Malini Sridhar, MBA ’90, PhD ’96, says that her UB MBA gave her the tools to become a successful business owner, and her PhD from the school gave her “the psyche.”
Sridhar is president and CEO of CompSys Technologies, the company she founded in 1994. She started the venture out of her basement, growing the information-technology (IT) consulting business from one employee–herself–to 50 employees today. Many firms, even large multinationals, says Sridhar, often realize that “finding the right talent at the right time is difficult.” So CompSys provides permanent and long-term IT professionals to companies throughout the U.S.
Sridhar’s personality probably fated her to the role of an entrepreneur. “I’m a people person,” she says, “and I like to manage and have control of things.” Her UB education cemented that fate. “With my MBA, I got all the necessary tools. I was from an accounting background, and UB gave me an overall perspective of how all the pieces fit together.” She also feels the analytical skills–the “psyche”–she gained in her doctoral program were particularly useful: “The way I started seeing things gave me the confidence to start my business. The PhD gives you the ability to identify your problem and solve it.” She also had opportunity to teach and help design a strategic management course, which offered her a hands-on perspective. “I looked at different models and asked students to creatively design and manage business, which helped me in thinking about my own business.”
As the head of the business, Sridhar naturally wears several hats that change frequently. Last year, she recalls, “I had to be a recruiter because we needed the resources. During the next few months, I’ll be handling marketing. It keeps changing.” And though she enjoys performing a variety of tasks, she also confesses that she likes to hold the reins for the strategic direction of the company.
Like many successful businesses, CompSys is evolving. Over the past four or so years, the company has started offering IT services to organizations in Western New York. Says Sridhar, “We are a total IT solutions provider now. We do anything from designing, developing and maintaining websites to network and security solutions and applications development.” Clients range from Fortune 500 to two-person companies.
CompSys also created a research and development division a few years ago focusing on cutting-edge embedded and wireless technologies. “The idea is to develop much-needed technology solutions in the security domain,” Sridhar says, an effort which can find support from the Department of Defense. Indeed, last year CompSys received funding from the SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research), a government program to encourage innovative research, to develop a suite of security technologies.
Also like many businesses, says Sridhar, “We have ups and downs. It definitely has been a challenge, but it’s exciting, and it’s what I wanted to do.” CompSys’ current challenge, according to Sridhar, is finding financial resources for growth. “If small companies are to thrive, the financial institutions have to help them out. I have the ideas, but to take them forward,” she says, “we do not necessarily have that infrastructure here in Western New York.”
Sridhar even admits to occasionally entertaining thoughts of throwing in the towel: “At times, I had considered quitting. But I’m committed to a lot of things in this region. I wanted to give back to this community, and I’m glad I can.” For instance, Sridhar comes from a family of educators; her mother and grandmother both were teachers and school administrators. So Sridhar’s volunteer work with infoTech Niagara, a local IT trade association, has focused on getting university students involved with the group. “I’ve helped to institute a program for college kids so they can network with the business community. I’m trying to recruit champions in different universities and get them involved as members of our organization.”
Challenges notwithstanding, she emphasizes that she has “enjoyed the fact that I set goals and achieve them. Also, I work with great people and that makes my job exciting.” Sridhar also insists that “Nothing is impossible. I’ve had my doubts, but I know now that as long as you have clear-cut goals and are ready to work hard, you can achieve them.”
Written by Grace Lazzara