Talking with Anil Pereira (BMgt ’87) is a bit like having to grab onto a speeding train. The conversation moves quickly, and it takes work to keep up. Pereira’s words shoot out like rapid-fire artillery, his mind moving a mile a minute from one point to the next – a steady stream of thoughts and anecdotes coming at you with pinpoint accuracy and searing resonance. A half-hour discussion seems to pass in the blink of an eye, and afterward you’re left with a dizzying amount of information that you sense is extremely valuable, but will take some time to fully decipher.
Twenty-six years after earning a Bachelor of Management degree at the University of Lethbridge, Pereira spent a week on campus in the fall of 2013 and he will return again in the spring of 2014 as the inaugural Faculty of Management Executive in Residence, bringing more than 20 years of business experience along with him and the kind of résumé management students dream of building.
Pereira is a highly respected Silicon Valley entrepreneur and executive – currently the founder and executive chairman of Verious, a code-recommendation engine for software developers around the globe. Founded in 2011, Verious was a finalist in the prestigious TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield – one of 20 companies (out of 1,200 applicants) that competed to be named the most promising new technology venture of the year.
Prior to establishing Verious, Pereira was founder and CEO of SecondSpace (now DataSphere), senior VP at Classmates Online and an early-to-later-stage executive at VeriSign – helping all three companies achieve unprecedented growth and success. VeriSign, for example, grew from under $1 million to over $1.3 billion in revenue during his tenure.
Pereira honed his marketing skills at American Express in New York, where he held several key roles in the Consumer Card Services Group and was promoted to VP in under four years. He began his career as a programmer with Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), where he was quickly promoted to supervisor and never looked back. Not a bad list of accolades, especially for someone who prior to attending the U of L was a college dropout.
“I was attending community college in British Columbia, got caught up in the restaurant industry and dropped out of school,” Pereira recalls. “I wasn’t sure I was going to ever go back, but I decided I wanted to get some management skills, so I applied to the U of L.”
Despite the fact that Pereira’s previous grades were less than stellar, his innate drive to succeed showed early on. Upon arriving in Lethbridge, he was told that he needed six more classes to be admitted into the Faculty of Management, but was only allowed to register for five the first semester. Undeterred, Pereira struck a deal with the admissions officer that would lay the foundation for his work ethic from that day forward.
“I said if he allowed me to take six courses, I’d guarantee to have an A average in every one of them by midterm. If I didn’t, I’d drop a course. He agreed, and I held up my end of the deal. I got As in all of those classes that semester, and I kind of surprised myself in the process. It was the first real academic stretch I made, and I started to believe that I could accomplish more,” recalls Pereira, who went on to earn his Bachelor of Management with great distinction and was later recognized as the U of L Alumnus of the Year in 2000.
“Stretching” is a word that Pereira uses often in conversation, and for him it’s more of a philosophy than a descriptive term. He’ll tell you he’s stretched over and over again throughout his career, extending himself in ways he knew would push him forward in the direction he needed and wanted to go.
“The early days of my career were pretty much all about seeing how far I could stretch. Working hard, working smart and looking for opportunities where I could push past my own perceived limits. I very often had to convince employers that I was capable of doing certain things, and then had to prove it to myself after they hired me.”
Pereira applied to the MBA program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania after being promoted to supervisor at Andersen Consulting (Accenture), a move that he otherwise might not have considered if he’d worked quietly as a programmer instead of playing to his strength as a leader.
“I was a lousy programmer, but the partners liked what I was doing in terms of looking for growth opportunities and managing people. One of my U of L profs encouraged me to apply to a top-tier business school and so I gave it a shot,” recalls Pereira, “When I got to Wharton I was terrified. Suddenly I was in the ring with people out of New York and Los Angeles, from companies like Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. It was intimidating, but it didn’t take me long to discover that I could go toe-to-toe with anyone. I’ve learned over time that it’s good to have your guard up, maybe be a little under confident, but people are people. It’s possible to compete at a higher level no matter where you are or where you come from.”
Pereira says the example his parents set when they immigrated to Canada from India when he was four still resonates with him today. That and the unwavering support of his wife, Sheri (Turnbull) Pereira (BMgt ’87), and his family are the foundation upon which he’s built his career.
“My parents gave up successful lives in India to start over in a new country. It was a huge risk, but it taught me that to grow you have to be willing to fail. The same is true with my wife, Sheri. We’ve always managed risk as a couple. It’s impossible to take career risks and not have a supportive spouse next to you.”
As the first Executive in Residence at the U of L, Pereira brings a lifetime of risk-vs-reward experience and immeasurable business knowledge to the Faculty of Management. He served one week on campus in November, and will serve two more weeks in the spring, visiting the Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton campuses.
“I’m honoured and thrilled to come back in this capacity,” says Pereira. “The U of L has evolved so much. I’m excited to help continue the University’s success and growth, and I’m especially excited to work with students in the classroom. My goal is to tie research and classroom teachings to practical, real-world examples of businesses in today’s marketplace that are in the midst of growth and facing various challenges. I want to help students apply theory in real ways, and help them understand how to manage their own careers, whether in professional services, small business or as the CEO of a company.”
Recalling his own days as a U of L student, Pereira says the University – and specifically the Faculty of Management – provided him with exposure to research and many different disciplines early on.
“The U of L is a top-ranked research university, and I think research is underappreciated because those skills really help you across a variety of dimensions later on in life,” he says. “Problem-solving has its roots in research. What is the problem? What is the hypothesis? What are you trying to solve and what are the alternatives? That methodology flows through the Faculty of Management, and the breadth of classes I took was a great foundation for a career in business.”
In addition to running Verious, Pereira plays an active role as an advisor to several other technology companies – start-ups that are staffed by younger people who are full of new ideas and potential. As he does with all promising young managers, Pereira makes an effort to provide an equal measure of skill and common sense in his counsel.
“At VeriSign we had a saying that has guided me throughout the balance of my career: It’s better to be lucky than good. I wish I could say that success is all about planning, but there is a good amount of luck involved, too. You have to be able to meet opportunity when it presents itself, and you have to be sharp enough to see the opportunity when it arises.”