Nitin Shah’s story starts from the time when technology was a word people were mostly wary of, when personal computers were a dream which only a few could think of. Developed in the West, computers were to change the life and picture of the world for the coming years and give India a booming Industry to harp on and later become leaders at. From the pre-PC eras is the story of one such enterprising being from Mumbai who took the reign of going digital and changing the way India would work the digital space. This is the story of a man whose skill and focus –singlehandedly–worked to give digital solutions to almost everything.
Born to a close-knit, educated and loving Gujarati family of South Mumbai, Nitin was the elder of two brothers. A hidden artist looking for creative solutions to everything Nitin grew up in a family that imbibed in the values of togetherness and effective business processes. As most visionaries and revolutionists identify their passions early, so did Shah. When he was as young as a class 7- boy, his interest in technology bent him towards learning technical drawings, mechanical tools and structures, etc. His father had valued education as much since he saw the worth it brought to his life and always supported his pursuits to focus on education. He found his kick in giving solutions to any problem that anyone was facing around him. His father, a stock broker back then identified that trait early on and advised him to study science and not follow his footsteps of joining the stock brokerage business.
Shah’s sharp mind and razor sharp focus made him crack the reputed IIT in first try without any preparation but a doting mother didn’t let him leave the city to join this residential programme and he opted for a college in his home city. “I think I had played with technical concepts and numbers so much that it came naturally to me and I had a very good working knowledge base which helped me clear the exam easily. It was no cramming, or studying for the exam. I was preparing for life and when you prepare for life, you rarely fail.”
He had wanted to study electrical or mechanical engineering and he enrolled into a top college in Mumbai, Veermata Jijabai Technological Institute. He finished his Bachelor’s in Engineering in Electronics from here in 1977. But what’s interesting to know here is that this was the first batch where computers were introduced and he took it head-on. He learnt the nitty-gritty about the machines and how the systems functioned and as it had to be, he excelled at it. Soon after which, he landed a job in CMC where he worked for six years.
Probably somewhere here is when life had decided his future goals and destiny. Shah had to identify and follow the path. “While I was in college, I got a chance to work on mainframe systems. The IT giant IBM was shut down due to political reasons as several mainframe companies took over. This is when I sensed a vacuum in the IT industry as there were hardly any other, especially Indian-owned IT service providers.” This was the start of a life-long mission to uproot all technical glitches and give India one of its finest new age digital services. This is the time when a computer would occupy the space of a room of about 400-500 sq ft. He landed a job with Computer Maintenance Corporation and was one of the first few persons in the country to lay his hands on an IBM PC, which is how PC Technology entered India. After which, networking, internet, cloud and wifi followed as things kept evolving.
Shah was aligned to leadership roles and high value clientele from the start. In 1984, the firm was catering to Maffatlal Consultancy Services that can be compared to the status of TCS today. A huge firm, which would face losses of INR 20-30 Lakh per hour, incase the systems stopped working. (Maffatlal did he work and intern in. Need to cross check). Nitin Shah had often handled this client out of his turn. His dedication and problem-solving streak would take an additional responsibility to fix their systems even if he had to work late nights.
Once, one of their components in the mainframe was not working and another agency was catering to the firm. No one could fix it and it had been two months! The company was facing huge losses. This is when their CEO called for Mr. Shah and asked him to help. A hesitant, but full of respect Shah went ahead to meet him. “I initially refused as I was working in another firm where I was working on digital equipments. This was in competition to the agency catering to Maffatlal. But after much insistence, I agreed and solved the problem in one day.”
This was the biggest opportunity knocking on his door and he was smart enough to welcome it with open arms. “It was because of my work that the company got so impressed that their CEO Mr. RS Bengali asked him to take the contract and start his own services.” Though he was shy and not as confident, Bengali’s one statement, “Nitin Bhai I have more confidence on you than you have on yourself,” made the difference and changed his life.
It was not a linear turn in his life. Coming from a conventional business family of Gujarati community, even though there was a business streak in the mind he was pulled by the perks of the new-in-culture, white collared job. As very few wanted to leave this kind of a lifestyle but he thought of taking the dip! This was because a lot of times, he was nagged about working in a job and not running a business. He finished his Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Management from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, Mumbai in 1983 and a few days later to that he got married to Pragna Ji.
And ever-since the wedding, his family and everyone else started pushing him to start the business. Though his wife told him just one thing, “Follow your heart and I am there with you”
Shah spent some time to calculate the risk and analyse the market situation. He saw a huge gap in the industry. “It was a vacuum left by IBM and we were targeting to fill in their shoes. The risk was huge but slowly I was courageous and I knew that I could do it. I just had to plan,” explains Shah. Year 1984, he marched on the entrepreneur journey with two persons, 250 sqfeet of space and INR 5000 as investment. Today he stands at the helm of the affairs of Allied Digital with the company’s presence in over 94 countries and a staff of 3000 and yearly turnover of 500 cr.
How did it happen? The constant innovation and a race to keep up to the market is the success mantra.
In the first phase, it was a profited oriented but a single-man driven company. They took on as many clients as they could, making as much profit as possible. This helped them create a huge corpus and they could expand in their second phase. The biggest clients they were Pfizer, Bombay Dying, Forbes Campbell, State Bank of India, Central Railway, et al.
