Sir Sanju Ganglani of gang&lani media: 5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry
Trust your team. Your team is your biggest lift or your largest downfall, you are only as good as your team. Not all ideas will be feasible or logical to your goal, but you never know what you uncover by exploring those ideas with your team. If it doesn’t make sense to your business, explain why instead of dismissing it.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sir Sanju Ganglani.
For over 10 years, Sanju’s digital marketing agency, gang&lani media, AskUsForAnything.com, has been serving the global business community with a presence in North America, Europe and Africa.
He specializes in serving B2B and B2C clients requiring assistance in marketing: both traditional and digital, with a primary focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Social Media, Design & Branding, Print and Website Development.
Sir Sanju has worked with companies from single-person entrepreneurs to fortune 500 companies and he tailors strategies to meet the needs and goals of every client. All corporations have the challenge of not only worrying about their daily operations but how they will specifically market their products or services to their clients and ensure ROI while retaining a great client experience. This is where Sanju lends his thought leadership.
Being an entrepreneur for most of his career, Sanju understands what level of dedication and support is necessary to help make a business successful. His wife and co-founder, Saliena Ganglani, holds both an MBA and MHA, and is an integral part of the company, providing her expertise in healthcare marketing, finance, and client services.
His dynamic team understands the necessary service philosophy of being effective, efficient and client-oriented. His team has international experience and speaks a variety of languages. Sanju’s philosophy is to never say no to a challenge, and he finds every necessary means to meet client needs.
Culturally, he has built an environment where every team member serves with spirit rather than ego, and his team passionately believes that they are all in this together to meet the client’s objectives and goals.
Sir Sanju is strongly convinced that in today’s business world, it is a valuable asset to understand the global market and how it can present opportunities. Having had opportunities to establish meaningful connections around the globe, he believes that no matter what language we speak or what our culture is, we all are more alike than we are different and that the highest valued global currency is kindness.
As a result, Sanju and Saliena also both have a strong belief in supporting nonprofit organizations. gang&lani media is involved in partnering and sitting on the boards of charities and non-profits globally where all their nonprofit work is pro bono.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Thank you for having me!
To take it all back, I was actually born in Africa in a city called Abidjan which is in Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). We immigrated to Toronto, Canada, when I was 3 and besides a year in India when I was in grade 6, have been in Toronto ever since. I come from a family of generations of entrepreneurs, and after some time of getting settled in a new country where we knew one family and it snowed a lot, my dad decided to go back to owning and operating an import and export business.
Like most new immigrant families, I saw my parents struggle for many years to get settled in this country in the 80s but I learned many lessons at that time in my life about the value of material things, and above all, family. In the 90s my dad found his true passion, Real Estate, and pursued his license. But he refused to work for anyone other than himself. This sunk into my subconscious more than he knew.
While this was going on, and I and my brother were getting our education, my mother was the glue to everything. She taught me the compassion necessary to build bonds and loyalty with people. It was never a dull moment with many life lessons. Learning how to support people and be patient were some of the biggest philosophies I apply today. I have no idea how she did it all.
When I was in my teens, web development was on the rise. I remember using my dad’s massive desktop (which I now call the tank), to teach myself HTML and how web development worked. My parents supported my desire to start a business selling websites to local businesses in Toronto. We saw success for many years and when it came to deciding on my education, we transitioned the business out.
Talking about education, I actually went to school to be a systems analyst. Figured if I liked coding and I understood business, I could create a niche for myself. When I was done, I realized that was not actually something I wanted to do, I wanted to run a business and be the consultant who grew it on the front end versus the back end.
To get the experience I needed, I started my career with NCR, literally selling paper and printers. I moved from cold sales, to account management to managing a team of sales professionals double my age. From there I transitioned into Microsoft where I was doing what I thought was my dream job — consulting with Microsoft Partners to help them grow their sales, technical adoption, marketing and advocating their presence within Microsoft for funding opportunities.
At Microsoft is where I found my passion — Marketing. The crazy part? I almost didn’t take that job.
While working at Microsoft, I went back to school to learn about Marketing. When I was done, I was brought into Dell to help with the transition of the software business they had just acquired. This was probably my longest corporate job, about 3 years. But then the itch struck.
