On digitising teams and corporations to build lasting connections.
By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales
The word ‘connection’ contains multitudes, especially in today’s digital age: it’s touching someone on a personal level; it’s communication; it’s linking two people together; and at the same time, it’s having access to the internet and the infinite possibilities therein. Amit Lal Singh, the Group CEO and Managing Director of ADI Group, is a man who intimately understands connection in more ways than one.
A company that he started from scratch at a time in his life when it would have been a true leap of faith, ADI Group provides staffing and recruitment, IT software consulting, payroll, and work permit services. This means that they not only connect people and companies, filling a gap for both, but they also help teams and corporations to digitalise according to the needs of the hour. “If customers have a project, they can come to us to recruit short-term staff, often to do with IT, as everyone is digitalising but not everyone has teams with the right skills,” he explains. “We also connect companies with the right talent for permanent positions, in both IT and beyond, and finally, we help foreign companies with their projects in Thailand by creating a joint venture with them, wherein they can hire people on our payroll, and we help them to analyse and interface with their customers.”
This deceptively-simple vision of connecting the right people with each other has now grown into a global corporation spanning seven countries, whose client base has now expanded to many of Thailand’s leading corporations and biggest banks. Beyond this, however, Amit, as someone who refuses to rest on his laurels, has brought his nose for business to a range of industries across the board: from travel technology to investments in travel agencies, numerous start-ups in both Thailand and India, and soon, two restaurants in Silom and Narathiwat.
This global success, however, was not one that Amit had anticipated when he first moved to Thailand. Born in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, he did his bachelor’s degree and MBA in Madhya Pradesh, graduating with the latter from Devi Ahilya Vishwavidyalaya, specialising in IT systems, and with a minor in sales and marketing. Having started as a humble programmer at EBOT Technology, he joined NIIT Technologies within a year, where he was assigned to go to Thailand for four months. “I was not that keen to leave India at that time,” he
recalls with a sheepish smile, “because I wanted to be close to my hometown. But this was around 1999 and the economy was down at the time, so my boss told me I didn’t have a choice. It truly was a blessing in disguise – after four months, I even asked my boss for an extension of my contract because I loved working here so much, due to its people, and my chances for growth.”
Over the next 10 years, Amit joined a few companies, including RingZero Networks, whom he stayed with for almost eight years: “I started as a programmer but left them as General Manager,” he recalls. “That was when I started observing demand for IT staff and I saw the potential in it. Then, I thought why not start my own business, and expand it to the rest of SE Asia?” This step, however, was no easy one to take, and Amit walks me through his concerns at the time. “I didn’t have that much in savings back then, and at the same time, my wife had just given birth to my daughter, who was premature. My friends told me, ‘you’re well-settled in your job, don’t take risks; you’ve got a newborn who needs a lot of medical and personal attention.’” However, this very reason, he tells me, is what nudged him onto the path not taken. “We started ADI in 2010, and our initial focus was just on IT staffing in Thailand, using our database. Soon, demand grew, and people asked us for talent for permanent positions, and we created ADI Recruitment, which holds a license to do all the recruitment business in Thailand.
“We slowly grew to Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, India, and The Philippines, and now we’re operating in seven countries,” he says with justifiable pride. “Because the business was doing well, in 2015, we started recruiting for non-IT and senior management positions. We formed a company called TP Consulting in Asoke under different management for our talent pool in the Sukhumvit area, while our other company is more convenient for our team in the Silom area, because geography is so important for people. This allows us flexibility in terms of location.”
I ask him where the name of the company came from, and Amit tells me with a laugh that his son’s name is Adi. “But that’s not the reason – I wanted there to be some other philosophy behind the name; I didn’t
want to put that pressure on my son,” he reveals. “This new generation doesn’t necessarily want to run their family businesses; they have their own aspirations. We decided to make it stand for Analysis, Design, and
Implementation. I was also told that adi has a good meaning in Thai.”
Building the ADI Group from the ground up, he tells me, is one of the accomplishments he’s most proud of in his life, together with his “brilliant” kids. “I think we’re on the right track with God’s and my family’s blessing, and a little bit of luck,” he says. “At the moment, we’ve even got a local listed company who has shown interest in investing in us. We’re currently at the due diligence stage, and we’re very hopeful.”
I ask Amit about the other industries that he’s invested in, and he’s enthusiastic about their diverse portfolio. “Back in 2010, we partnered with TravPax Solutions, a travel technology company that provides technology for travel agents who want to compete with the big OTAs. It helps you book tickets, hotel rooms, and packages, and compare prices. When we started to grow, we needed more funds, so I asked one of my ex-bosses to be our mentor and help us grow, and we successfully raised USD 1 million at the valuation of USD 10 million back in 2017.”
