Closing the Technology Skills Gap

Vish Narendra, CIO of Graphic Packaging International, is no stranger to technology or its capabilities. Today, we will be discussing where he sees technology as the key to the future of doing good, what he enjoys most about being involved with TechBridge, and where he hopes to see TechBridge go.  

Vish attended Anna University, where he graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering, and the Illinois Institute of Technology, where achieved his MBA in Information Management. This degree and experience launched him into a career in IT and software roles at companies like GE and, now, Graphic Packaging International. Vish Narendra is an experienced technology and business executive with global experience in IT, business strategy, acquisition integration and digital business transformation with domain experience in consulting, software development, manufacturing and supply chain. In addition to his involvement with TechBridge as a board member and the sitting Board Chair, he also serves on the advisory boards for Georgia CIO and Greylock Partners. Vish has been involved with TechBridge since 2014, and he has been an integral part of the TechBridge community from the start. Vish has won many awards and earned many honors, one of which being the 2017 Georgia CIO of the Year ORBIE Award Winner | Global Category. We are honored to have him on our board and as a friend of TechBridge! 


[00:00:00] Vish Narendra: If we can do this for a for-profit companies and corporations, You know, why can't we do this on the nonprofit side? They, they probably need more help than, than anybody else. So, you know, it was, it was a no brainer to jump in. On the one hand you have technology that is displacing a lot of people in low paying jobs because their jobs are getting automated, um, in the service, uh, you know, economy.

Uh, but at the same time, now we have this skills gap that means that some of these jobs that are getting created, we don't have enough people to fill them

[00:00:42] Adam Walker: today. On TechBridge Talks, we'll talk about the technology skills gap and what Techbridge is doing to fill the void. We'll also talk about how an investment in our skills based programming will result in a 10 X return that helps families to get out of generational poverty. So stay tuned for this amazing episode.

My guest today on TechBridge Talks is Vish. Narendra Vish is the CIO and SVP of Global Business services at Graphic Packaging International. This welcome to the. Hey, excited to be here, man. I'm really excited to talk to you. Um, we get to know each other a little bit as I've worked in TechBridge and I've really appreciated all that.

You've brought to TechBridge in just the short time that I've been here. So I know you've served on the board. I know you've served as the board chair. So to start the conversation I'd love to find out from you. First of all, what is the full capacity been of your volunteerism at TechBridge and what initially drew you to TechBridge?

[00:01:48] Vish Narendra: Uh, well, uh, so time with Techbridge goes back a long ways. Um, uh, earliest exposure was just coming to the Digital Ball. When I used to work at GE, uh, later on, uh, as I, uh, Started at graphic packaging, uh, got engaged, uh, to come and help out on the board. And then, uh, do a lot of fundraising through the digital ball effort and other, other fundraising efforts.

Um, so it was on the, the development committee, uh, early on and then, uh, stepped in to be a vice-chair and then not to be board chair and all that just. As much, whatever I was required, I pitched in and helped out. Uh, and, uh, what drew me to TechBridge is fairly straightforward. You know, I've spent a lot of time in the business world aside and driving efficiency and productivity through the use of technology, you know, leveraging technology to drive operational efficiencies, simplifying processes.

And, uh, on the nonprofit side Techbridge does exactly use the same thing for other non-profits and, uh, thereby maximizing, you know, any kind of, um, uh, fundraising that they do. And so the dollars go a long way through the, uh, the. Uh, leverage of technology. And so it was a very natural fit. It was so obvious that, you know, there wasn't even a moment to think about it that just jumped in and said, if we can do this for, uh, for-profit companies and corporate.

You know, why can't we do this on the nonprofit side? They, they probably need more help than, than anybody else. So, you know, it was, it was a no brainer to jump in.

[00:03:28] Adam Walker: Well, I mean, I think you hit the nail on the head, right? Non-profits do definitely need more help more. Uh, what's the, what's the word capacity, right?

And so technology provides a great deal of additional capacity for nonprofits helping them to do so much more. Good. Yeah,

[00:03:43] Vish Narendra: we used to call it the force multiplier, which it really is. And then, you know, and then as Techbridge is evolved and matured as an organization, really, uh, taking on broader challenges, uh, how do we disrupt, uh, poverty?

