Inside Kellogg had an opportunity to speak with Kellogg alumni, Dave Chookaszian (2Y 2013) and Raj Karan Singh (E&W 2019), about their overlapping paths in their professional journeys and how their work at Quantiphi continues to provide innovative solutions for their customers during COVID-19.
Tell me a little about your careers leading up to working at Quantiphi and with each other.
RAJ: Prior to Quantiphi, I had nearly a decade of consulting experience. During the time I was completing my MBA at Kellogg, I concurrently transitioned from technology to management consulting within PwC. In fact, I met Dave during my very first client engagement nearly 10 years ago when we were both consultants. After completing my MBA, Dave and I reconnected. Dave was already with Quantiphi and he shared with me the exciting solutions Quantiphi was developing to help solve specific customer pain points. Reflecting on the unique opportunity to work with Dave and to work within AI/ML & Big Data, I made the decision to join Quantiphi at the end of 2019.
DAVE: Prior to Kellogg and Quantiphi, I started working as a missionary in North Africa as my first job out of undergrad. After that, I worked for four years with Capgemini and that’s where Raj and I met as young consultants. Towards the end of that experience, I started a business with my dad and my brother selling custom, tailored clothing. My dad is a lifelong entrepreneur and when I stepped into that for a bit, I realized how hard it actually is. I ended up leaving Capgemini and went to Kellogg in the Full-Time Program, while doing the business with my dad part-time. As I was leaving Kellogg, we realized that the business was not something that we were going to pursue aggressively. So, I went and worked at Orbitz/Expedia in strategy and in sales and subsequently, at Kapow, a startup in the events/travel space. One of the co-founders of Quantiphi was a former boss of Raj and me at Capgemini. We had stayed in touch and when the opportunity arose to come to Quantiphi, I made the leap.
What work led Quantiphi to receiving Google Cloud’s “2019 Social Impact Partner of the Year Award”?
RAJ: We’re very humbled and honored to have received that award. That was predominantly for the work that we did in healthcare, specifically we: 1) Partnered with one of the world’s leading academic health institutions to build a machine learning-powered solution that assists physicians in diagnosing life-threatening clots in the human brain with increased accuracy and speed; 2) Partnered with a large, multi-state non-profit health system to automate the process of tagging cancer recurrence in patients; 3) Partnered with one of the largest nonprofit health organizations dedicated to tobacco cessation with the objective to promote a tobacco-free lifestyle by automating the detection of tobacco imagery in popular media.
DAVE: At a broader level, one of the things I’ve appreciated the most about working at Quantiphi is that while we’re a for-profit company, all of the founders have a “we want to solve the hardest problems for society” type of a mindset. The company is profit-focused, but at the same time, if there’s a hard problem and we can be helpful, we are willing to forgo profits because we believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s the cultural mindset of the company, and I have seen it play out in reality in some very powerful ways.
Can you talk about the pivot Quantiphi made due to COVID-19?
RAJ: As we were making this pivot, our mindset was that of “serving, not selling” given the circumstances. We recognized that we were in position to serve many organizations that were in dire need of support given Covid-19’s impact on their operations. In terms of the industries we served, our primary focus areas were government, healthcare, and banking.
Regarding the government, we recognized that many agencies would have an influx of calls due to the unprecedented rise in submitting unemployment benefits claims. To address this, we built a machine-learning powered virtual agent solution that helped answer time-sensitive questions for those calling in to submit their unemployment application. This solution was implemented across multiple state agencies, including the State of Illinois’ Department of Employment Security, which administers the state’s unemployment benefits. For the State of Illinois, over 3.2 million questions were handled by the virtual agent within the first two weeks of deployment. For this impact, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recognized the work done by Quantiphi in partnership with Google Cloud.
In fact, my father leveraged the virtual agent to submit his unemployment application. My father, who was a cab driver, and his friends were no longer able to operate due to Covid-19. Before the virtual agent solution was implemented, my father’s friends shared the painful hardships they were facing given that they had just lost their primary source of income. This pain was exacerbated by the fact that they had limited insight into how to apply for unemployment or when they’d receive their benefits. After the virtual agent was implemented and my father’s friends were able to leverage it to receive their benefits, I could hear the tranquility in their voices. At this time, I realized the following: we didn’t create a machine learning powered virtual agent solution. We created a mechanism of hope that helped provide peace of mind to hundreds of thousands of individuals who had life-sustaining questions. That’s why I’m very proud of the work that we did because success, in this case, has had very real, life-saving implications.
Regarding healthcare, we recognized that patients would be reaching out to their local healthcare systems to educate themselves regarding COVID-19 developments. Similar to government agencies, we recognized that healthcare systems would also receive an influx of calls. Similarly, we built out a virtual agent solution that served a symptom checker and provided real time updates on a myriad of topics, including testing options. Beyond virtual agent capabilities, we also built out dashboards highlighting the availability of personal protective equipment at hospitals. This initiative received recognition from the Vice President of the United States.
Regarding banking, we leveraged these same virtual agent capabilities to help consumers receive quicker access to banking services, including prepaid debit cards issued at the request of the state agency to provide benefits to consumers.
DAVE: When everything went on lock down in mid-March, one of the co-founders said, “I think we need to take a serious look at our industry strategy over the next 2-3 days and adjust our thinking.” At that time, a lot of reports were coming out from Gartner and McKinsey about what industries would be impacted and how. The industries that rose to the top were government, healthcare, and financial services. We also knew that these were industries for which we could very quickly adjust some things that we’d done in the past in order to make a solution that could make a positive impact. So, it was very thoughtful, but rapid in how we got to that place. It was such a quick pivot that turned into something very aligned with how we can serve the market and still grow as a company.
How did your Kellogg experience shape you as a leader? This moment?
RAJ: The Kellogg Purpose Statement of “educating, equipping and inspiring brave leaders who build strong organizations and wisely leverage the power of markets to create lasting value” has never resonated more deeply than when reflecting on the work we’ve done in serving organizations during Covid-19.
During this time, I’ve reflected on the importance of leading with purpose and empathy. As I reflect on the many discussions and activities both inside and outside the classroom, I’m indebted in gratitude to Kellogg for helping to cultivate a “high impact, low ego” mindset. This perspective has been instrumental in serving customers during a heightened sense of uncertainty. From a more tactical perspective, I reflected back on many of my strategy and leadership classes when assessing specific situations with limited information and having to make key decisions with limited time. As a result of the leadership training received at Kellogg, I felt equipped to effectively navigate and lead in these situations.
DAVE: From my Kellogg experience, the phrase “think bravely” comes to mind. We’ve had two massive world crises in the past 12 years that seriously call to bear the question: “What do we actually believe?” And our co-founders champion us to “think bravely” with a focus on doing what’s good, not only what is most profitable. This conversation is more prominent in today’s world and Kellogg was out front of that seven years ago–that we should be thinking beyond the bottom line of financial profit.
I also want to say that Kellogg’s entrepreneurship courses, strategy, and experiential learning courses gave me the ability to move quickly. You can’t always sit and wait for things to happen. The ability to think quickly, operate quickly, and take decisions quickly is a big part of learning from Kellogg. Lastly, these courses helped me to learn how to be an operator and take decisions–where you’re saying to yourself, “We’re doing this, because of this, and I own it.” This concept of how to be an operator has really been significant for me in the seven years post-Kellogg. In summary: think bravely, move quickly, and be an operator.