However, as with any business in the travel industry, when the spectre of COVID loomed in 2020, the business suffered, and they had to let their team go and put a temporary halt to operations. Nevertheless, undeterred, Amit doubled down in the business. “I’m a very optimistic person,” he tells me. “Most of our partners wanted to exit, but I still believed in the technology, and that business would come back. I bought everyone’s shares, and today I own 97 percent of the company. I decided that in order to promote this technology, we needed travel agencies to use our platforms. We invested in RedFox Event Co., Ltd., which had been co-founded by Pankaj Sawhney, a former client of ours. His business, too, had suffered during the pandemic, but we
believed in it. Once we’re ready with the technology, they’ll help us promote it, to various DMCs, etc.”
This belief in the opportunities inherent in digital transformation is a thread that carries through all his businesses, and he tells me about his belief in keeping his team’s skills current. “Firstly, we’ve incorporated
technology in all our in-house processes, so our team can work from anywhere as long as the technology is there, and that has increased productivity. We’ve digitalised everything: from our payment systems
to our recruitment platforms. This means that we’re going to be ready if there’s ever another time when we all need to work remotely.
“Secondly, in this business, our customers will tell us what skill sets they need. They’ll either provide their own in-job training, or they’ll ask us to support our staff’s training, which we do. This allows them to upskill themselves for the next project.”
This investment in technology, I hypothesise, must have served his company well during COVID’s forced push towards digitalisation, and he agrees. “While some businesses were unfortunately affected very badly, it turned out to be an opportunity for us. ADI grew tremendously because everyone wanted to be digitally equipped so that they would be prepared next time there is a crisis that requires remote work. We’ve had a net growth of 15 percent, and we foresee this will continue to grow in the next few years.” This speaks to the evergreen nature of the digital space, he tells me. “I came 21 years back as an IT consultant,
outsourced to AIS as a programmer, and today, AIS is one of our customers. Business in this industry has been there for the last 21 years, it’s here today, and there’s more demand coming in the future.”
However, Amit was keenly aware that the last few years was a dark time for many businesses, so he set out to share the opportunities he’d found with others. “We saw that there was a lot of scarcity of IT recruiters, because this job requires special skills – knowing the technology, understanding the jargon, and most importantly, good communication skills. What we realised at the same time is that a lot of people from the travel and hospitality industry had lost their jobs, but they had the communication skills we needed – they knew how to interact with all kinds of clients and they have pleasant and convincing personalities, and this is what we needed.”
This was the impetus, he tells me, for their initiative to train these people in technology, so that they can ventually become IT recruiters. “We’ve just launched the fourth batch of trainees, and we’re giving them
jobs after training them internally. It’s a win-win for all.”
Amit emphasises that initiatives like this stem from his deep belief that success can only be attributed to the people that you surround yourself with. “If you hire the right people, and you can share your vision with them, with visible milestones, they’ll believe in your end goal. If you take care of people, they’ll take care of you.” Part of this care, he tells me, is allowing them space to grow at their own pace. “One of my biggest challenges over the years was learning patience,” he says. “Over the past two decades of experience, I’ve learned that as a businessperson, you don’t need to push too much. Everyone wants to do something good; to be appreciated. Our role as senior leaders and managers is to guide people, and find out what support they want, and give them the right tools. Pull people up, and don’t panic, and make sure people know that you’re there when the business needs you.”
As for how he balances his entrepreneurial ventures, Amit drops another pithy piece of advice borne of his years of experience: delegation is key. “Find the right people who can manage people for you, and trust that your team is able to handle everything,” he says. This, he tells me, is advice that he learned from one of his ex-bosses and business partner, Marco Andrighetto, who is still one of his mentors today. “I often tell him that I don’t want to pay for another MBA programme, so I’ll listen to his advice instead,” he tells me
with a laugh. “He told me that success has only one factor: prioritise your people. He’s been one of my biggest supporters over the years, together with my parents, my wife, and my kids, who have sacrificed
their own time to give me enough freedom to work; and my friends, who’ve always supported me with their advice.”
As for his dreams for the future? Like his current pursuits, they’re not small. “Professionally, I want ADI to reach a level where we are one of the top three companies in SE Asia,” he says. “I want to see that I have given enough career growth, as well as personal growth, to all my team members. I want to reach a level where they’ve acquired financial independence.” This desire to give people independence extends even towards his children: “I want to see my kids successful in their careers too, and not dependent on me.” Aside from these laudable dreams, however, he’s happy to enjoy life as it comes. “I love golf, I used to play it twice a week. It gives me a lot of energy, and it allows me to think outside the box, and bounce my ideas off the friends I play with, from various fields. I also like to play a whole variety of other sports. I’m not a champion, but I can play in a team – and at the end of the day, that’s what’s most important.”