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50 Most Admired Companies of the Year 2023

As technology continues to evolve, we’re committed to remaining a pioneer in delivering solutions that empower businesses to thrive: Phil Friedman of CGS

In 1984, Phil Friedman, President and CEO of CGS, established the company in New York City. At the outset, CGS, also known as Computer Generated Solutions, Inc., consisted of a small team of five individuals, primarily focused on delivering professional IT services. As time passed, the company experienced consistent growth in the United States and expanded its global footprint through both natural growth and strategic acquisitions.

Over four decades later, CGS has transformed into an organization with over 8,000 employees, extending its presence to 52 countries across Latin America, North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and South Africa. The company caters to a diverse client base, serving industries such as fashion, apparel, healthcare, retail, financial services, hospitality, technology and telecommunications, and many others.

The Silicon Review interviewed Mr. Friedman, and here are some noteworthy takeaways from the interview.

Interview Highlights

Q. What was the motivation behind starting CGS?

You could say that both the CGS story and my story both began in 1976. That was the year I applied for permission to leave the former Soviet Union. On May 4, 1976, I arrived in the United States, armed with degrees in electrical engineering, economics and finance, and feeling confident and excited about the opportunities that awaited me. The only catch was, I barely spoke English – which was crucial to my success in this new country. So, I went back to school to refine my English and to study technology, focusing specifically on what was at the time called “computers and data processing.”

In addition to English and programming classes, I spent time reading as much as possible. One morning while reading the New York Times, I saw a tiny advertisement for an “RPG programmer” – which happened to be the exact programming language I was studying. I called the number and just by luck of having seen the ad, immediately got the offer to work in the fashion industry with a local New York-based company, Charles Greenberg & Sons. The timing was perfect – as my wife (Rose) and I came to the country with exactly $500 in our pockets. Our first apartment was $240 per month rent, with a $240 security deposit, leaving us with $20, along with a $70 per week stipend provided by my local university. Now, armed with a new education, a new language, a new job, and a new apartment, we were ready to pursue the American dream!

Within the first few years at Charles Greenberg & Sons, I moved up quickly from systems analyst to running the whole IT department. At the time, the company’s computer systems were very laborious and utilized a lot of manpower to run successfully. I convinced them to implement IBM System/38 and its ACS software, creating the first online computer system for the company. People came from far and wide to see this online system and to ask for my advice.

That’s when I had my “aha moment.”

I was spending half my time giving free advice and helping IBM and thought, “If there’s so much business that IBM can’t even handle it, maybe there’s an opportunity to start my own company.”

With that, I went home, told my wife about the idea and wrote a four-page business plan – and to my surprise, both she and the partners at Charles Greenberg & Sons liked the idea. My only condition was that I get to bring with me my existing team of four programmers. They agreed, and had a few conditions of their own: First, they wanted to be partners in the new venture and second, we had to incorporate their name into the new venture – so we took the initials CGS, reverse engineered it to stand for “computer generated solutions” and the idea was born!

The passion we had for bridging the gap and blending cutting-edge technology with business value to solve practical problems was the core philosophy in 1985 and continues to be the driving force behind CGS and the incredible work we do for customers to this day.

Q. Explain your services in brief. What does CGS do?

Ultimately, our solutions are united by a common thread - the commitment to driving innovation, efficiency, and success for our clients in a digital-first world.

When I started the company, I realized early on how important it was that CGS didn’t just offer one product or service. By offering a variety of services — infrastructure, software services, enterprise learning and business process outsourcing — we’re able to cross-sell our products and services as part of a unified solution. This is extremely beneficial for our customers, who see CGS as a partner in transforming their business operations versus a vendor that is selling a one-off product or service.

In 1985, we started by providing professional IT services and quickly expanded into Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, and today we are the number one solution provider in the fashion and apparel market. Our BlueCherry® Enterprise Suite is recognized as the industry standard by providers throughout the fashion, apparel, footwear, manufacturing, distribution and retail industries.

Today, CGS boasts a diversified solution offering across multiple, discreet business units, which include: (1) Software and IT Managed Services – with our flagship BlueCherry® Enterprise Suite – a best-in-class solution empowering companies to better manage their entire business and supply chain; (2) Customer Experience and Business Process Outsourcing – delivering a world-class, seamlessly branded customer support experience led by expertly skilled people, cutting edge technology and proven processes; (3) Enterprise Learning and Development, delivering custom learning solutions essential to transforming the future of the workforce – ranging from global strategy consulting to interactive game-based eLearning and today AR/VR/MR-driven training solutions; and (4) Immersive Technologies – our in-house innovation arm which leverages emerging technologies such as Generative AI, ChatGPT, VR/AR to name a few, along with our flagship mixed reality platform – TeamworkAR®.

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Q. We’re witnessing a significant shift towards digital transformation across industries. How does CGS facilitate this transformation for its clients?

The digital transformation wave is completely reshaping industries like never before. And for nearly 40 years, CGS has been at the forefront of enabling this transformation, for us and our clients.

