a birthing center in Sierra Leone and plans for the largest hospital in rural India, currently under construction.
What’s next? Shah looks to the future with great anticipation and confidence in the promise of tomorrow. Like Lehigh Business, he represents the convergence of business and technology, seeking ways to push beyond. Currently his firm is focused on incorporating artificial intelligence and cloud-based technologies to provide greater insights for his business clients.
And the moonshot vision? To one day become the “Google for businesses,” sourcing information on virtually any company and industry in the world. Sound impossible? Not when you’re persistent like Sanjay Shah, the “accidental entrepreneur” who created a brand new industry.