As part of our ongoing series, “Meet the Chief”, Signals took the opportunity to sit down with newly-appointed Comtech Chief Growth Officer Anirban Chakraborty to talk about his new role, how he thinks about the challenges ahead of him, and what excites him the most about technology’s potential.
Anirban’s journey at Comtech began in August 2018 when he was brought on as a part-time employee with one of Comtech’s business units. After three years of hard work and delivering great results for his customers, Anirban was promoted to Senior Vice President of Strategy and Development and, a year later, Chief Growth Officer.
Anirban’s professional growth within Comtech paralleled the company’s, but it was his customer-centric approach to business that most rewarded him professionally, and, he believes, is what will drive growth for Comtech for years to come.
Our first question for Anirban: since you’re the Chief Growth Officer, where do you see growth coming from?
“People usually think great growth is a miracle of engineering, but we have a huge collection of evidence that innovation for its own sake doesn’t always bring value to somebody’s life. Take the two biggest digital disruptions in the last few years, Uber and Airbnb. These are not companies that built marvels of engineering, or even technology (though technology is obviously crucial to each). But, they are two of the most explosive companies we have seen in years in terms of growth. At the same time, there are dozens of companies that have created amazingly complex products, but they have failed. Innovation and technology are certainly key components of growth, but unless they’re focused on a real problem – a customer problem – there’s a limit to their potential. At the end of the day, to me, growth is something that needs to be understood to have multiple ingredients.”
Innovation is a core element of Anirban’s professional persona and his vision for the future of Comtech: on his LinkedIn profile he refers to himself as a “technology cheerleader” and “geek-to-layman translator.” Consistent with his understanding of growth, Anirban has a unique outlook on new product development at Comtech that begins not on a blank drawing board, but with a clear analysis and understanding of customer needs. Instead of adopting a traditional sales approach to engineering products, which Anirban points out involves “checking boxes”, he places a heavy emphasis on truly engaging in meaningful conversations with customers.
“I’m oversimplifying, but in the engineering industry, the typical sales approach is presenting a product sheet that’s packed with specifications, engineering jargon, and three or four letter acronyms that confuse the heck out of that person,” says Anirban. “And look, companies are successful in doing that. What I really want that first conversation to be is not a pitch, but a diagnosis: let’s talk to the person about the outcome expected in his or her operations, without worrying about the products that enable the outcome. Let’s find out what you need, and then – because we’re experienced engineers – let’s tell you about the technologies that can provide the desired outcome. The customer buys something to get a job done and in most cases companies are selling a product or a service. It is very important to address the “customer’s job” instead of pushing the product or service. That’s essentially the geek-to-layman translation I’m talking about.”
By engaging in what he calls “powerful conversations” with customers and employees alike, Anirban aspires to anticipate the customer’s needs before they do, and bring to bear engineering resources and thinking to meet those needs. More broadly, this approach means Comtech is more than a vendor – it positions the company to become a true partner with its customers, a relationship that is critical when working with first responders and the military, for example.
Comtech’s newly-launched Innovation Lab is one of the ways Anirban plans to incubate and foster many of these powerful conversations. Announced in September of 2022, the Innovation Lab is designed to allow Comtech’s top engineering talent and passionate employees to play a more significant role in the company’s ability to innovate and disrupt. Employees across business units will connect in the Lab, working together to develop products and solutions that combine decades of experience and expertise, along with multiple perspectives. Additionally, engineering students at top-tier universities and the ever-vibrant ecosystem of startup companies will be invited to participate in creating tomorrow’s innovations at Comtech’s lab, giving everyone – stakeholders, talent, customers, and everyday users – something to look forward to.
The Comtech Innovation Lab is one of the many future initiatives Anirban is excited to implement and oversee. That said, he is well aware that organic and inorganic growth at Comtech are the best way for the company to achieve its objectives. “We will build things in the innovation lab, but we will have to buy certain things which are time critical or technology critical. We expect to partner with some of our “friends and families”, and we’ll all be better off because of our willingness to do so,” says Anirban. Among other initiatives are key partnerships with universities to recruit top talent and gain insights into cutting-edge research, and perhaps even partnering on that research.
Anirban is also committed to realizing the vision of “One Comtech”, which to him means convergence in every business area: people, products, processes, and customers. Since 2018, Anirban has seen the value in collaborating across multiple business units to disrupt the communications industry. From an operational standpoint, when people share the same psyche and operational thought process, this leads to organic collaboration between business units, a more robust organization, and higher potential to create leading-industry technologies.
“Operating as One Comtech adds a tremendous amount of strength to our approach,” said Anirban. “The number of products, the level of innovation, and the amount of research we can bring to the table will elevate our value to our customers.”
To Anirban, traditional sales functions only scratch the surface of what he anticipates will be done under One Comtech, because of their natural focus on immediate sales. “While we continue our efforts on traditional sales routes, we will have to keep a close watch on the industry. The world is in a transformative journey to shrink into a global village. Humans will connect with machines & other humans, and machines will connect with humans/machines to deliver the purpose of enhanced productivity and intelligence at an unprecedented scale and speed and thrive towards a more sustainable society. For this to happen, we need terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks to coexist with IoT devices into a network that is secured and trustworthy to enable mission critical solutions for citizens, governments, and enterprises. Real value and growth will truly be realized by bridging the digital divide and thinking beyond “just connectivity”, says Anirban.
Looking forward, Anirban believes that the One Comtech customer will benefit from everything Comtech does, in all of its businesses, not just as a trusted partner for either terrestrial networks, or satellite and space, but both. He’s got numbers on his side: experts estimate that by 2025, there will be over 45 billion connected devices worldwide, all of which will require reliable, always-on connectivity. That’s a huge and growing market, and Anirban is determined to ensure that Comtech grows with it.