Saj Jetha is feeling pleased. His new book – The Smarts: Big Little Hacks to Take You a Long Way at Work – has been endorsed by Heidi K Gardner, a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard, and sold 6,000 copies even before it hit the shops. It’s even had the thumbs up from the likes of BP, Walmart US and Deliveroo.
The 47 hacks are a collection of tips, tricks and wisdom Saj has gathered throughout his career, which included a stint as a manager in EY’s Advisory practice in London in the mid-2000s. He was part of the team which started the practice, helping the firm build its own methodology on advising clients on corporate and business strategy.
Learning from EY
“EY was a brilliant experience for me because I was involved in a business that was starting from scratch under the auspices of a market-leading brand,” says Saj. That was a big draw for him, as was the opportunity to work with incredibly talented people. “My EY colleagues were some of the brightest minds I’d ever worked with at that point in my life, and I’ll always remember that year by the intellectual workout I was having every day.”
It was indeed just a year that Saj stayed with EY, but in that time he learnt some valuable lessons. “The first was that quality wins every time and that guided me in everything I did, and I loved being around people who were as quality driven as me,” he remembers. He also learnt the principles of delivering excellent work, and that people are at the heart of everything.
He says: “In a consulting business the only thing you have is your people. They are your product, capital and intellect, and I was quite inspired by how much EY invested in its people.”
People are also at the heart of the venture Saj set up when he left EY in 2007. The Smarty Train helps unlock talent hidden in organisations by advising clients on their people strategies, high-impact training on soft skills, and experiential learning.
The idea for the business was triggered by his own experiences as an early cohort of the millennial generation when he started to see a mismatch between the way organisations were seeking to develop their people and the way digitally-native millennials wanted to learn.
Colleagues at EY recognised his passion for solving this problem and, to his surprise, encouraged him to go and pursue his goal. That selfless encouragement is something that remains with him and that he is still grateful for to this day.
It was probably EY’s own entrepreneurial spark that prompted Saj’s colleagues to support him in his venture – and that gave him the confidence to make the jump. That said, entrepreneurialism is partly in his blood. Saj, who is of Indian origin, is the son of immigrant parents who came to the UK from Uganda and set up their own business here. He describes them as one of his biggest inspirations, embodying courage, knowledge and generosity.
His experience at EY – and particularly its efforts to build a better working world – has also inspired him. “While that tagline didn’t exist in those days, if you had asked me in 2007 “Do you feel like you’re trying to help, with other like-minded individuals, to build a better working world?”, I probably would have said “Yes”, Saj says. “And so it’s amazing that that mission now is public. I would say that was probably an ingredient in me wanting to push myself further to try and build a better working world as well.”
Ride of his life
The Smarty Train is about to hit its twelfth anniversary. The award-winning organisation has seen 40% average growth over its time and trained over 70,000 people. Saj sums that past decade up as the ride of his life. “It’s been 12 years of priority, focus, ups and downs – and it’s not always up in this sort of world,” he says.
Being an entrepreneur is a lonely business. The hours are long and you are often too busy to stop and celebrate success. This is something he’s trying to do more of in 2019.