Sushant Gupta & The Emerging ESG Paradigm for a Sustainable Future
"The concept of sustainability is timeless; the focus on it, however, has heightened over the last few years, and rightly so," Sushant Gupta.
A serial entrepreneur and social investor, Sushant Gupta is an MBA from INSEAD and Bachelor’s in Technology from IIT Delhi. He developed his global outlook, cross-domain expertise, service-oriented perspectives, and result-driven mindset, having worked with several multinationals such as Siemens, Schlumberger, and Monitor across India, the UK (United Kingdom), the Middle East, and Norway before he founded SG Analytics.
Sushant, the Founder and Chairman of SG Analytics (SGA), is an active supporter of Isha Foundation, Sampark (an NGO that helps economically disadvantaged women), and is an investor with Aavishkaar, the world’s first rural venture capital fund group. In a conversation, Sushant shared his journey so far and his plans for the future. Excerpts:
Q – How has your entrepreneurial journey been? What challenges did you face along the way, and how did they help you shape the SGA story?
Sushant Gupta – As a serial entrepreneur, I’ve founded a few start-ups before SGA, which is by far my most profound labour of love. Prior to SGA, I co-founded CitiKey – a technology firm that developed the world’s first mobile city guide with location-based services integrated with digital maps. Born a couple of decades ago, CitiKey happened to be the likely predecessor to the present location-based digital map technologies and services. As its CEO (Chief Executive Officer), I led CitiKey from its prototype development to its business operations across 13 European countries.
How did the story of SGA begin? Through pure serendipity. In 2007, a friend called from the U.S. regarding a project that required analysts. My friend wanted a handful of good referrals for the job, and I suggested a few names. As things were to be, all those references didn’t work out, and my friend asked me if I’d be interested in taking up the project. I remember, at the time, I thought, ‘Why not?’ and today, when I look back, it feels almost like a call of destiny; SGA is what I was supposed to be building, so I got right to it, and here we are.
As serendipitous and spontaneous as the beginning of SGA was, there were enough curveballs along the way, each rich with its lessons, helping us strengthen as a company – for example, the financial crisis of 2008. We were just a few months old as a firm, moving into a 1000-square-feet new office with 17 wide-eyed, eager team members when the stress and anxiety came knocking. We simply hung on for 3–4 years, the revenue skimmed around a million dollars or two, and we could expand our team to only 50. Our steadfast spirit and, more importantly, the trust and support of our clients gave us the much-needed impetus to bounce back. I also had the unrelenting support of a few incredible people. My wife Parminder Kaur, aka Simi, was my rock through all the tough times and my long-time friend and co-founder of SGA, Ahmed Hakki, who manages our European business. Simran Wadhwa, now a Partner with the firm and one of SGA’s first employees, has been instrumental in onboarding and managing some of our oldest and most strategic clients too.
What we learnt from all the challenges we faced in our early years is what is now the very core of SGA – our people, our clients, and society, and all our endeavours – to make life possible for our stakeholders with complete ease, joy, and grace.
Q – When did you come across the concept of ESG or Sustainability? How long has your company been involved with it?
SG – The concept of sustainability is timeless; the focus on it, however, has heightened over the last few years, and rightly so.
With respect to SGA particularly, our approach toward sustainability and ESG revolves around building a ‘thriving’ company that is regenerative, especially from the point of view of all our stakeholders, including our future institutional and retail investors, post our planned IPO in 2025. Consequently, we have identified ESG services as a key offering for SGA, powered by our core belief that not only should we become accountable for ourselves, but we actively partake in the global movement toward creating a more sustainable world by enabling our clients to become more accountable and ESG compliant.
SGA has been an early starter in introducing ESG as a service offering. It has been seven years since ESG services have been a part of our core offering, as well as being one where we are witnessing tremendous potential for growth and sustainable impact. Q – How has SG Analytics’ vision moved toward sustainability with a concerted focus on ESG?
SG – At SGA, our vision is to build a regenerative business that harbours its people, clients, and society at its core. We are committed to sustainability by being accountable for ourselves and enabling corporates and investors to move forward in the ESG journey through our services. That is the bedrock of our unyielding focus on ESG.
We work with some leading sustainable investors, ESG rating firms, and data platform providers. Together, we develop an in-depth view and understanding of how to approach and solve critical ESG issues. These engagements and ensuing learning resonated with us profoundly and were instrumental in driving us to develop solutions and products for corporates and investors.