One morning when at a conference in Orlando, I decided that when I landed back in Toronto, I would leave my comfortable corporate job and get back into starting my own business, this time a full-service digital marketing agency that would service clients across North America, Europe and Africa.
Oh, and I decided to start this just before I got engaged to my wife, Saliena. But something in me knew that it was then or never. I was fortunate to have her support my dream, as she came from a family of entrepreneurs too, it became her dream too. To date, she is my biggest cheerleader, inspiration and therapist rolled into one.
Now we work with clients that we can help, and its amazing to see them grow, We treat every client’s business as if it were our own business, and because of that we retain almost all our clients.
With our own two kids, a 6-year-old and 2-year-old, I can only hope and aspire to give them the same patience and support as my family did for me and my brother so they may pursue their dreams, whatever those may be.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
With my life experiences, my background growing up, and my trust in my team, I was always told I was a thought leader, but I don’t think I believed it until I saw the change I was able to bring to businesses, people and my community by thinking just a bit differently than most. Last year, in recognition of my work, I was knighted which was a surreal experience — but that is a different topic for a different interview.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Not to be cliché, but it has been the unfortunate spread of COVID-19. It changed my life and my business literally overnight. We went from consistent workflow and a full office, to clients being hesitant to pursue their marketing efforts while the whole country was on lockdown and staff that, while they were always welcome to, now had to work from home.
It has taken solid strategizing to ensure that we helped our clients retain their investments thus far, and keeping our integrity intact by advising where to cut spending where it was not going to have any effect on sales, and to help them retain, if not add to, investments in areas such as SEO to take advantage of competitors dropping their investments. This allowed our clients to gain traction in traditionally very expensive or difficult keywords, and get a head start on the market as businesses reopened.
Interestingly enough, during this time, we gained new clients looking for brand refreshes and websites, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs that either had hit a plateau or were looking to start new ventures to supplement loss of income via their day jobs. It also allowed us to forge relationships with Wix and HubSpot to give our clients more options when it came to growth and lead generation.
There are countless interesting stories as we grew and learned, but this is probably the most relevant to today’s atmosphere. It has definitely been an interesting pivot, but one that made us stronger.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In hindsight, this ended up being funny, but at the time was a tough lesson to learn. I was presenting once to a client for my first web development company, gwebpages, and I really wanted the contract, in fact, I was convinced that I had it in hand from our discussions. I went into the final pitch presentation, loaded up my PowerPoint and did my presentation. At the end of it, with a big grin, I assumed the reaction would be, “let's do it”.
The decision-maker turned to me and said nice presentation, but I don’t think we can move ahead. In shock, I asked why, and he responded that on slide x, there was a spelling mistake. Not thinking much of it I went ahead explaining the value of what we brought to the table, but his decision was final. Why? Because if I could not ensure a PowerPoint presentation that I had time to create and review was error-free, how could he be confident that I would be fully attentive to his business?
This taught me the importance of detail and checking things over and over until it was perfect. Looking back, it was funny to lose a project based on that, but the impact of that stayed with me since and is why we ensure we treat every client’s business as if it were our own.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
I strongly believe that thought leaders are not made, you can’t go to school for it, you can’t learn it as a skill. A thought leader, to me, is someone who unknowingly thinks outside the box to find solutions to problems that may not even be relevant today. A thought leader proactively finds ways to make a business or process better as the world changes and rarely believes in “this is the way we’ve always done it” or “why reinvent the wheel”.
A thought leader is different from a typical leader because they allow those around them to have an opinion and contribute outside those people’s roles and boxes. As a thought leader, I rarely hire off a resume, or even ask for one, a typical leader relies solely on a resume and may not always recognize, or harness the thoughts and ideas of others.
A thought leader is different than an influencer as typically an influencer is looking to sell a product or service, either their own, or others for solely monetary benefit. In my opinion, a thought leader looks to appeal to other leaders and shift mindset, while an influencer looks to appeal to potential followers for profit.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
Being a thought leader has many benefits. Firstly, for yourself, it allows you to open your mindset to a different way of doing things. It allows you to begin to look at problems from different angles and find ways to solve them, versus potentially giving up because it may not align with how you usually do things.
