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Alumni Excellence Awards: EnTERPreneur Award Winner Pallavi Agarwal '05

Alumni Excellence Awards: EnTERPreneur Award Winner Pallavi Agarwal '05

Pallavi Agarwal '05

By Andrew Faught

In India, “Aagarwal” describes a mercantile caste in the country’s central region.

Pallavi Agarwal has taken her surname to heart. She’s CEO and founder of Kander, a firm that helps clients in the professional services, high-tech, higher education and nonprofit industries implement cloud technology to assist their daily operations.

Cloud computing lets users store and access data over the Internet instead of a hard drive. Agarwal partners with San Francisco-based Salesforce, the world’s biggest enterprise software firm.

Prior to becoming a Salesforce “integration consulting partner,” she was an adviser to a number of Fortune 500 companies. Agarwal encountered a common challenge.

“A lot of times I felt like I couldn’t really tell the customer what I wanted to tell the customer,” she says. “It might compromise their contract, and I didn’t want to go against somebody.”

Customers struggled with a lack of transparency, Agarwal adds. She was frustrated by what she calls “siloed tools” and “inefficient processes and program management.”

She launched Kander in 2018 (the name is a play on candor) to provide a “customer-centric” approach. Kander is able to better tailor cloud services to clients’ needs, Agarwal says. She runs the business remotely from Washington, D.C.

Kander has been quick to make an impact. It recently was ranked in the top 25% of Inc. 5000’s list of America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies, ranking 1,078th.

Operating businesses runs in Agarwal’s family in her native India. She moved to Maryland with her parents when she was 8, and growing up she considered becoming a doctor. She ultimately ruled out medicine, and her father suggested business.

“He always said, ‘Why would you work so hard for other people when you can do it for yourself?’” Agarwal recalls. “So I worked different jobs so I could learn the next thing and gain the confidence to start my own business.”

Agarwal was a pre-med major at Maryland before switching to a double major in marketing and international business (and a minor in entrepreneurship). “It was a great decision, because the school was in the top 10 in the nation,” she says.

Her coursework encouraged out-of-the-box thinking. “I remember in our business school plans, we came up with the so many relevant ideas, such as streaming online, because Netflix only had DVDs,” she says. “Our classmates were like, ‘Who’s going to watch TV on the computer?’ The experience was truly a holistic approach.”

Agarwal says she mentors others who want to enter information technology services and consulting. Women account for just 25% of tech graduates, according to the professional services company Accenture. In January, Agarwal became head of the Women’s Founders Group, a cohort of 30 business leaders affiliated with Salesforce.

“I always recommend people to find different mentors, and I never have just one,” she says. “You want to take everyone’s guidance, and take what serves you. They might be there for a year or two, or they might be there for a lifetime.”


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