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Fieldglass founder and CEO Jai Shekhawat '96 processes more than $27 billion in annual spend in a marketplace he helped create.

Jai Shekhawat

Sunny skies for the cloud

Jai Shekhawat ’96 uses cloud computing to create breakthroughs in workforce management

By Cheryl SooHoo

12/2/2013 - Cloud computing didn’t exist when Jai Shekhawat ’96 pioneered a Web-based software for managing contract labor and services. Now he’s the founder and CEO of Fieldglass, a fast-growing company that has built one of the staffing industry’s most widely used cloud-based platforms.

“We determined early on to create one line of code rather than different copies for every customer to avoid massive development problems,” says Shekhawat, describing the development of Fieldglass’ Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product. “[Cloud] technology didn’t have a name at the time but it seemed like the right thing to do.”

The team’s hunch paid off. The largest player in the Vendor Management System marketplace, Fieldglass processes more than $27 billion in annual spend. Businesses in more than 100 countries procure and manage their contingent workforces using Fieldglass’ platform, which has been translated into 16 languages.

In 2012, Shekhawat received Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Midwest Award. In May, the Chicago-based company received the 2013 Illinois Technology Association’s Lighthouse Award for driving innovation, achieving success and demonstrating sector leadership.

Less paper, more tech

Early in his career, Shekhawat saw a need for a company like Fieldglass. As a young COBOL programmer, he manually submitted paper timesheets to get paid as a temporary worker. He then worked for a firm that connected temporary workers and consultants to large companies.

After earning his MBA, Shekhawat joined McKinsey & Company as a consultant. Many of his clients routinely spent large amounts of money on flexible labor services. Shekhawat soon saw an opportunity to use technology to manage the procurement process more efficiently.

“Certain firms were starting to teach us how to conduct commerce over the Internet,” he says. “I thought if you could buy objects like paperclips online, why couldn’t you do that with human capital?”

‘Fall in love with the problem’

In 2000, Shekhawat launched Fieldglass, which was named to reflect the business solutions the company provides. “We create visibility for companies,” says Shekhawat. The fledgling company soon landed several big-name clients, including Verizon, AIG and GlaxoSmithKline, making it possible for Fieldglass to stay solvent during its fundraising years. In 2010, Chicago-based private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners became a majority stakeholder in a deal valued at $220 million. 

Shekhawat credits his focus on the industry with Fieldglass’ phenomenal growth. “You need to fall in love with the problem and not your product,” he says. “It’s all really about coming up with solutions for customers.”