CEO of Nastrac on winning Entrepreneur of the Year 2015

From humble origins in the 1990s, Nastrac has grown into a global consultancy firm. CEO Nina Alag Suri explains how she built the company from the ground up

Nina Alag Suri, winner of our Entrepreneur of the Year for the Consultancy Sector, Asia, 2015 

Nastrac has been around now for 18 years. Within this short time, spanning less than two decades, it has grown to become a multi-award winning organisation that specialises in providing business solutions through strategic hiring and consultancy services in the hi-tech, banking and financial services sectors. Working with its clients, Nastrac uses tools unique to the organisation to find the best person for the job through its wide network and premier hiring processes.

Nastrac was founded back in 1997 in New Delhi, India, by the firm’s Founder and Group CEO Nina Alag Suri, our Entrepreneur of the Year in the Consultancy Sector, Asia, 2015. “I decided to quit my senior job at a technology firm and go entrepreneurial”, Suri told World Finance. “With a gut full of passion and enthusiasm and just $1,000 investment, Nastrac was founded in my garage. It was founded out of strong belief and the will to make a difference.” Her reasoning for starting the firm is that she “always wanted to be a creator as opposed to being a follower and believed I could set up an organisation where I could have the autonomy to explore my potential as opposed to being restricted to a job in a corporate environment”.

With a gut full of passion and enthusiasm and just $1,000 investment, Nastrac was founded in my garage

The initial $1,000 to invest in the new company allowed Suri to purchase a computer for $800 and a mobile phone for $100, giving her the building blocks for her new firm: “I was in business!” The firm was built from block to block and relied upon tapping into the goodwill Suri had created in the market during her professional corporate years. And from there on the work spoke for itself.

According to Suri, “Strong and positive referrals from clients won me the word-of-mouth marketing and hence the business. I always hired people who were like-minded, entrepreneurial and driven. People who challenged the status quo and hated mediocrity, this helped keeping an extremely energised environment and the quest to constantly re-invent ourselves.”

Smart strategy
One of the key early strategies of Nastrac was to expand its footprint continuously, with each new office going on to fund the next. This strategy also helped them win business with the same clients across many markets. According to Suri it allowed the firm to “cross leverage our existing contracts and relationships and with minimal business development activities we managed to get and grow our business”.

Secondly the company adopted the strategy of working closely with a select few clients. The philosophy behind the idea was to do “more business with the same clients”, as opposed to working with a huge number of clients and not really going deep into that organisation. This, Suri noted, “was another strategy that worked in our favour. It helped us strengthen our relationship and working equations with our clients.”

There are inherent risks to such a strategy – however only for a firm not up to the task. “This can be a risky strategy if we were to have a disappointed client in one location, it can jeopardise the entire relationship across all offices”, Suri said. “However our strong value of ‘fanaticism for quality’ ensured we kept customer delight as our paramount priority.”

Another part contributing to Nastrac’s success has been its strong team. “Nothing can be achieved without a good team. Hiring a like-minded, entrepreneurial team was key to building a strong work force that resonated the same values and commitment to quality”, said Suri.

Nastrac is truly an entrepreneurial and innovative company in how it manages its staff and workforce. Every person – irrespective of what function he or she manages in the organisation – has an incentive plan which rewards their efforts. Everyone is entitled to earn equity based on their performance and contribution to the organisation. According to Suri, this meritocratic and performance-based system of remuneration “has been key to retaining good staff and there are some in the company who joined in the early years back when company was founded”.

Early embrace of technology
Asia is increasingly leapfrogging other continents in becoming a centre of digital technology. The emergence of high-speed internet and affordable IT products have increased the speed of producing results multi-fold. The emergence of social media has also transformed the way recruitment business is done. Prior to the present hegemony of social media, the focus was all on finding who was doing a particular job in the target company, whereas with social media all the information is available online and recruitment firms now need to outsmart their competitors with speed and quick turnarounds. “At Nastrac, we decided to become domain advisors as opposed to just résumé pushers. We aim to deal with business problems through human solutions. All their directors and consultants are domain experts and [the] majority come from having worked in the industry for our client organisations and like me decided to use their industry knowledge and experience on the other side of the table”, said Suri.

Suri is an electronics engineer and describes herself as a “semi geek”. As a result, technology has always been a very important part of the company’s operating and strategic model, even in the internet’s infancy, when it was not so prevalent. “There has always been an endeavour even from the early days, when technology was not as advanced as it is today, to try and automate any parts of the operation and help speed things up and ensure accuracy of results”, she said. When the business was started in 1997, email was rudimentary and internet connections were sluggish at best. Suri recalled how, at the time, there was more reliance on phones and business continued to be very local.

This became a huge differentiator for forward-looking Nastrac. Use of the internet, slow as it may have been at the time, allowed for the capability of working across multiple geographies for the same client. This was a huge advantage as it ensured that the client didn’t have to worry about dealing with multiple companies for its various offices and ensured uniform quality standards across their locations. Suri has taken her experience with technology to provide an additional, complimentary business to Nastrac: “I have recently setup a technology start-up which aims to utilise the 18 years of working knowledge in the search industry and develop a product which hopes to increase predictability of good hires using data analytics and cloud technologies.” It is hoped that this will be able to be offered to Nastrac’s clients mid-2016 onwards, with the hope that it will revolutionise the way recruitment is done.

Gender equality
Another core feature of Nastrac is its commitment to ensuring gender equality. “For one, within Nastrac employees are hired purely on merit”, Suri said. “There is a very healthy diversity both on the gender front as well as backgrounds and nationalities creating an extremely vibrant and fun environment.” Suri herself said that she is personally committed to the cause of re-employment of women after maternity breaks. “It is very disturbing to see extremely talented and well-educated ladies who took a conscious family break but now don’t know how to get back to the workforce.”

Nastrac helps women who have left for maternity leave “build back their confidence and self confidence by role playing and preparing them for interviews as well as counselling”. The firm also try to educate their clients to keep an open mind to options such as remote working and flexi-time in order to help get women back into the workforce. Nastrac also adopts these working methods. “Flexi hours, remote working, working from home and very flexible working conditions set the right example and help us in our conviction to be able to sell the concept to our clients”, said Suri.

The next four years are extremely critical for Nastrac’s growth. It has an aggressive growth plan, with the business aiming to increase by another eight offices – four in US, one in Canada, one in Central Europe, one in Eastern Europe and one in the Middle East. The firm has also created a new programme for leadership building within their current workforce called “Gen-Next”. This puts “promising next level and potential leaders on the radar and focuses on working to develop them to take leadership roles as we expand”, explained Suri. Nastrac are also extremely commited to youth employment and hence developed an internship programme across all their offices. Each office of Nastrac has been mandated to have a certain number of interns at any point of time. Suri said that through these internships, “we hope to add to experience and learning of the young students and also absorb the most talented and interested ones as our permanent staff on successful completion”.