According to data at Gartner, 91 per cent of all businesses around the globe are engaged in some form of digital initiative. The World Economic Forum estimates that no less than $100 trillion will be added to the world economy by 2025 through digital transformation alone. In India, IT spending is expected to shoot up to almost $102 billion by the end of 2022.
These staggering numbers reiterate how the relationship between digital technology and business has never been more important. Or more profitable. As a leader in the field of digital transformation, Manoj Harbhajanka is well-versed with the ways in which technology is changing what it means to build and better products and services. After a successful career in management and consultancy, Manoj began his own entrepreneurial journey in 2016 with digital transformation consulting firm Acuiti Labs, headquartered in London.
My Kolkata caught up with Manoj to help navigate the digital domain. Edited excerpts from the conversation follow.
Kolkata is an amazing place to dwell in knowledge, culture, sports or spirituality
Manoj during his days as a voluntary police officer for Kolkata Police at LalbazarManoj Harbhajanka
My Kolkata: Let’s start with your time in Kolkata. How much time did you spend here and what are your best memories in the city?
Manoj Harbhajanka: I was born in Kolkata and lived there until the age of 29, barring the time I spent in Pune (at the Maharashtra Institute of Technology) for my graduation. I have very fond memories of Kolkata. For me, family means Kolkata, friends mean Kolkata. My schooling was from Kolkata, which means I have far too many memories to recount from my school days. I love the rains and the mild winters of Kolkata. It’s an amazing place for anyone who wants to dwell in knowledge, culture, sports or spirituality. I was lucky to get all of them from Kolkata and to have the sphere of influence I did in the city.
I still have a lot of friends in Kolkata. I connect to a few on a regular basis, while with the others I’m in touch mostly through social media. More importantly, we have a very large family and most of them are in Kolkata.
What are the things you miss the most about the city?
I miss my family most nowadays. I also miss those intellectual conversations on any topic from sports to religion with literally anyone from a bus conductor to business leaders. It’s really easy to get anyone to voice their opinions in Kolkata. The fact that I miss the food in Kolkata goes without saying, especially the sweets, which are simply out of this world!
Park Street and a round of golf at RCGC
Manoj tries not to miss out on his customary golf at RCGC when in KolkataTT archives
How often do you come down to Kolkata and what are the must do/must visit/must eat… for you when here?
I visit Kolkata almost every two months (with the pandemic period being an obvious exception), especially to see my ageing parents. They are my priority at the moment. Otherwise, I like going out to parties with friends and definitely visit the restaurants around Park Street. A round of golf at Royal Calcutta Golf Club is usually on the cards, too.
The core skill was understanding business and business language
Manoj completed his bachelor’s in engineering from the Maharashtra Institute of Technology in PuneMIT Pune
Did you find your background in engineering (BE from the Maharashtra Institute of Technology) useful when you switched sectors to business management and consulting?
My BE from MIT, Pune, taught me a lot of things beyond academics. The four years in Pune taught me about life itself. This degree, along with my upbringing in a business family, gave me the confidence to lead teams, manage businesses and shine in every role that I took up. Switching sectors came rather naturally, from being an R&D engineer for diesel engines at Kirloskar’s to working in the family business to becoming a business and IT consultant, they all seemed to link neatly from one to another. The core skill was understanding business and business language, whether it was from the mechanical engineering perspective or from the standpoint of technology.
Warwick Business School is an absolute star of an institution
Manoj describes the Warwick Business School as an 'absolute star of an institution'University of Warwick
How was your experience of doing an MBA from the Warwick Business School? What are the exclusive advantages of studying at Warwick or even at London Business School or MIT’s Sloan School of Management, from where you obtained degrees later on?
I enjoyed my time at Warwick. I’m convinced that it’s an absolute star of an institution. Everything was learned through case studies, application and peer group work. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to put all my learnings from previous years into well-defined tools from my MBA and then extend and extrapolate them in real life. My experience at MIT’s Sloan School and London Business School were quite similar, although I think I learnt the most from my time at Warwick.
Among your professional stints with large enterprises like PwC and BP and Unilever, which one taught you the most to be future-ready?
Without any doubt, it was PwC. I learned a lot as I was entrusted with a senior management role very early on in my stint with PwC. I led large teams of high-performing individuals and learnt so much on a daily basis. I believe that’s what helped make my entrepreneurial journey robust.
Manoj never doubted his decision to become an entrepreneur, learning a lot from his business background along the wayManoj Harbhajanka
It’s tough to break out of the mindset of monthly salaries and annual bonuses
How tough was it to take the entrepreneurial plunge after a high-performing professional career?
It was tough. One gets into the mindset of monthly salaries and annual bonuses and it’s tough to break out of that. The large corporate houses provide you with an umbrella of security and to take a tangential approach while leaving behind that security is difficult. However, my background of being from a business family and having a good understanding of what could go wrong was very helpful. Once I signed off from BP, I never looked back and never considered going back, not even during the toughest hour of my entrepreneurial journey.
