Tech entrepreneur Sanjay Shah ’89 MBA—a proud Lehigh alumnus, philanthropist, and founder and CEO of the Chicago-based global software company Vistex, Inc.—was tragically killed Thursday (Jan. 18) in India, after an accident at Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad during a 25th anniversary celebration for Vistex Asia Pacific. He was 55.
Shah, whose generosity elevated executive education at Lehigh’s College of Business, founded Vistex, Inc., which grew into a worldwide operation with 20 global offices and 2,000-plus employees, in 1999. Its customers include some of the world’s biggest brands such as General Motors, Barilla and Bayer.
Shah’s significant gifts to the university established the Vistex Institute for Executive Education at Lehigh and allowed the university and the College of Business to move forward in strengthening engagements with industry and business. Shah was the featured speaker in the Donald M. Gruhn '49 Distinguished Finance Speaker Series at Lehigh in October 2022.
“I am shocked and saddened to hear of Sanjay's death,” said Georgette Chapman Phillips, the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business. “My heart goes out to his wife and daughters and all the people at Vistex. Sanjay was a visionary entrepreneur and generous philanthropist.
"Sanjay was a true friend of Lehigh Business but also committed to making a difference in his native country of India through his funding of hospitals for the poor," Phillips said. "Through the Vistex Institute for Executive Education, we hope to keep Sanjay's beacon of innovation and lifelong learning burning brightly.”
Lehigh President Joseph J. Helble ’82, who had presented Shah with an Outstanding Entrepreneur Award in 2021 for his high achievement as an alumnus in managing an enterprise, described Shah as “a visionary, competitive, warm, and down-to-earth leader who was immensely proud of his family, the business he built, and his Lehigh education.” He said Shah’s legacy extends beyond his professional accomplishments: “It encompasses the transformative contributions he made to our university.”
The new, state-of-the-art home for the Vistex Institute at Lehigh opened a year ago upon completion of the Business Innovation Building. Shah had attended the opening celebration on March 3, 2023 and addressed his enduring support for executive education at the university.
“I kind of started my journey in the United States at Lehigh,” he said in a video interview marking the opening. “This was my first stop on my path to success, and so it means a lot to me to pay it forward.”
Shah said that he derived the name of his company, Vistex, from a fusion of the words “vision” and “execution.” In a conversation with Phillips for the Gruhn lecture series, he said, “The genesis of Vistex, and actually, the word Vistex—I owe that to a professor here at Lehigh, believe it or not. It was our professor of international finance, and in one of his lectures he had said, ‘Vision without execution is just daydreaming and execution without a vision is just hard work.’ You need both, and so I figured why don't I incorporate that into the name of my company? And that's how Vistex came about. It's vision to execution.”
Shah also discussed the founding and growth of Vistex without outside funding, the push and pull of adopting new technologies, and explored whether the good that new technology brings outweighs the potential harm it could cause.
Shah, who grew up in a tight-knit family in India, had come to the United States in the late 1980s specifically to attend Lehigh. He had studied commerce and languages as part of his undergraduate studies in India, but for his graduate studies, he sought out Lehigh, as it was also the alma mater of a business icon he had deeply admired, Lee Iacocca ’45.
After earning his MBA, he worked in audit at PricewaterhouseCoopers, which had recruited him at Lehigh for its offices in Easton, Pennsylvania. Within six months though, he said, he knew it wasn’t the right job for him. He switched directions, taking a job with General Motors in Canada in operations and logistics, where he came to realize his passion for technology in business.
“If you ask—what is the one thing you like doing the most?—it’s problem-solving,” he said in an interview with Lehigh Business seven years ago. “And technology helps me solve business problems. Technology is a means to an end. If you are confronted with [business] issues, there is technology out there to address them.”
After General Motors, Shah joined SAP as it expanded into Chicago, then relocated to Germany with the company for about two years. Back in Chicago with SAP, he approached company officials with his niche ideas. They did not want to invest in those areas at the time, but told him that if he ever became successful, they would consider working with him.
So Shah went off and built software and a software company to execute his vision.
The philanthropic arm of Shah’s company, Vistex Foundation, provides resources to those in need. The foundation works primarily in the areas of health, education and micro lending, especially in some of the more challenging areas of the world.
“We want to provide help where help is needed most,” Shah said during the Gruhn lecture series at Lehigh. “We've picked a few projects. We actually started with a remote location in Western Africa to create a maternity clinic, we've done eye clinics, we've done micro lending in Central America. Our flagship project … was to actually build a full-service hospital in one of the most challenging regions in India. We enjoy giving back, and this is a mechanism to do so.”
At the time, he also spoke about the employee-led initiative, Vistex Endeavor, which includes employee volunteerism and projects in the communities where employees live and work.
Additional information about remembrances will be published once available.
–Rob Gerth contributed to this report