In the Broadway show “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” window washer J. Pierrepont Finch talks his way into a mailroom job before rocketing up the corporate ladder to become chairman of the World Wide Wicket Company.
Along the way, he and his colleagues break into song as their ambitions collide in a comic flurry of backstabbing, deception and office romance.
The 1961 musical’s storyline taps a common theme in the business world: the race up the organizational chart.
Not surprisingly, 60 years on, there are a few crucial changes to American business culture.
Managers these days rarely have the time or inclination to burst into song. Office romances are closely scrutinized if not outright banned. And job applicants often have to get past a digital filter before their resume can even make it to the desk of a hiring manager.
Still, economic mobility is an article of faith to many in America, and the lure of the corner office remains.
When Newsday caught up with four high-ranking Long Island executives who started out in entry-level jobs, they described zig-zag paths to the top.
In some cases, they got a lucky break and seized the moment. In others, they moved from company to company like a frog hopping among lily pads.
Mentors also played a role.
Once they got their foot in the door, they said, managing was less about issuing edicts and more about building teams.
Here is the story.
Anil Jagtiani, 50, founder and chief executive of information technology company Naka Technologies LLC, has a constant reminder of his roots.
He named his Hauppauge company after Sakinaka, the Mumbai, India, neighborhood of his childhood that had no electricity or running water.
Jagtiani’s family moved to the United States in search of a better life when he was 11, settling in College Point, Queens.
Once there, Jagtiani picked up the ways of the neighborhood’s dominant ethnic group.
“I grew up Italian,” he said in a Queens accent.
He worked at gas stations when he was a senior at Flushing High School.
While he was at Queensborough Community College, Jagtiani’s parents were laid off from their jobs at a book-binding company and he had to hustle.
To help make ends meet, Jagtiani worked part time at a gas station and a nursing home, where he started as a night security guard and eventually moved to a day-shift job as a computer technician.
“There was a lot of struggle,” he said.
Eventually, he earned a degree in business management from York College.
‘Immigrants don’t have a lot when they come here … We can be ambitious.’
In his mid-20s, Jagtiani began working as a help desk technician for Custom Computer Specialists in Hauppauge. He rose through the ranks to become a senior support engineer and eventually associate director of engineering.
“Immigrants don’t have a lot when they come here,” Jagtiani said. “We can be ambitious.”
Ira Berk, IT facilities director at Custom Computer Specialists, remembers Jagtiani’s professional and personal devotion.
“He would stay with me all night fixing different problems in the servers,” he said. When Berk went through a rocky time personally, his friend took him out to talk even though it was Jagtiani’s wedding anniversary.
“His real asset is he cares about people,” Berk said.
In 2013, Jagtiani joined Melville-based Marcum Technology, followed by the Hauppauge office of ITsavvy, where he had the title of vice president of professional services.
In 2019, he struck out on his own with Naka Tech, which now has 75 employees and annual revenue of between $15 million and $20 million.
“We had huge clients that were willing to follow us,” said the Merrick resident. “My great luck is helping people and when I help people, they follow me.”
“I have been around aggressive businessmen who felt people like myself don’t need to be as successful as them,” he said. “Coming from nothing, having all this success, I want to drive fancy cars as well.”
Prosperity also allows Jagtiani to give back. He sits on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island, and identifies with its mission of helping underprivileged children.
“I know what it’s like not to have something,” he said.