Zia Islam

FINDING THE OPPORTUNITY IN CHALLENGE

Zia Islam
President and CEO
Zantech

In the height of the recession, many people in the auto industry were worried about the fate of their careers. But Zia Islam took charge of his future and founded a burgeoning IT business.

Since it’s inception in 2007, Zantech has grown to more than 175 employees. The company develops total systems solutions that meet mission-critical requirements and provide customer-specific solutions for enterprise information systems. Zantech operates as a prime contractor for many Federal Government agencies including the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, and Veterans Affairs.

Islam shares what he learned from taking control of his own career and why failure can be good for business.

Q: Why did you start Zantech? What where you doing prior to its founding?

A: I was an employee at General Motors in Detroit, MI. I worked there for 14 years at various levels and have received numerous awards including the Chairman’s Honors Award for the excellent design of the 2007 Cadillac CTS. In 2007, the economy was going downhill and automakers were in great trouble. At that point in time, after working for GM so many years, I realized that I needed to do something more to satisfy myself and start my own company. I knew that it was going to be challenging to move from an engineering background to information technology. I had commercial IT experience that I wanted to apply to the Federal marketplace. I decided to take a risk and left GM in 2007 and founded Zantech IT Services.

Q: When you started Zantech, what opportunity did you identify to do things differently from other providers in the same space?

A: There were three main things that I did differently from the other providers off the bat. The first was to maintain an active and updated business opportunity pipeline based on an understanding of a potential customer’s requirements so that we may align with other companies with complementary strengths and team up as partners. This enabled us to offer a more compelling solution.

Second, we focus on delivering quality service to our customers so that we receive excellent past performance references, which we leverage to target and pursue similar opportunities in other government agencies.

Finally, we recruit and hire the right people. It is extremely important to have the right people on the bus. As a service provider business, our employees are critical to our success. We work hard to provide competitive salaries and benefits. We also recognize the need to be flexible with people’s work situations, so we have people with work-at-home and flexible work-hour arrangements. We believe that adapting to the employee’s needs as best we can promotes loyalty and productivity. In the end, this creates a win-win environment for both the employee and the company.

Q. What is your customer service philosophy? How do you get employees to buy in to that philosophy?

A. Our founding principle is to deliver Outstanding Performance…Always.  I believe that my team should go above and beyond to satisfy the needs of our clients. When you have a satisfied customer, all other issues become easier to resolve.

We encourage employees to embrace our founding principle by motivating and educating them. Employees are encouraged from the very beginning and they are an integral part of the founding principle.

[WEB BREAK] View the full Q&A at smartceo.com.

Q: What has been your greatest leadership challenge and how have you overcome that challenge?

A: The biggest challenge CEOs of growing companies face is finding the right talent to deliver on the value proposition. All business is competitive but you need good customer references to be successful and to grow.

Zantech has overcome some very challenging times. I launched the company just before the Great Recession devastated the American economy. We had to re-engineer ourselves to accommodate the changing landscape. I started with the idea of leveraging my commercial IT experience and developing solutions to the federal government’s requirements, once the recession hit, we had to adopt a more opportunistic approach. One thing those dark days taught me was every challenge is a great opportunity. An ongoing challenge is competing and growing in a very competitive market. It is not easy for a small company like Zantech to bid for large contracts because there is an inherent bias in the market that “the bigger is always the better.”

Q: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs trying to attract government organizations as clients?

A: I would advise other CEOs looking to attract government organizations as clients to be focused and always be attentive to your customers’ needs. Focusing on the work your company is doing will help you determine if you re on the right track to go after these clients. Being attentive to customer needs will help you to build the strong relationships essential in getting referrals. Do not compromise on the quality of service. Don’t worry about failure because failure can be a great catalyst of future growth. I believe failure provides the essential lessons learned to achieve success. Initial failure also sweetens your enjoyment of eventual winning.

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