Sagent Standouts: Naren Sundram
In this series, we’re focused on the humans who make up Sagent. We’re fortunate to have a team that is constantly evolving – both professionally and personally – folks from all over the world who bring a variety of experience, education, and perspectives to advance our challenging mission. We’re excited to introduce you to some of these talented people who make Sagent a vibrant, productive community.
Naren (shortened from Narendran) Sundram is a hometown boy who made good, and I speak for Sagent when I say we’re so glad he did. From his book-sales beginnings to his leadership as SVP, Head of India in our newly opened Chennai office, he (and the 120+ experts under his guidance) is vital to our mission to lead the evolution of loan servicing by solving its most complex challenges. But being a Sagent Standout is about more than the job, so read on to learn how Naren is giving back on a global scale while raising brand-new twins!
Tell us about yourself, your family, pets, and anything else you can share to help us get to know you.
My wife, our twins, my parents, my brother’s family, and I live here in Chennai. The twins were born 25 days ago. All our families and extended families live here in Chennai, and our family has lived on the same street for 100 years. So, this is pretty much our town. My parents and my family wouldn’t have allowed me a remote chance of moving out of the city, so I did my schooling, college — everything in Chennai.
In my family, we’re all businesspeople. My grandfather used to do rice wholesale business. The next generation – none of us got into that. We focused on our education and other opportunities, and in fact I was the first to graduate in my family.
Well first, congrats on the newborn twins! I’m glad you get to raise them so close to all your family. And what an inspiration to be the first in your family to graduate! With such a deep heritage in Chennai, I assume you’re all Chennai Super Kings (CSK) fans?
Yes. I’m a particular fan of the captain, Dhoni. He also captained the Indian team, and he’s quite an icon. I am a big fan of the CSK team this season, and hoping they will pull out some wins. Another team that I’m a fan of is the US Basketball team, the San Antonio Spurs, and was blessed to witness the magic from the 2005-2015 seasons. I see similar attributes in both the teams which is collaborative team play while rallying team spirit.
Ah, the San Antonio Spurs! I saw that you lived in San Antonio for a while, tell me about that.
I was in a consulting job in product development and support and my first assignment was in the States, specifically Chicago. The initial months were good, especially during the holidays, it was like the movies, and it was wonderful — until it wasn’t (because of the weather). Then, I had an opportunity to move to San Antonio, where the weather is exactly like Chennai, except we have a seashore. A fun fact is that San Antonio, TX, and Chennai are sister cities. They signed a Sister City agreement in 2008 to deepen cooperation between the two cities in trade, investment, and culture. Also, for more than a dozen years, San Antonio has celebrated the Indian festival of Deepavali.
I loved it in San Antonio and lived there for close to 10 years while working for an organization called USAA through the consulting firm HCL America where I moved among various lines of business throughout the organization.
Is that where you first worked in fintech?
All my 20+ years I’ve been in financial services. During my first 3 years, I worked in insurance product development, and then within the bank I was in credit cards and consumer loans before I moved into data analytics, plus I had the opportunity to work in USAA’s excellent customer experience segment. Later, my primary job was to study an organization and understand the data and put it through the data and analytics programs, build global teams around the business capabilities, and enable the organization with building data-driven decision systems and have relevant metrics that matter for the organization.
That’s a remarkable journey, and I see that along the way you’ve made it a priority to volunteer and give back. Can you tell me more about that?
After I moved back to India, I wanted to spend a lot of time volunteering in the community.
That’s when I landed on the “United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda.” I did take a few courses and can mention Dr. Jeffery Sachs created an impact with his course, “The Age of Sustainable Development”. So, I picked 2 goals from the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda. This is a set of goals for which all the member nations have signed up and proclaimed that they’ll support those initiatives. Mine are #4 – quality education and #11 – sustainable cities and communities.
For education, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with 4 or 5 educational foundations which support kids who are underprivileged or from a low socioeconomic background. I’m a big believer in the educational process, and there’s a scholarship for schooling that enables students to complete their education. But after that, there’s a gap that prevents students from entering corporate life. And these kids come from a background where, if they get a good job, then they become role models for the entire village. So, we realized people like us can enable them to take that next step after education. We started to fill that gap by giving summer internships to third-year students in four-year programs to help build the skills the industry will need from a college student, use our network to socialize their profiles, and even hire them full-time. We will continue this tradition and incorporate the summer internship with the educational foundations this summer.
Another example, we worked with the District Administration to support a summer camp designed for people from a tribal background. This is focused on giving some life skills, classes in creativity and art, and even a section for computer classes. So that is where the team from Sagent went for a couple of days to conduct a class on computer programming fundamentals. Our primary objective was to give the students confidence, showing them that anyone can learn computer programming and pursue information technology as a career path. Thanks to our Sagent Associates who volunteered their time to create an impact on these young minds.
And now, we are working with Michele (Mursten) and Aruna (Perumal) to create a calendar of giving for our associates.
