Career Snapshot: Biju Nair, CEO of HYLA Mobile
VanillaPlus: What was your first job?
Biju Nair: Growing up in India, I manned a milk delivery booth. The milk would be delivered to a refrigerated tank by truck to our neighbourhood. I was given the job as they needed somebody that was quick at math.
I was responsible for taking money from customers, giving them the right change, and measuring out the exact amount of milk for them.
VanillaPlus: What led you into a career in telecoms?
Biju Nair: It started when I was doing my graduate work at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. I was looking at object-orientated programming and C++, and knew I wanted a job that would allow me to program using that.
A job became available at a company called SAFCO Corporation, for a software engineer that could build something brand new. During my interview, I convinced them that object-orientated programming was the way to do it. The job was in the telecommunications space, creating software for testing and analysing mobile networks. That’s how my career in telecoms started, and I haven’t looked back since!
VanillaPlus: Without naming and shaming, tell us about your worst ever boss
Biju Nair: Of course, there have been some moments, but I am probably one of the very few people that has been fortunate enough to not have had a bad boss.
VanillaPlus: What has been your most memorable business travel experience so far?
Biju Nair: On a business trip to Hong Kong many years ago, the sales team and I took some customers out to dinner to a restaurant of their choice. It was a very run-of-the-mill restaurant, with plastic tables and chairs. After assuring us that the food was going to be “off the chart” good, they insisted on ordering for all of us. One of the dishes was roasted pigeon head – there was six of them, beak and all, staring at us.
I remember looking at the plate wondering what I was going to do! It was a customer and I didn’t want to be offensive, so I tried it – but it went straight into my napkin with all due apologies!
While everyone had a good laugh at my expense, it created a great bonding experience – and I am still good friends with those customers today.
VanillaPlus: What has been the proudest moment in your career so far?
Biju Nair: It has to be launching the start-up Sapience. Sat around a kitchen table, I founded the company with Sanida Bratt (who I work with now at HYLA Mobile) and Sumeet Paul.
We grew the company slowly and steadily and within a year and a half, it was acquired. Starting the company from scratch and building tremendous shareholder value was one of the most fun things I have ever done.
At one point, we needed to scan and send something back to a customer, but we didn’t own a scanner. So we bought one, used it, and returned it before the 28 days were up! Those were the kind of things we had to do to make ends meet while trying to build a business.
Building that company in such a small amount of time to the valuation that we did, and the respect commanded from our investors and the acquiring company, was one of the proudest moments of my life.
VanillaPlus: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Biju Nair: Hopefully, I’ll be retired, on the deck of a boat, holding a drink with an umbrella in it! I’m not one of those rocking chair retired types, so I’ll still be involved in the communications industry in some way. Whether it’s in a specific vertical like healthcare or education, I would like to be doing something that benefits from all the advancements made in the mobile communications industry. But hopefully, more of my time will be spent on that boat than at a desk!
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