Q – What do you think the future of ESG looks like? Do you believe advancement in technology will change the face of ESG?
SG – The future of ESG is no longer an abstract construct or something that people consider outside of core business; it will and has already become an immediate priority. Since conscious consumerism is in, corporates that aren’t reading this trend will be left behind by those that do because ESG is not just a public pledge to move a business toward net zero in the future. I also believe that the future charter of ESG will be championed by women leaders in corporate roles, from operations to governance, across all levels.
Regarding advancements in technology changing the face of ESG, I feel technology is not just critical; technology is the only answer. That said, the future of ESG concerning technology is going to evolve very fast, especially the ‘E’ – the environmental aspect. Technology will play a more preventive role in the ESG paradigm as opposed to the corrective one. Newer, technology-enabled models will limit and prevent negative externalities at the very outset of economic activity.
Q – We often associate ESG with environmental movements; what does the social part of it signify?
SG – I believe the ‘S’ in ESG, the ‘social’ paradigm comprising society at large, has been an indisputable, quintessential imperative for businesses long before the tidal wave of ‘ESG’ swept it back in focus.
The way I see it, we run businesses, benefitting from society – fortunately, we are now increasingly cognizant of our responsibility to ensure that our businesses operate and for society. Indian businesses are successful because of a thriving society they can tap into. I suppose, once we fully comprehend this concept of society’s indispensability, the ‘S’ in social for modern-day businesses becomes a vital reality, a natural connection, and we begin to find ways to give back to society.
‘Giving back, in my purview, comprises two standpoints; the first being of a more ad hoc nature, such as providing support in crisis-like situations, and the second being an institutional paradigm towards giving. For example, during the COVID-19 crisis at SGA, we supported many relief programs, including the ‘Ek Nishchay’ started by us in association with the Rotary Club of Pune, Bibwewadi. As part of this initiative, we provided ration kits and essential medicines to nearly 60,000 individuals worst affected by the pandemic in and around Pune city. We are also committed supporters of Sadhguru’s Isha Foundation (Isha Vidya, Rally for Rivers) and Sampark NGO. Recently, we have also set up a not-for-profit entity, Param Nishchay Foundation, to undertake more institutional programs as part of our effort to give back to society.
Another critical aspect of the ‘S’ in ESG is the people. To ensure our people thrive along with SGA, we instituted a Profit Share Plan (PSP) in 2021. A share of the company’s profit is distributed among our employees, irrespective of their seniority, to instil a sense of belonging and ownership. We are also a GPTW-certified company with a gender diversity ratio above 40%. We are working toward improving this ratio further, especially by hiring talented women professionals in all roles, including the C-suite level. Recently, we onboarded Dr. Kiran Bala as our Chief People Officer. She is driving an agenda to make SGA a preferred employer of choice. A Sustainability Committee has also been instituted to raise awareness and enable the firm to achieve its sustainability goals.
Q – Where is SGA headed? How do you visualise the firm five years down the line?
SG – 5 years may seem like a while away, but a lot is going to change in 5 years.
SG Analytics is headed down a transformational path toward being a ‘source’ company, a thriving, regenerative source of ‘ease, joy, and grace for all our stakeholders, including our people, clients, and society. As we move along this path of a breakthrough with great resolve, I see SGA thriving – transforming from being an entrepreneur-led to a professionals-run firm while keeping its core intact.
Toward that goal, we have and continue to onboard accomplished and experienced senior leadership members, including Sid Banerjee, our new CEO who joined SGA recently, along with our Chief Operating Officer (Biswanath Choudhury), Chief Marketing Officer (Kulwinder Singh), Chief People Officer (Dr. Kiran Bala), and Chief Digital Officer (Shefali Raj). These new sets of inspired leaders will assume greater responsibilities for making SG Analytics an important player in solving critical business problems for our customers. Amid this transformation, I see SGA becoming a preferred employer of choice for a young talent pool comprising millennials and Gen-Zers, working in business-critical functions.
On the company culture front, I see us embracing our values unequivocally and staying true to the spirit of our brand promise, Life’s Possible, always.
I also envision SGA to be among the best in our lines of business, wherein we are differentiated for the quality of our service and our approach to solving our client’s business problems. Combining research and analytics, our solution-oriented approach will come to the fore. Above all, I see SGA co-creating enduring value for all its stakeholders.