What a brilliant way to give back by leveraging the resources of organizations like Mr. Cooper and Sagent! You also mentioned the sustainable cities goal. Tell me what that’s been like.
I helped build a couple of technology products, one of which even got an award from our city! Basically, it’s a portal that brings together buyers and sellers of waste management. If a seller from a construction company has a metal scrap, there is always a buyer. This portal — called Madras Waste Exchange — brings together these buyers and sellers so anyone can easily participate.
We built a couple of other applications to help the city administration to tackle the pandemic supporting the self-reporting of COVID and home quarantine measures. The entire volunteering team got recognized by the city government officials and received great appreciation as well as coverage in news articles.
I’m really glad you’re bringing that with you to Sagent from Mr. Cooper. It’s clear that you’re focused on the future through these initiatives, so I wonder — what does it mean to you that we’re building the future of servicing at Sagent?
The solution that we are building, I’m quite excited about it because I strongly believe there is so much opportunity and demand. And the timing is actually coming together because of the reactions in the market [after the news of the Sagent/Mr. Cooper deal] only validates our approach and that our direction is correct. It gives us a lot of confidence to march toward our vision.
That’s a great answer, and it makes me want to ask a question with a bit more nuance: Thinking about our vision to “fundamentally change the dynamics of America’s housing ecosystem,” why would our team members in India really care about that?
That’s very interesting, right? If you’d asked me the same question 15-20 years back, I wouldn’t have got it at all. I would have struggled to connect the vision and mission of a US product company and accomplish the objectives with a global workforce.
People shouldn’t think that it’s “just a job,” but rather believe in the mission, vision, and values that we’re driving. So, if we translate that into a persona and bring empathy factor for every individual and tell the right stories about what a homeowner goes through, then people immediately understand. Whether the narrative is about the journey a consumer, or our customer — or any human being — might go through, if we communicate that story correctly, people will know “I’m actually building something that is going to keep the dream of homeownership alive for millions of people.” If we tell those stories and empathize with the user or end consumer persona, they’ll get it. So, it’s becoming more critical to talk about our end customers, our B2B partners, our bankers, and lenders who we support… it’s the only way.
It’s insightful for you to cite empathy as the answer because that’s so often true. And especially when we’re talking about building the culture of an organization, that’s the best way to connect with the mission, vision, values… so with that in mind, when you think of Sagent’s values (relentless, relevant, reliable) which resonates with you most?
I can connect with reliable, but I think I’m a combination of being reliable and relevant.
What has been the most exciting part of the transition from Mr. Cooper to Sagent?
There are a lot of opportunities for us to start something fresh with lessons learned from the past and with new expertise. Basically, we know the roadmap for the product we’re going to build and the increments to get there. Even in the past, we’ve built some components of those in “good, bad, ugly” stages. Now, we know what we should take from those and what we should improve. And, we now have even more talented subject matter expertise that — combined with the experience we have — the knowledge is amazing. The excitement is about pushing ourselves to the mastery level with greater camaraderie. I’m quite excited and look forward to this part.
And what has been the most challenging part of this transition?
Change itself is a very complex process for the human mind, right? So, we were working for a large servicer building internal apps, then we had to shift to a product mindset where we’re taking a product to an industrial scale. And doing that while moving from one company to another meant that we had to constantly communicate to give clarity and stability and show that leadership is committed so the team knows it’s going to be a people culture. And then to rally them along the journey. I think that was the most important part of the job.
I’m glad that you’ve been there to lead the way. And before we close out, speaking of jobs, I forgot to ask about your first job. Care to tell me about that?
It’s funny, I was selling books. I didn’t want to be idle at home after my education because my parents funded my education. So, a couple of friends and I started looking for jobs, and we found a “roadside marketing” job where we would literally take dictionaries to show people and ask them to buy. It paid ₹100 per day which is about $1.50 now, and they bought us lunch. I survived that job for one week.
We asked Naren’s colleagues to share any tidbits that would help us to know what it’s like to work with him, and they didn’t disappoint:
Naren has been an inspirational leader always. He takes care of every team member’s growth, his leadership is also one of the reasons for most of us traveling along the journey for many years now. He always puts himself in the shoes of other team members to understand them well and then provide guidance, support, and mentorship for their careers. He carries the vision of the organization along with him and ensures all the team members also understand in order to work cohesively towards success. He will ensure he shows up to all the personal events of employees like marriage, ceremonies, etc., in spite of his busy schedules and support them. He has inspired a lot of us to consider the social responsibilities we should have, and ways to give back to the community through a lot of events/programs. He can’t stop his dance moments whenever there are party/ team outings which will become the talk of the town for the next few days.
- B, Ramachandran
Naren is a simple and empathetic person, which makes him relatable and compassionate towards others. He can connect with anyone easily and actively seeks opportunities to contribute to the community. Being a highly data-oriented person helps him to drive the team towards success… being a data-focused professional.