And, uh, we're going through some interesting times with automation taking out a lot of the lower wage jobs. And therefore we now have an opportunity to fill the gap of those, um, uh, high wage jobs that we just don't have enough people to do those, uh, you know, roles. And so, uh, Techbridge has the opportunity to fill those gaps as well.

So it, it, you know, going and coming TechBridge can help. Well, and, and

[00:04:21] Adam Walker: you're mentioning workforce development, and I know there is a TCP award. AF named after you. Right. You want to tell us a little bit about

[00:04:28] Vish Narendra: that? Um, again, I'm not the person to talk about that, but that it was an honor that, uh, you know, Techbridge, uh, named an award for the, uh, graduate of the year, um, from the TCP.

Um, and, uh, it's really more about the individuals that, uh, didn't necessarily have the opportunities before, but through the TCP bootcamp program, uh, now get to learn some new skills and can apply them and that the corporate world, and really move themselves and their family and their community from, from generational poverty into a good middle class.

So it's super

[00:05:07] Adam Walker: exciting. And I mean, and we've seen that happen with a lot of our TCP graduates that they've gone from from very low wage jobs to very, you know, middle income jobs that are, that are generation changing type jobs.

[00:05:21] Vish Narendra: No doubt. Uh, there's uh, hundreds of people that, uh, have gone through that process with the TCP, which is a couple of years old now, and we've graduated a lot of people.

Uh, I think, uh, the graduation rates are very high as well as the fact that, uh, you know, the, the, uh, um, the percentage of people getting jobs after graduation is also pretty high. And the most important part is they're all making 50, $60,000, uh, coming up. Um, and, uh, you know, that's just life changing, uh, that allows them, that gives them food security roof over their head and allows them to start thinking about what the future can bring.

So it's just a big

[00:06:00] Adam Walker: difference. That's right. It's huge differences. Huge difference. So, so where do you see, is it just kind of going back to technology? Where do you see the biggest need for technology right now?

[00:06:11] Vish Narendra: Well, I, I think, uh, you know, there's so let you know if you'd look at it from a purely selfish corporate standpoint, um, Probably a million plus jobs in the us or more that are not going to be filled because we just don't have the skills to fill them, um, in the U S um, and so on the one hand you're you have technology that is displacing a lot of people in low paying jobs because their jobs are getting automated.

Um, in the service, uh, you know, economy, um, but at the same time, now we have this skills gap. That means that some of these jobs that are getting created, we don't have enough people to fill them. So w you know, as far as, you know, what the opportunity is, it is, uh, the opportunity of our lifetime to create, uh, a skill-building program that can help fill those gaps.

And therefore,

[00:07:07] Adam Walker: Absolutely. I totally agree. And so while you were on the board, you know, Techbridge begins to sort of shift our vision to a more national focus and to really begin to expand our region, I guess, not really, to even to expand, but to recognize the expanse of our reach, because we were already working nationally anyway, which we talked about before.

Um, so I guess my question to you is where, where, like, what is your hope as you see us begin to expand nationally? Where do you want to see Techbridge.

[00:07:35] Vish Narendra: Um, you know, um, we're, we're going way back. I remember board meetings where there were discussions around should TechBridge, uh, focus from the tactical.

Let's say help as many nonprofits as possible to this big, hairy, audacious goal of, you know, we're going to disrupt generational poverty. And, and if you stepped back and thought about it, you know, you could either think about it. Wait a minute. This is the small nonprofit that's trying to do. What, and then, you know, another way to think about it really is if it's not Techbridge who can, and, and really we had the tools, the capabilities, um, and, uh, the solutions that could really take people from.

Uh, you know, survival to stability, to success. And so the four major platforms that we have, the four pillars for TechBridge, really address that. Um, and so food insecurity. And, uh, social justice in terms of our justice server product and, and, uh, and then, you know, eventually getting, uh, people into well-paying jobs through TCP and, and so it's just really well-crafted.

So, um, you know, I think it was a natural order of progression for Techbridge to head in that direction to say that we really should be having a national impact. Now, now, do we do that by. You know, putting down, you know, a beachhead in every city, every town to do that. I don't think that that's necessarily.

We're doing this podcast, uh, over zoom we're in know all of all through COVID all the knowledge work, so to speak was done virtually. So there's no reason why TechBridge can't, um, you know, extend its reach across the country, uh, through that they probably have to build partnerships for, you know, uh, last mile service delivery, et cetera.