Secondly, it allows you to have discussions with others on your team, or in your world, and see things from their perspective. This makes conversations far more interesting, and if it comes from a place of wanting to learn, versus ego, you begin to understand how the culture, environment and experiences of others doesn’t make their perspective wrong, but just different. I have been fortunate to live in Africa, Canada and India which gave me that exposure and foundation that things are very different even suburb to suburb.
I do not believe that being a thought leader is solely reading books, or attending conferences, its also your life experiences and speaking with others that have had different circumstances. In this day and age, having compassion and being kind with no judgments is what truly forms being a thought leader, and is the biggest benefit.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
Being seen as a thought leader definitely has its advantages. For starters, it adds instant credibility when you meet with business owners, leaders and others. It allows you to gain a platform with publications such as yours, whereas a thought leader, one is able to share with others their experiences in an effort to help others grow and further themselves.
Thought leadership also allows you to gain platforms as speaking engagements and being on panels, the more value you bring, the more your reach globally.
It also gives you an advantage when approaching strategic clients to grow your business and opens doors to conversations you may not have had access to otherwise. But the key is to be authentic and ensure that what you are sharing or known for is not only something you stand for, but you believe it will change the world in a positive way.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.
There are far more than 5, but I will narrow down my list to what I believe are the foundations:
- Find your passion
This is first and foremost. You can’t find solutions to problems if you aren’t passionate about your belief.
It was interesting when I started my corporate career, I was jumping jobs every 12–18 months and I used to get grilled by recruiters and HR managers about it. Finally, one day I had a realization why I was doing that, and it was because I was trying to determine what I didn’t want to do. That realization shifted how I saw things, our education always taught us to be in the pursuit of what we wanted to do, but as an up and coming thought leader, I realized that all that did for me was make me complacent, and eventually I would add no value back to where I was employed with that mindset.
Sometimes its not a matter of finding what you want to do, but rather finding what you don’t want to do so you ensure your success and happiness — this almost guarantees you’ll find your passion. Just please note, even your passion has portions that you may not want to deal with, but at least you are closer to where you want to be. Even the prettiest rose has thorns.
2. Have integrity and be authentic to yourself
People can see through fabricated stories and stories that are too good to be true, don’t do it. If you did not do something, don’t make up a story to sound like a thought leader.
Having to remember a story you made up or creating a persona that isn’t actually you is beyond exhausting to manage. I’ve seen people get called out publicly, and there is no coming back from that. One of my favorite stories about integrity and authenticity goes back to a few years ago when finding good web developers was tough. I remember we tried every platform available and all we asked for was portfolios. As we started to review the hundreds of applications, we found that roughly 5 people gave the same 2 websites as a part of their portfolio. One was for a launch Smirnoff was doing that year and the other for a food brand.
Naturally, a bit confused we emailed all the developers on one thread, and nicely asked who actually made those sites so we could bring them in for an interview. Unfortunately, or as expected, depends how you look at it, no one responded and to this date it remains a mystery.
When being a thought leader, remember that there are others out there with the same access you have. Without integrity and authenticity, the world is very small and that damaged reputation, once it’s out there, sticks forever.
3. Trust your team
Your team is your biggest lift, or your largest downfall, you are only as good as your team. Not all ideas will be feasible or logical to your goal, but you never know what you uncover by exploring those ideas with your team. If it doesn’t make sense to your business, explain why instead of dismissing it.
I remember when I hired our Lead Social Media Manager, Natalia Armani, and initially, she wasn’t sure where she fit, and to be honest neither did I, but I knew she had something in her (this is another person who’s resume I still haven’t seen to date). But trusting her ideas, we decided to let her begin managing social accounts to see if there was a fit, while we were tempted to move her into another area based on some of the social ideas she initially brought to the table, but after letting her discover her passion for Social Media and trusting her ideas, she now leads the Social Media charge, and our clients LOVE her.
Trusting your team and giving them the ability to contribute is so important to your success.
4. Work to improve your community
The world is a small place, but you can’t conquer it all at the get-go. Start with your community and see how your thought leadership can solve problems, help others and grow engagement.
I’ve been actively involved in my community since I was probably around 10 years old. No matter how you look at your life, your career, your status as a thought leader, someone, at some time, gave you that opportunity to reach those levels and learn those lessons that bring value to your feedback and thought leadership. I passionately believe that service starts at home. Start with advancing your community, your neighbors, and those who just need that chance to succeed by offering mentorship, service and opportunity. Through this work you not only raise your profile, but you affect change and pass on knowledge, which is so important.