Till 1993, the company expanded exponentially and Shah hired more and more people. He started to hire CXO level people. The company aimed at delegation and execution while taking burden off Shah and driving many more hands to build the pyramid of growth.
In 2001 they tweaked the strategy to focus on a growth strategy. They became picky and would only work on the following four principles: Networking, Hard disk storage, infrastructure management services, virus and information security. The most wondrous thing is that even though the world was hit by a recession. Allied Digital was the only firm hiring people because of the new strategies that were aiming at the future.
Smart strategies lead to smart growth and in 2007 they entered another phase of their business: inorganic growth driven. Two rounds of IPOs. (Initial Public Offerings) and they went on to acquiring two companies. One of them was a Bengaluru based company at seven times of the initial cost of acquisition. The other was a US based NASDAQ listed company in services division. Their IP was 69 times over-subscribed and they were rocking the stock market.
He realised that the company’s growth could not be stopped because of monetary constraints. In 2012, we realised that the next phase had to be transformation driven, which is the current phase too: The post-PC, digitised era where our lives our totally dependent on the digital. As the world was embracing the digital, Shah found a new age to transform the business.
Just as recently, Allied Digital was conferred upon with ‘India’s No 1 Brand Awards 2016’ in IT Services Category on from International Brand Consulting ( IBC) Corporation, USA and more importantly also the most coveted award for ‘The Best Safe City Project’ of India at India’s premier event ‘Smart Cities India Expo 2016’ in Delhi. With these several awards, Allied Digital is the front runner in making Safe & Smart Cities in India and making Digital India as per GoI’s very big initiative worth ₹98000 cr in next 5 years. In the last three years, Allied Digital has done several projects in the security services domain. For example, it has provided manage security services to one of the government bodies in the US, wherein it managed end user computing devices by providing DLP, Anti-Virus, and Anti-Malware solution. In the data center space, it has provided VA and PT for all devices. Allied Digital projects Indian security industry to be at an inflection point and only those players who have strong security practice will survive.
Safeguarding the systems of as many, Shah’s own mental peace comes from a family trust run in the name of his wife and mother’s name ‘PadmaPragya’ trust. Through this, they are trying to help the needy and educate the underprivileged children. A Jain temple and a dharamshaala has been built in Shahapur, near Mumbai. They also run a Khakhra centre too support women with livelihoods. This is managed by his younger brother’s wife.
This is his way of giving back to the society. In an untimely death, he lost the two most important women of his life. A young boy, he had come running from college, having stood first! Elated beyond his belief, he rushed home to tell his mother of achieving this. The moment he walked in, he realised his mother had died. That moment he learned the biggest truth of life: Never be too happy or too sad, because you don’t know what life will give you next.
In 2005, he lost his wife, Pragna in another unfortunate instance. Shah explains, “We were normally talking, everything was calm and fine. She held her body as her eyes widened and just uttered one thing: Take care of Nehal and Dhara.”
“Everything changed for me after that,” an emotional Shah adds. He had realised of how much less time he had been spending at home in the run to build this empire. And he started to give more time to his children, who were both still finishing school and college.
His NGO is an attempt to keep the memory alive of the women, who gave him strength at all junctures.
A caring son, a guiding father, an inspirational elder brother, a doting father-in-law, there are shades of Nitin Shah that the employees of Allied Digital can easily miss in his high rising, office at Nariman Point, Mumbai. But a mellifluous singer, an awarded theatre artist, a foodie, and a painter, are other colours of Shah that one cannot know about if you don’t know him very closely.
But ask Shah in one line who is he and he will proudly say, “In one line, I am a trouble-shooter, who doesn’t know how to give up.”
Nitin Shah is a member of Manufacturer’s Association of Information Technology and Traders Association of Information Technology and also holds a position in the Business Expert’s Panel in Indian Express publication.
Nominated in the Who’s Who of the World list, he won the International Professional of the Year in 2005.
Nominated for the 2006 Entrepreneur of the Year Award by Ernst& Young.
Shah is also recognized as the Big Daddy of Channels by DQ Channel. UDYOG RATNA Award by IES and as a Best Business Leader for the year 2011 by ITPV, Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Award as the Most Outstanding Entrepreneur, 2011 and been featured as Mr. Modesty in THE SPIRIT OF ENTTREPRENEURSHIP a Coffee Table Book by Bennett, Coleman and Company Limited (BCCL), his achievements don’t end.
Just as recently, Allied Digital was conferred upon with ‘India’s No 1 Brand Awards 2016’ in IT Services Category on from International Brand Consulting ( IBC) Corporation, USA and more importantly also the most coveted award for ‘The Best Safe City Project’ of India at India’s premier event ‘Smart Cities India Expo 2016’ in Delhi.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
A development Sector Professional who started her career in journalism with names like TOI and Tehelka. What inspires Megha the most are the stories of people who learned to fight, to make it large. As an editor for India’s Most Inspiring Success Stories, her aim has been to bring out the stories that inspire to aspire. And for her, it has only reaffirmed her faith in dreaming and achieving.