“History gives us witness to the fact that technology has always been the creator of many jobs,” said Chetan Dube, CEO of IPsoft, during a panel discussion at Crain’s New York Business Middle Market Forum. “The rate of change is alarming. You really have to be able to reskill your workforce to thrive in this new world order that is emerging right now.”
The discussion, which included commentary from executive leaders at Away, Bareburger, and Boxed, focused on the skills required for companies to succeed in competitive industries. Dube founded IPsoft in 1998. The company has grown into a 3,000-person operation focused on digital labor and the delivery of autonomic and cognitive technologies. During the panel discussion he advised companies to pay keen attention to the “digital Darwinistic curve emerging.”
“Banks and insurance companies are self-determining and saying, ‘Where do we wish to be on this digital Darwinistic curve?’” Dube said. “Do you wish to be an experimentalist? Do you wish to be a fast follower? Or do you wish to be a digital frontrunner?”
Dube cited a McKinsey estimate that predicts digital frontrunners, or those companies that are at the forefront of technology investment and implementation across lines of business, are going to have a 45% margin enhancement compared to digital laggards, which are going to have a 35% margin compression.
“An 80% spread between the digital frontrunner and the digital laggard is an existential threat for anyone who is not onboard the digital express,” said Dube.
The Culture at IPsoft
When asked how to define IPsoft’s culture and how he proactively maintains culture among employees in 18 countries, Dube said it all revolves around the company’s founding premise.
“I was an Assistant Professor at NYU,” Dube recalled. “The question that had haunted my research at the time was from Turing. He started his thesis by saying, ‘I propose for you to consider a question: Can machines think? What would the world be if the person sitting next to you in about 8 years you were not sure if it was a human or an android.’ That haunted my research and it was the genesis of IPsoft. Culturally that mission statement that we’re heading into a digital world where machines and man are coming together to form a more efficient planet is the undertone of all 18 countries we operate in. The culture at IPsoft is driven by, and passionate about, that future.”
Dube admitted founding and running a company based in New York City has its obstacles, but he said any of the challenges associated with New York City are outweighed by the access the city provides to talent.
“The pluses and minuses [of operating out of New York City] would be the classic Sinatra. If you can make it in NY you can make it anywhere,” he said. “The competition is a plus and the competition is a minus. The competition makes you edge yourself forward. If you’re in AI [Artificial Intelligence] or retail, you have to be the best to make it here. At the same time, you have operational expenses, and payroll expenses, which are quite high, but the pool of talent that you have in New York City is unparalleled anywhere else.”
How to Make It In New York
When asked whether start-ups should begin by building out a product or a management team, Dube recommended companies start with an idea that sets them apart from competitors.
“You have to have an idea, particularly in a market as competitive as New York,” he said. “You have to have a different offering. The first thing you have to think about is: What is going to be separate and different about you? Right now the digital under-currency is allowing new business models that were not possible to now gestate.”
In order to build a strong management team and recruit and retain top talent, Dube said he focuses on his employees’ career development and reinvesting in the company.
“We’ve brought in a bunch of people from McKinsey who’ve helped us develop leadership growth programs,” he explained. “This is something we didn’t do quite well early on in our company. Every person in your company needs to know how they are going to move forward. If they put in this much amount of effort, it’s your obligation to them to be able to chart out a clear pathway. If they put in this, they get this out of their return. That needs to be an organized program within the company.”
On finding the next wave of talent, Dube referenced IPsoft’s partnership with Penn State University, which is geared toward developing a curriculum that focuses on some of IPsoft’s core competencies, including cognitive technologies and autonomics.
“Universities can do a fantastic job in evolving their curriculum,” said Dube. “We are working with Penn State very actively to try and facilitate that. Curriculum has to evolve so that we’re not teaching the same thing that we were teaching. We have to start teaching cognitive technology, digital disruption, robotics—skills that the employees would need for tomorrow as opposed to things that were being taught a while back.”
Dube said the pace of industry change sometimes exceeds the pace of change in curriculum. However, if students had more access to automation, machine learning, and cognitive experts they would be better prepared to enter the workforce, and companies like IPsoft would be able to find the right talent to move industry forward. “It would be really helpful for us if universities started to match their curriculum to meet the needs of industry.”