5. Be open to change and pivot frequently within points 1–3
There is no shame in making a mistake, it would be unfortunate to not pivot on it and adapt it to what is going to work and be relevant to those you are looking to motivate.
As a thought leader, ownership is a key part of your contributions. Being able to own a mistake, or pivot on a decision based on facts if that is what is best for the situation and not yourself is critical to remaining relevant, and relatable. I can’t even count the number of times that I was convinced of something and after listening to my team, or other thought leaders changed my position for what was best with the facts on hand. These 5 strategies are all interconnected and rely on each other to be effective and eventually help you become recognized as a thought leader in your community and industry.
In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.
I actually don’t have anyone famous that I look to as a thought leader as strongly as I look to my brother, Dr. Amit Ganglani as a thought leader that has personally affected my life.
My brother was always ambitious and had specific goals to accomplish, but he always did it with ensuring that he was lifting those around him up with him.
I saw him excel academically, attend Temple University, and work selflessly with patients in the underserviced areas that surrounded the university. He did all this while pursuing his DMD and MBA at the same time and excelling in all 3 areas.
Don’t tell him I said this, but his true thought leadership actually really started shining bright a few years ago where he parted ways with his comfortable corporate dentistry employment, to start his own chain of dental practices, Fresh Dental, in North Carolina. As he started this venture with his partners, he grew it to 8 practices with a patient-first mentality. That culture translated into his staff and he spends time constantly motivating them to be better, but for their personal growth.
Together with his partners, he changed the way dentistry was done in North Carolina by thinking outside the box and allowing his staff to contribute their thoughts and ideas for growth and improving patient experience. Now Dr. Ganglani is approached by his peers across the country to share his thoughts and growth strategies in healthcare.
In my opinion, this teaches us many lessons. Firstly, if something as mundane as dentistry can be done differently, anything can be. Secondly, by empowering and uplifting those around you, your success becomes their success and by extension, your customers get to experience that difference. Thirdly, its never too late to pursue your dreams and uplift your community in a way that was never thought of before.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
I actually agree. I think certain buzz words such as “coach”, “expert”, “guru” and even thought leader has been skewed to a point where its almost lost its luster and value. I also believe that you aren’t magically a thought leader after reading some books or attending a few conferences, I believe that thought leaders are self-made and have value and authenticity that they bring to the table based on experiences unique to their lives.
I don’t think that it should be avoided, but I do believe that it should be vetted and be authentic, writing books doesn’t make you a thought leader, sharing your experiences, and your stories based on fact where you affect growth is what does. A thought leader looks to give back to uplift others, not charge large sums of money to gain followers. To me, being a thought leader isn’t a career, it’s a service we leverage to give back to the same communities that gave us opportunities to grow.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
I think the biggest realization a leader can come to, is you can’t do it all. The old saying that you can’t win a war alone, you need an army, is especially true when it comes to leadership. Trusting your team to perform and giving them the confidence to be intrapreneurs will only help you grow, discover new ideas, and retain your most valuable asset — your team. Will you get burnt at times? Sure, but that is part of your journey, embrace it and grow from those experiences.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’ve always wanted to start a global fund for new entrepreneurs. The idea would be to have sponsoring corporations fund a nonprofit and use those funds to help good ideas for people who aren’t ready for VC’s or don’t know where to start. For example, today if people come to us, don’t have the funds today, but the cause is good or the idea has legs, we’ll fund them until they take off. For now, we take equity, but it would be amazing if startups didn’t have to give up equity in order to grow — no strings attached, no obligations but with a vetting process.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There is an amazing Dolly Parton quote that is my desktop:
“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”
It is pretty self-explanatory, but it’s what reminds me daily that a legacy isn’t built without helping others reach new heights and as we all grow, we can affect positive change in generations to come.
We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
I have been following Jeffrey Gitomer since I started my corporate career, and I learn so much from his podcasts and information. I would love to buy him a meal and thank him for his inspiration and thought leadership over the span of my career.
How can our readers follow you online?
I love having interactions, I’m always up for a discussion, or if they have any questions, I’d love to connect with them:
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.