But those are things that I'm sure that Nicole and the rest of the team is thinking through how they'll deliver it, but there's no reason why they, they delivery. Can't be on a national. Cause the impact needs to be on a national scale. The problems that TechBridge is solving and in certain locations, those are universal issues across the entire country.

And so there's no reason why we can, you know, spread our wings and go fire of life.

[00:09:55] Adam Walker: That's right. I totally agree. Well said, well said. So, so I'm going to ask you just a couple of questions about your work at GPI. So, uh, for those. Are listening and don't know GPI. Maybe you could give a little, a little overview, like it's a very large company.

Can you maybe give a little context there for our listeners? And then I want to ask you a question or two about that work.

[00:10:15] Vish Narendra: Sure. Um, so what an integrated paper packaging company that services primarily the food and beverage industry. But before the year is out, we'll close a large transaction in Europe.

So we'll roughly end the year in the $8 billion range revenue wise. Um, so global company, US-Canada Mexico, a good part of the Europe, uh, presence in Australia, New Zealand, all of the big, uh, Consumer God and name brands that you can think of our customers. Um, the, you bring packaging with food or beverage into your kitchen, your pantry, your refrigerator, your freezer, um, and we, more than likely we've packaged it.

We're on, uh, eight paper mills and about 70. Um, 70 plus folding carton facilities and cup making facilities to put it in context, we probably make 40, 45% of the folding cartons or maybe 35% of the folding cartons in the U S and about 37 30 8% of that paper cups in the U S um, and so what a big part of the food supply chain, uh, here in the United States, as well as in Western Europe, um, and, uh, If you just don't know that you're a customer of ours, but you know, if you've gone and do a lot of fast food places, et cetera, and gotten yourself a, a cold drink or a hot drink, it's probably in a, in a paper cup like this, uh, it's a double wallpaper cup, um, that avoids the sleeve that you would need to get out otherwise to keep the heat away.

And so we make innovative products and, um, you know, A lot of this is sustainable, renewable because it's made from trees and, you know, trees that are noble or, uh, sustainable, um, you know, sources. Hmm.

[00:11:56] Adam Walker: Wow. That's that's I did not realize you were an $8 billion company, so, um, that's just

[00:12:03] Vish Narendra: by the end

[00:12:03] Adam Walker: of the year, we'll be, we'll be no, no doubt about it.

So, yeah. So I guess it's, I guess my question is then, you know, recognizing all the, all the shifts that the last couple of years have brought to us and looking to the future as you plan for GPI, you know, What do you see changing in the near future for you and for your organization and even for kind of the business as a whole, and where do you see the organization?

[00:12:27] Vish Narendra: Um, so if you think about what, you know, the, uh, the macro trends today, uh, worldwide, there's a heightened sense of awareness on the part of the end consumer, um, and that realization that we need to live a more sustainable life and leave the planet in a better place. And, uh, and so. Tremendous force to drive plastic out of our economy.

Um, you've heard the term circular economy paper is a perfect fit for the circular economy. Um, And a w no, in partnership with the paperboard packaging council, we run a program called a ticket TICC. It basically stands for trees in the cartons and cartons into trees, because eventually you can recycle them.

And, and then a D you know, uh, um, decomposes and composts and, and becomes feedback and comes back as trees again. So, Massive amount of push, uh, to eliminate plastic out of the food supply chain, as much as possible, lots of ambitious goals set by a lot of the CPG companies, and we're a big part of their innovation pipeline to deliver those solutions.

So you'll start to see more and more products moving away from plastic and to paper because it is sustainable. It's doable. It's compostable. Um, decomposable.

[00:13:49] Adam Walker: I, you know, I'm, I'm really glad that you shared that because it never really, like, I always think of plastic as being recyclable. Right. And so I think about getting, but, but paper is probably far more recyclable.

And so why wouldn't I buy some

[00:14:02] Vish Narendra: recycled is what I would say, 70% of the. Yes, recycled, um, less than 30% of plastic gets recycled. And which is why you'll start, that you you've seen. Lots of us has seen videos of, of, uh, turtles with straws on their nose or, or, you know, rivers polluted with bottles. Or there was this big video of a floating island of plastic in the Pacific or Atlantic somewhere.

