The technology and financial services landscape can be tough for a woman – pardon the stereotype, but the aggressive nature of the job, coupled with travel and bending over backwards for the client is in general very demanding for someone who wants to achieve a work-life balance, especially one who wants to be dutifully involved in every aspect of it. Life is a marathon, not a sprint, and no one knows this better than our next woman of substance, Sejal Lakhani-Bhatt, CEO of TechWerxe. Armed with a razor-sharp brain, street smarts, a penchant for success and the ability to fit in anywhere, this superwoman entrepreneur is blazing her own trail, leading her company with flair and aplomb, all while managing a family and cultivating her own passions. Let’s find out more about her journey and what makes her who she is.
AM: Hi Sejal! Welcome to TWI’s Woman of Substance Series! Let’s start with where you’re from and your academic background.
SLB: I was born in Queens, grew up in Scarsdale and went to school at SUNY Buffalo. I enrolled in Engineering and proceeded to fail every Science class I took! So, I transferred to a major in Business with a focus on Economics and legal studies and a minor in dance. I had initially thought of going to law school afterwards – specifically entertainment law. I even took my LSATs. But the thought of 50-80-hour weeks was certainly not appealing to someone who wanted marriage and kids and a balanced life.
AM: Long question. Tell us about your journey from the entertainment world to CEO.
SLB: I joined the workforce as a paralegal with USA Cable. I vetted all the shows and interviewed the chip n dales and work like that. From there I joined BMG media, worked for P. Diddy in fact! It was a great area to work in. But then I wasn’t sure of my career path, so I quit and took time off to do volunteer work in India.
Soon after, I received a call from a recruiter who was looking for someone to do financial reconciliation for Merrill Lynch. I started within a week, things clicked well with the manager and I found myself on the trading floor within 3 weeks. My manager was my first mentor and she’s a brilliant woman – I am still in touch with her. So, I did the Series 7 stockbroker exam and became a trader. I worked for a number of banks from 2001-2012.
Throughout the banking career, I did many jobs and worked all around the world. I worked in trading, to front office projects to compliance to a whole host of other fun jobs! I also had the pleasure of working all over the world – Tokyo for 6 months, London for a year, Hong Kong for 3 months, Singapore for 3 months. Lucky for me I had many women managers who backed me. I was promoted many times over and able to get significant bumps in salary. I worked up the ladder, managed global teams and in the meantime had my first child in 2008 and my second in 2011. I breastfed my babies for a year, and even when I travelled once a year to London, I would pump every 3 hours and freeze. These were fruitful jobs but very long days – sometimes 5.30am to 11pm.
When I became pregnant with my first child, my husband was working at an IT firm. He started his own company during that time – TechWerxe, this was during the economic downturn. In 2011, we had our second child and began work on a new house in Livingston. We moved into the new place in September of 2012 and then in November I quit my job. I had come to a point where I could not figure out why I was doing all this. Was my goal to become Executive director, then a Managing director? When would I spend time with my kids when all I was doing involved more face time with clients and more work politics? So, one day I quit and went home, and I was not scared to do so. I figured I was fairly young and employable, and so, I took 3 months off. I had lunch with friends, time with my kids, time to pick up and drop off the kids etc. I helped out with my husband’s company. I took time to get PMP certified, Agile certified and become a Scrum Master. And that’s how 2013 went.
In 2014, I joined TechWerxe. He was better off on the technical side, and I was the face of the company doing sales and marketing and handling clients. That way we had separate responsibilities and did not step on each other at work.
AM: What does your company do and what kind of IT support do you specialize in?
SLB: We are a managed service company – meaning, we become the IT departments for small and medium businesses and we supplement those for larger businesses. We have had the honor of being names in the top 500 IT companies in the nation for the last 4 years and the top 100 Cyber Security companies for the last 2 years and a whole host of other awards.
AM: How has the IT landscape changed over the years in terms of outsourcing?
SLB: It is huge – the benefits of outsourcing your IT to a company have grown 10x. The landscape is so quick to change, that a company does not have the time to train and keep up with everything. As the CEO of an IT company, it’s my job to know what’s going on and keep my staff trained!
AM: Who are your typical clients and where are they located?
SLB: Our clients are from any industry and any company that has 20+ people. About 95% of our clients are located in New York and New Jersey. We also have global clients through glowing referrals. We provide services like cloud and cybersecurity.
AM: What do you think about the bitcoin craze?
SLB: Cryptocurrency is unstable, and like everything else it is going to blow.
The biggest misconception is that small and medium businesses do not get hacked. That is FALSE. You are 10x more likely to get hacked if you are a company between 10-100 people. Most companies do not have the right tools in place to prevent a breach or recover the data once breached. And even worse, is that due to risk of losing their reputation, most small and medium businesses wont report it.
