Since founding Censeo Consulting Group in 2003 and serving as its CEO, Carnegie Mellon University alumnus Raj Sharma has been guiding clients on how to operate more effectively while not excluding public and social goals. The company’s performance has led to inclusion in some noteworthy groups including The Washington Post’s Top Workplaces and Forbes’ Best Management Consulting Firms.
Being named to these publications is in line with what was recently written about Censeo by Sigal Barsade, professor of management at Wharton and Olivia A. O’Neil, a senior scholar at George Mason Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. In The Harvard Business Review they described Censeo as a stellar example of a workplace where the 50 employees share affection, goodwill and compassion.
Cofounder and CEO Raj Sharma wanted to build a company that made authentic connections with clients. Along the way, Sharma realized that this strategy, which increased clients’ trust and the firm’s impact, was also critical to Censeo’s organizational culture, wrote Barsade and O’Neil.
Sharma, who in 2001 earned his master’s degree in industrial administration from CMU’s Tepper School of Business, doesn’t disagree. He says his privately held firm’s success stems from nurturing atmosphere and outreach.
Earlier this year, Censeo partnered with Girl Rising, which is a global campaign for girls’ education and empowerment. Launched by two film producers in Hollywood, the organization’s goal is to change attitudes that perpetuate gender inequality. Censeo is providing pro-bono support to the nonprofit, including strategy, fundraising and development services for the organization’s work in India.
“It’s an exciting time for Girl Rising in India! Following a nationwide broadcast, and with new programs in development, there is a great deal of opportunity to drive impact, It’s been wonderful working with the thoughtful team at Censeo, as they join us to advance our efforts.” said Girl Rising CEO Christina Lowery.
Censeo’s goodwill approach with Girl Rising continues a series of partnerships with education access nonprofits.
Praise for Censeo’s authentic connections comes from one of Sharma’s former classmates, Emel Gomulka — who earned her MBA from Tepper in 2000, where she first met Sharma:
“Raj and I worked closely together on several consulting projects at FreeMarkets, Inc., and employment at Censeo, where he exhibited impeccable understanding of client needs as well as the subject matter,” according to Gomulka, who is now vice president of marketing at Summa, a digital solutions consultancy specializing in human-centered design, strategy and agile software development.
As for compassion, Sharma says it’s in his firm’s DNA, in part, because of his grandfather. Outside Sharma’s boyhood house in India, a fruit vendor sold goods there daily.
“Every day my grandfather would speak kindly to the impoverished man as if he was part of the family,” Sharma recalled. “But in a way he was, because my grandparents always treated everyone like family.”
That same atmosphere is what Sharma tries to foster today at Censeo.
As a youngster, he loved spending time at his uncle’s office supply business. And after moving to the United States, he gladly helped out at his mother’s gift shop. He was steeped in the entrepreneurial world, so it was no surprise he was drawn to business school.
He explains that he chose Tepper because of its analytical curriculum, which complemented his softer skill sets.
“Tepper helped sharpen my understanding of people and organizations by using analytics,” he said.
Not long after graduation, he founded Censeo to help clients improve the way the manage their organizations, partner with their supply chain and leverage IT to drive strategic impact. Within a year, Censeo had secured a contract with the Department of Defense, followed in the months and years to come by Boeing, Alcoa, United Technologies and other high profile companies. The firm doesn’t divulge its annual revenue but Sharma notes it’s well into seven figures.
After the presidential election, Censeo plans to reach out to government leaders of all parties to help achieve public policy goals.
“If we want to solve the world’s problems, one way to do is it by improving management practices within social and public sectors, regardless of political affiliation,” Sharma said.
He still visits the fruit vendor when he returns to India. He shares the same kind of dedication to his own work, certain he’s found a way to create change by combining his zest for kindness with his passion for fact-based consulting.