I can't remember, you know, Plastic just doesn't get recycled as much as people think they, uh, they are. Um, and, uh, you know, paper on the other hand, you know, starting to get recycled, we buy paper into our, you know, recycled board paper mills, right? So it is a resource that goes. Paper as a substrate can be broken down five or six times before the fiber will no longer hold any weight.

So it's a, it's something that we buy from, you know, whether it's the targets and the Costcos and the Walmarts, we buy the paperboard and we buy, you know, uh, used paper to, to actually create paper again. So, you know, plastic just doesn't have that level of a circular. Wow,

[00:15:15] Adam Walker: that that's honestly just fantastic.

Like, I, it never even occurred to me. I really, I know this is a podcast about technology and nonprofits, but that was just a profound moment for me. So thank you so much for sharing that. So, Sufis, last roll, last question. And then I'll ask you just for final thoughts. Um, how have you seen, uh, GPIs role in, in food security space change over the time that you've been there?

Have you seen it change in that time?

[00:15:42] Vish Narendra: So w you know, as we've evolved as a company, uh, we've had the opportunity to really solidify and clarify what our, um, community pillars are. And for us, it's, uh, three major things. Uh, one is putting food on the table, which is integral to the products that we deliver.

Right. Uh, the second is preserving the environment. Uh, so we talked about the sustainability play. And making sure that things are recycled and we're part of the circular economy and the third is investing in education. So whether it is, you know, providing scholarships to our company's employees or.

Doing, um, this ticket program that the trees into cartons and cartons and the trees as a program in elementary schools, or just, you know, supporting, um, the boy Scouts or, uh, junior achievement, which is, these are all big worldwide organizations. It's fundamental to us, uh, that we focus on, uh, And that volunteered our efforts across these three pillars.

Um, and so putting food on the table is a pretty important thing. Um, just as an example, uh, when the pandemic happened, uh, we did a couple of. Um, our employees were essential workers in the, in the plants. Cause we were packaging, you know, if we didn't build a packaging, you know, everybody was eating food at home.

Right. And so that needed to be packaged and shipped. And uh, so we, the audit employees were considered essential employees. And so for the work that they were doing, um, they, they had, uh, a bonus. Uh, plan that was set in place. Additionally, we also committed, um, uh, donations, uh, you know, direct, uh, dollars to food banks in every one of this communities, about 80 of them that we, uh, that we are active in, right.

Manufacturing and office facilities are. And so we're tremendously committed to making sure that, uh, we invest in our people, invest in our communities, make sure that we can put food on the table. Um, so, you know, it's a natural fit, you know, in terms of some of the pillars that, uh, Techbridge focuses on.

[00:17:53] Adam Walker: Oh, that's fantastic, man. It sounds like you're really doing amazing work and very, very thoughtful and very helpful work. So this, uh, do you have any final thoughts that you'd like to share with our listeners before we wrap up?

[00:18:04] Vish Narendra: Um, look Techbridge does some amazing work. If you take, uh, a TCP, uh, you know, graduates, uh, Techbridge puts in about 5,500 bucks to get that person through a bootcamp.

They come out on the other hand. Um, it's about, they make about 50, 55,000 as a starting salary. So it's a 10 X return on your investment. So if you're an individual listening to the. Um, swipe your credit card, do a donation to TechBridge, make sure that you contribute to educating one person that can then go out and, and, uh, you know, they can expand the goodness of, you know, um, moving their family out of poverty.

So, um, very, very powerful tool to help build a better world. And, you know, that's my. Swipe a card help. Techbridge

[00:18:54] Adam Walker: a vet. I could not have said it better and therefore I will not try. So thank you so much for being on the show today. It's such a pleasure to talk to you and we'll have to do this again sometimes.

[00:19:04] Vish Narendra: Hey, thank you for having me. It's a pleasure. Appreciate it. Appreciate everything you're doing. I appreciate everything that TechBridge does, uh, in the communities that we support and, uh, Um, thanks for having me on

[00:19:17] Adam Walker: thank you for listening to TechBridge Talks a podcast about breaking the cycle of generational poverty through the innovative use of technology.

This podcast is produced by TechBridge to find out more about our work and how you can be a part. Visit that's Also make sure to follow us on social. Thanks again for listening and tune in next week for more great content.