There are some memories that never leave us.
Deepak Hathiramani, for instance, will never forget the night in 1967 when his father came into his room and told him to grab what he could. Five years old at the time, he can still recall escaping into the night, evading the civil war upsetting the country by escaping to a French colony in Africa called Cameroon. It was common in that time and place for parents to send their children out of the country for better schooling, and so his parents packed the young boy’s bags for India. “I have very distinct memories of what I was wearing the day I left my parents,” Deepak remembers. “It was very difficult to leave them.” After Deepak’s departure, the family later moved to Spain, where he remembers his first time visiting them. “We went to buy eggs at the grocery store and my mother would by the ones with cracked shells because they were five cents cheaper per dozen,” he recalls. From an early age, sacrifice became a permanent fixture in his life.
Thankfully, the family had relatives in India who welcomed Deepak into their home, and he was raised by his aunt and grandmother in Bombay as he made the most of the difficult separation from his parents by working hard at school. “My grandmother taught me that integrity and ethics are absolutely paramount,” he explains. He remained in India from 1969 until 1983, when his parents urged him to come work for the small tourist business they had started in the Canary Islands. They had built a good quality of life for themselves from their humble beginnings, and they knew Deepak’s life would be well provided for through the business.
Deepak, however, could not deny the voice inside him that called for something more. Computers were just becoming a mainstay in world culture, and he was quickly enraptured by the concepts of technology and engineering. Thus, in choosing to sacrifice a reunion with his family and a relatively secure future in the tourism industry, Deepak embraced the possibility of his dreams, remaining in school in India where he received a Bachelors Degree in Physics and Mathematics with a minor in Operations Research. He then received a diploma in Business Management before coming to the U.S. in 1983 to pursue a degree in Computer Science from Austin, Texas. “I wanted to come to the U.S. because it had so much to offer,” he recalls. “It’s a place where you can start at the very bottom and make it to the very top with few restrictions. If you work hard, you get rewarded.”
Hoping to gain valuable experience that would help him start his own business in the future, he found employment at a startup company called Cinnabar Software shortly after graduation. The five-employee enterprise essentially built software designed to test other software, and Deepak’s work often brought him into Washington, D.C., allowing him to gain a nuanced understanding and appreciation of the city and its community.
When Cinnabar was later sold to a publicly traded company after a fruitless attempt to raise external financing, Deepak transitioned into a role at Netrix Corporation in 1989. At that time the company employed thirty people and drew $300 thousand in revenue per year. After Netrix brought in a new CEO, however, it grew quite suddenly and quite exponentially, bringing the company to $30 million in revenue within three years. It quickly became the fastest growing company on the NASDAQ market, boasting a tremendous public offering in October of 1992. They say what goes up must come down, however, and Netrix (now NX Network) was no exception, suddenly plummeting to become the fastest falling company on the NASDAQ market.
“Once that happened, I decided it was now or never,” Deepak recalls. His work had focused primarily on the technology aspect of matters while at Cinnabar and Netrix, but this had not prevented him from absorbing valuable leadership insight as each company rose and fell with the tides of success and failure. Though he had initially formed Vistronix in 1990, the initiative didn’t pick up momentum until 1992 as it ventured forth into the commercial sector. The early years were not always easy for the fledgling company, and Deepak will never forget the night his wife offered to mortgage her jewelry to help. Once again, sacrifice left a permanent imprint on his memory, reminding him of the true value of love and progress over the material.
Soon after that, however, Deepak spun the helm and began to pursue government space instead—a move that heralded tremendous success for the company and for the people who had sacrificed to keep it afloat. With 325 employees today and an annual revenue pool above $40 million, Vistronix now directs all of its energies toward filling this role as a federal systems integrator.
Vistronix currently serves its clientele through four major spheres. The first is its Geospatial Decision Support, of which the Department of Agriculture and the EPA are two key clients. This is followed by its Information Management branch, which focuses on records management expertise designed to navigate the government’s complicated regulatory and compliance requirements. Deepak defines the third area as Independent Verification and Validation, which serves as an objective third party that provides oversight to ensure proper implementation when large systems are being launched. Vistronix’s final area of focus, then, is Information Technology Service Management, which assists government agencies in operating its technology infrastructure. To this end, Vistronix is primarily a civilian government focused agency whose primary goal is to leverage technology to aid government agencies in accomplishing their missions.
As Deepak explains, the most pivotal asset to his business along this path to success has been finding the right people for his team. “We’re in the people business,” he says. “Having the right team members will make you, and having the wrong team members will break you. We learned that lesson the hard way.” One team of employees in particular was able to get the company to a certain point but proved unable to take it any further, and as a business owner and entrepreneur, Deepak tended to hope the problem would resolve itself on its own. It didn’t, however, and he was forced to take strides to right that particular wrong. Now a strong team builder who places strong emphasis on the fundamental objectives of collaboration and passion supplemented by the integrity and ethics ingrained in him by his family, Deepak’s ability to assemble powerful task forces has been honed by both inherent skill and lived experience.
Another turning point along the path toward Vistronix’s success was Deepak’s realization that a mixture of work and family was not necessarily in the best interest of either party involved. He discovered this after realizing that many of his employees would never view his wife, who worked on the company’s finances, as anyone other than “the boss’s spouse.” Not only would this limit her in her development through its lack of objectivity and openness, but it also thwarted the presence of a clear boundary between work strife and home strife. As a result, Mrs. Hathiramani left Vistronix to pursue her passions in a more neutral environment. Still, Mrs. Hathiramani remains a pivotal force in Deepak’s personal and professional development. “I agree with the saying that behind every successful man is a woman,” Deepak reflects, “but it is probably more true to say that alongside every successful man is an even better woman. In my case, she may even be a few steps ahead of me,” he laughs.
Deepak further identifies a third turning point, which is the company’s decision to focus on developing a few targeted core competencies rather than trying to do everything for everybody. “You’ve got to be known for something,” he emphasizes.
Internal expertise, however, can only take a company so far without the assistance and regulation afforded through outside perspectives and guidance, and it is for this reason that Deepak decided to form a Board of Advisors in 2000 to promote Vistronix through periods of transition and growth. Comprised of various senior leaders in the DC metro area who have achieved notable success in their own careers, the board has been instrumental in developing the company’s market savvy as well as its strategic relationships. While the board meets quarterly, the ample interaction between members and managers throughout the year continues to supplement the business in each interim.
In addition to the guidance afforded through the Board of Directors, Deepak has taken great strides throughout his professional career to continue his education through various means, including supplemental business management courses at Dartmouth University. He also belongs to a CEO peer group called CEO Project, an offshoot from Inc. 500 that has been tremendously effective in helping him grow along an avenue of both a personal and professional nature.
In advising young entrepreneurs today, Deepak takes an approach that is thoroughly informed by his experiences growing up around the world in communities vastly different from the U.S. landscape. “As a society, we’ve become very materialistic,” Deepak observes. “Money is important, but if you look back on a career, the component that lends a considerable amount of satisfaction is ultimately how you impacted the lives of others. How good was your quality of life? Did you get a chance to work for something you were passionate about and to have an impact on society?”
In many ways, this advice echoes not only his humble roots, but also the struggles he’s faced along the way in striving to establish a balance between work and home life. Not having the opportunity to spend enough time with his parents marks a notable regret for him, as does a similar lack of adequate quality time with his three sons in the past. Undoubtedly, achieving an optimal work/life balance can be a lifelong process, particularly when starting a business requires so much time, energy, and sacrifice. Deepak, however, resembles a concerted and resolved effort to overcome this challenge, firmly committed to spinning sacrifice into success in all aspects of his story.