AM: How do you balance life as a mom and an entrepreneur?
SLB: I don’t balance! I have never found the “right” way to balance being a mom, wife, entrepreneur, philanthropist and the 100 other things I do. My priorities change hourly, daily, weekly, monthly – and sometimes, I even prioritize myself!
I don’t feel guilty about that. I am present where I am. I am addicted to my phone. I have a good social circle. I like networking, getting that social energy and going out for drinks.
AM: We know you have had several mentors who have helped shape you and your career. What would you say to being a mentor yourself to other women entrepreneurs?
SLB: Wow! I think we all have a lot to give and equally a lot to learn. I know there are women who I have helped along the way – but they have helped me immensely as well. I believe it’s imperative for women to lift other women.
AM: Are you part of any networking groups – within NJ or outside of?
SLB: Yes. I am part of several mastermind industry groups. I am on the board for Entrepreneurs Organization of NJ and on the board for Connect 4 Business Exchange.
AM: What awards/certifications have you and your company achieved?
SLB: We and I personally have been honored and humbled with the awards we’ve won. We have worked hard to continue to be on the forefront of what’s happening, provide unparalleled service and provide value to the business as a whole.
When I came on I revamped the entire company. We re-structured the company in a way that allowed us to hire top talent and provide service levels that are not the norm in our industry. We are a proactive shop – meaning, we are fire prevention as opposed to fire-fighters. We have a very high level of clientele and all of our clients believe that IT is a needed part of their success. We built our own private cloud solution.
Our solutions are meant for clients who have some compliance needs (HIPAA, DFARS, NYCRR, NIST-800, etc.) or have some sort of confidential information or Intellectual property.
We have been names in the top 500 Managed Service providers in the nation for the last 4 years now. We have also been names in the top 100 in cybersecurity solutions in the world. As well as many other honors.
AM: Why would they outsource to you?
SLB: Our full-time job is to be your IT department. Most small and medium businesses cannot afford to hire the right level, nor the right amount of people to truly support their company. They end up not being able to keep ahead of the curve, or even up with all the new requirements. That said, all in all we are a fiscally better option.
Our clients don’t need to worry about benefits, training, vacation, turnover etc. We also have knowledge in a wide variety of industries and are able to pull best practices across the board.
To add to that, we have a huge network of peers that we are able to rely on. We are not the gurus in everything, but I never fail to get an answer. That plus my network of entrepreneurs is second to none. I literally have a guy/gal for everything!
Recently I was asked to be on the EO board – Entrepreneurs organization of NJ. We are a group of entrepreneurs (owner or founder) over $1M in revenue. We have over 180 chapters across the world and the network form that alone has been unparalleled.
AM: What causes do you believe in?
SLB: Two causes that I believe in – one is St. Jude’s. I have a close friend whose daughter was 8 months when diagnosed with cancer. She is 5 now. I am simply blown away with what they do for their people. They focus on well-being of the child. I support them on a financial basis.
The second is human trafficking, here in NJ. I am on the board of the NJ coalition against human trafficking and stay very involved. It’s the rich guys that are buying women and kids. I speak with survivors, educating motels and committees and help by bringing awareness to the issue.
AM: What else do you like to do in your spare time, if you have any?!
SLB: I dance and teach salsa. I did my arangetram when I was younger, and also learned ballet, ballroom, tap, salsa, waltz, hip hop and reggae.
I love traveling. In fact, we did a trip to Panama recently as a team building exercise. We hiked, did cliff diving, horse riding!
AM: Describe yourself in three sentences?
SLB: I am a what-you-see is what-you-get kind of person, very passionate, and aggressive with a mushy side. I don’t mince words – I am very blunt!
AM: Top 3 Business books you’ve read?
SLB: I’ve read so many – it’s hard to narrow it down to three. But these three I’ve implemented the most I would say. 1. Profit First 2. Language and the pursuit of happiness 3. Traction.
AM: What advice would you give women who are trying to fit in (or stand out) as part of these all-boys’ clubs?
SLB: Don’t stick to one sex or group – be yourself, but be aggressive and go after what you want. If all groups are all men, learn how to mingle and integrate. There is no way you are going to excel on your own, everyone needs help.
Own your own career and path in life. Be responsible and accountable, and most importantly, open-minded. Break through stereotypes. If there are 10 guys in a STEM business, you have to figure out how you are going to break through the glass ceiling. Improve your tolerance and deal with the crudeness, the cursing. I had personally never cursed before the trading floor. But I had decided to go ahead with it, and play the game, so I gave it a go. Be aggressive, be okay with traveling for work. And use your common-sense smarts, because that is what you need.
AM: Future plans?
SLB: Just keep going!!