Why the name Acuiti Labs? And how would you describe Acuiti Labs to the uninitiated?
Acuity means “sharpness of mind”. Having worked with some of the sharpest minds in the business and also having a keen interest in the latest technologies, I wanted a name which articulated what we stood for from the onset. Acuiti Labs is a specialist “order to cash” (O2C) consulting organisation for the services industry. Typically, we have subscriptions and usage-based models for revenue. We are among a select few organisations in the world that can deliver successful end-to-end projects of this nature. We leverage SAP technologies and some of our own IP to deliver value for our customers.
We have a lot of Acuitians who are from Bengal, including our CFO, CTO, HR head…
What kind of India operations do you have, based out of Pune and Bengaluru? Any plans for an office in Kolkata?
My first pick for an office in India was Kolkata. Unfortunately, I didn’t get enough traction for the skills in Kolkata when I first started in 2016. We have subsequently added a lot of Acuitians who are from Bengal, including our CFO, CTO, HR head and some other key players. Perhaps, we will revisit this in the near future. We have a significant amount of our consulting firepower in Pune and Bengaluru. We have a one-team approach across all global regions and people who are willing can easily move from one location to another.
According to Manoj, a people-first approach is at the heart of everything Acuiti Labs doesManoj Harbhajanka
As its founder & CEO, what is your vision for Acuiti Labs?
We’ve been growing exponentially for the last few years and we have a strong growth pipeline. However, that’s not the only objective for the organisation. We believe in enriching the lives of everyone we work with, especially our people. The growth and wealth generation is for all of us. We want to ensure that we live up to our core values and the key strategy strand of our people-first approach. In conventional terms, we’re on a great trajectory and we have some significant levers for growth and transformation.
For professional services business, depth will earn you respect
Manoj honoured with the Bharat Gaurav award at the French Senate in ParisManoj Harbhajanka
As a leader in the digital transformation domain, how do you think digital technology has transformed the consultancy industry? Have all the changes been for the better?
When I started my career, business defined the technology needs. However, things have changed dramatically since. We can now use new technology capabilities to define new ways of doing things, simplifying processes, automating processes and, in our case, introducing new revenue models and opportunities for increasing both the bottomline and the topline. Digital transformation in the new world is very interesting indeed. We often come across organisations which, based on their previous technology debt, don’t believe that their businesses can be transformed and automated. We love this challenge and enjoy delivering the transformation which significantly changes the way businesses are run and value is created.
Manoj encourages youngsters to find time for their hobbies and pet projectsManoj Harbhajanka
What professional advice would you have for youngsters who want to get into tech consultancy? What are the most important skills they should look to nurture, and how?
My advice would be to look at things from a long-term perspective. Do every job as if it was for a company you owned. Learn and perform at your best at all times. Rewards will come your way automatically. Sometimes it might seem that you’re putting in the hard work and not getting enough rewards, but eventually, it all adds up. Moreover, always find time for your hobbies and pet projects.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, is it better to have a core area of specialisation or is a wider, more generalist outlook a better bet for success? What matters more – depth or breadth?
For professional services business, it has to be depth. That’s what will get your “foot in the door” and earn you respect from your colleagues and customers. However, entrepreneurship is more than just specialisation and expertise. One will need to be prepared to cover all areas of the business, from office management, recruitment, learning and development to motivating teams, leading sales, delivering projects, finance management, dealing with regulatory bodies… it’s a long list. You might not be an expert at all of these, but you should be prepared to understand the critical elements and then develop a team whom you can delegate to and trust.
The warehouses of London will remind you of Strand Road in Kolkata
The warehouses in London are among the city’s lesser-known attractions, explains ManojUnsplash
You have been living in London for two decades now. What do you enjoy the most about the city? What are your recommendations in London that cannot be found in travel guides, for someone relocating to London from Kolkata?
London is a great city and I love it. It transforms so rapidly that if you haven’t visited it for a few years you might be excused for assuming it’s a different city. It has something for everyone and I personally find lots of parallels between Kolkata and London, architecture being the obvious one. My advice to those coming to London is to mix with Londoners when here, there’s a lot to learn from the cosmopolitan culture of London. Enjoy the backstreets, they’re steeped in history. Find time for a lovely walk around the city and along the Thames. The walks are amazing and the warehouses will remind you of Strand Road in Kolkata.
I meditate a lot; that’s what keeps me sane in this busy world
In his free time, Manoj enjoys motorcyclingManoj Harbhajanka
What are your hobbies and interests? What do you do to zone out?
These days, time is at a premium. But golf and motorcycling are my current passions outside work. I meditate a lot, too. That’s what keeps me sane in this busy world.
Entrepreneur, Strategy & Technology Advisor, Non-Executive Director and Angel Investor… that’s how your LinkedIn profile describes you today. How do you think it will describe you in five years’ time?
I guess there will be more on philanthropy and spirituality in the years to come.