pplications Software Technology (AST), based in Naperville, was ranked as one of America’s fastest growing private companies in 2014 by Inc. Magazine. AST Corporation is a specialized Oracle E-Business Suite systems integrator and helps customers realize their full potential in using Oracle applications. Pravin Kumar, founder and president of AST Corporation, and resident ping-pong champion, shares his thoughts on the driving force behind his company’s rapid growth and success.
What do you attribute to your success?
The recognition we received truly belongs to our employees who deliver our services with the highest level of professionalism and customer care. We find strength in the diversity of our employee base, work as a team, and maintain excellent customer relationships. In our 20 years of history, we have never lost focus on our core competency. As a result, 100 percent of our engagements have been successful; all of our customers remain reference-able and most importantly, we’ve never had to resort to layoffs. This has enabled us to maintain a steady growth, bring top-quality talent to our customers, and create a strong, collaborative work environment where people enjoy working together.
AST Corporation has been a long-term Oracle partner. What value does this relationship bring to your clients?
AST has been a specialized implementation partner for Oracle software since our founding in 1995. Today, we are a Platinum level partner with Oracle and a go-to partner in the industries we service. In order to participate at this level, we must maintain a high level of collaboration with Oracle, ensure that our resources attain certification, and prove that our customers are satisfied with our services.
Our long-term alliance with Oracle has enabled us to offer a full spectrum of services including implementation, upgrades, training and change management. Our customers benefit by a having a certified partner from whom they can buy Oracle products, receive training and find one-stop implementation, training and hosting solutions. Our specializations allow us to support any software that Oracle develops today including Enterprise Resource Planning, Business Intelligence, Enterprise Performance Management, Fusion Middleware, and Customer Relationship Management.
Many of our competitors have diversified to offer services in support of competing products, such as SAP, Microsoft, or Salesforce. By exclusively focusing on Oracle products, we have strengthened our relationship with Oracle and developed deep product and industry expertise. We leverage this to build value-added products for the industries we serve such as mass transit, airports, and municipal governments. Our specializations and industry focus ultimately result in better business solutions for our customers and help us differentiate ourselves in the marketplace.
Where do you see your biggest opportunity for growth?
As I mentioned earlier, we have been fortunate to withstand market fluctuations over the years and have had a steady growth over the last 20 years. However, in our fast-changing world, new paradigms such as cloud computing, big data and handheld applications are coming into play at a fast pace. It is not necessarily growth, but the adoption of change and our relevance to changing customer needs that leaders are worrying about.
At AST, we are concentrating on continually developing new capabilities with cloud computing solutions and newly-acquired Oracle products, such as Eloqua and Taleo. Finally, a significant growth area for us in the coming years would be an expansion into new industries that are adjacent to our current client base enabling us to attract complimentary customers. For example, our deep history of working with the public sector is enabling us to branch into the public and commercial utilities and service industries. Our workforce is continually being trained and certified so that we are prepared for changes in information technology. We have projected approximately a 30 percent increase in our headcount and revenue this year and remain enthusiastic about AST’s growth prospects in the foreseeable future.
What has been your proudest accomplishment so far in your career?
I have been gratified and humbled that AST has been the recipient of multiple awards and accolades over the years including Oracle Excellence Awards, Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies recognition, Chicago Tribune’s Best Workplaces awards and numerous client recognitions. Personally, the most gratifying accomplishments have been our workplace awards such as “best places to work” and “top workplaces.”
These awards are entirely based on feedback collected directly and anonymously from our employees and are a manifestation of our employee-centric culture.
I am also quite proud of the fact that despite the many market upheavals that AST has faced in our 20-year history, we’ve never had to lay off employees. We have instead provided creative avenues for our consultants to stay engaged during the lean times and develop internal systems and value-added solutions that can be reused at customer engagements. This has helped us develop a loyal and committed team that works well together and carries the AST brand proudly. It is not a coincident that almost 50 percent of recruitment is through employee referrals. Our track record of 100 percent customer satisfaction and numerous industry awards are truly a result of this key accomplishment.
Who do you admire as a business mentor or role model?
I have always admired leaders who demonstrate courage and foresight, and who encourage and empower their people to do great things. I have been inspired by Steve Jobs for his innovative thinking, encouraging his employees to innovate and take risks in the process. I admire him for maintaining his attention to detail even when he was a CEO and leaving his mark on everything that Apple brought to market. His hands-on approach enabled him to stay connected with his employees and read the pulse of his customer community. Outside the business world, I am a huge admirer of Abraham Lincoln for the self-confidence he exuded in surrounding himself with strong leaders who could challenge him and even be his distractors. He was not afraid of taking great personal and political risks for the greater good of the society.
What motivates you to start your day?
I am motivated by new ideas and ways to improve process efficiency and solve business challenges whether they are internal to AST or for our customers. Sometimes these ideas result in new system solutions that could benefit our productivity and at others times they might make our marketing or sales process a little better. But almost always, they involve and impact people and that is the interaction on which I thrive.Photo by Mike Hudson