Our approach has always been deeply rooted in collaboration and understanding. We work closely with customers to immerse ourselves in their business intricacies, challenges, and aspirations. By truly partnering with customers for the long haul, we craft holistic strategies and comprehensive solutions that seamlessly integrate technology into their operations. You could say our solutions are strategic enablers. Whether it’s implementing cutting-edge supply chain software solutions, optimizing business processes, designing modern corporate learning initiatives, or enhancing customer engagement through digital platforms, we’re there every step of the way, guiding our clients towards a more agile, efficient, and future-ready business model.

For example, we’ve helped organizations integrate AI-powered analytics to gain deeper insights into their operations and customer behavior. Our BlueCherry suite was built from the ground up to digitally transform the supply chain by enabling end-to-end visibility from concept design through manufacturing, warehousing, e-commerce and more. Our BlueCherry Shop Floor Control solution is a true game changer for customers. As the most widely adopted fashion-focused MES solution in the world, we transform manufacturing floors by providing a comprehensive view of factory activity by digitizing, in real-time, the collection and reporting of production activities, such as order tracking, line balancing, absenteeism and productivity via tablets on the factory floor. This real-time visibility equips customers with the ability to make faster, better-informed business decisions and address potential delays and challenges before they escalate.

One of the most exciting examples of digital transformation comes from our CGS Immersive business unit and our TeamworkAR platform. This AR-based collaboration platform is already helping customers train workers remotely on everything from traditional onboarding and training with customers including McDonald’s, to advanced interpersonal (people) communication, listening, problem-solving, and empathy skills needed for airlines such as Scoot (a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines) to virtually train flight attendants to deal with unruly passengers. Every day we see new and exciting opportunities to leverage technology to transform how our customers do business.

Q. What role does research and development play at CGS, and could you share some insights into the company’s approach to exploring new technologies?

Research and development are at the heart of what we do and are the lifeblood of our innovation journey – which is never-ending. We recognize that innovation is the key to staying ahead in today’s dynamic tech landscape, and it requires more than just “keeping up with the trends” – it means helping define and shepherd those trends and make them available to our customers.

Our approach to R&D is multifaceted. We invest in in-house centers of excellence and innovation, fostering an environment where colleagues across every function and geography can lead innovation initiatives. We also collaborate with strategic partners and industry experts to gain diverse perspectives and insights. By cultivating this culture of curiosity and experimentation, we’ve seen groundbreaking ideas emerge from the most unlikely of sources.

When exploring new technologies, we don’t just hop on the bandwagon, and we’re not just looking at their capabilities; we’re evaluating how they can be applied to solve real-world business challenges. This approach ensures that the solutions we develop are not just innovative for the sake of it but have tangible benefits for our clients.

Q. Ethical considerations are increasingly important in the tech industry. How does CGS prioritize ethical tech practices in its solutions and operations?

Ethics are non-negotiable for us. We understand the immense responsibility that comes with developing and deploying technology. Our CTO often says, “With great technological power comes great responsibility.” Our solutions are not just about functionality; they’re about integrity, security, and inclusivity. We’re committed to ensuring that the solutions we provide align with our ethical standards, fostering trust with our clients and their customers. And this commitment to ethical tech practices extends to our partnerships as well. We’re careful to collaborate with vendors and partners who share our values and commitment to integrity.

Q. Can you share a few compelling client success stories that highlight CGS’s role in driving innovation and business growth?

After 40 years in business, we have countless examples of compelling client success stories. You can find dozens of detailed customer success stories and videos on our site and our social channels, but I can share a few recent stories.

One of our clients, a global manufacturing company, was facing challenges with streamlining their supply chain operations. Through our tailored technology solutions, we were able to optimize its processes, which not only improved its operational efficiency but also gave it a competitive edge. Key to the solution was real-time data analytics and AI-driven insights. The result: The company’s supply chain became more agile and responsive, reducing lead times and operational costs. This not only streamlined the company’s operations but also positioned it as a leader in an increasingly competitive market.

Another example is a global, Fortune 500 retail client who was struggling to revolutionize its employee training, across multiple geographies. We conceptualized and developed a digital learning platform, leveraging AR/VR that combined interactive modules with real-time progress tracking. This not only enhanced its employees’ skills but also significantly improved workforce productivity and, consequently, customer satisfaction. These stories underscore our commitment to turning challenges into opportunities and leveraging technology as a catalyst for growth and innovation.

Q. Do you have any new services ready to be launched?

Absolutely! Innovation is a constant at CGS. While I can’t reveal all the details just yet, I can tell you that we’re actively working on new offerings across all of our customer segments by expanding our capabilities in areas such as AI-driven analytics, cybersecurity, and immersive technologies. We aim to always stay ahead of the curve and provide our clients with the tools they need to navigate the ever-evolving tech landscape.

Our goal is to always anticipate the evolving needs of businesses and provide them with solutions that are not just ahead of the curve but are also practical and transformative. As technology continues to evolve, we’re committed to remaining a pioneer in delivering solutions that empower businesses to thrive.

Q. What does the future hold for your company and its customers? Are exciting things on the way?

While nobody knows what the future holds, one constant thing is we will continue to reinvent ourselves to solve customer problems by investing in new technologies and keeping our ear to the ground to see what developments are happening globally.

A perfect example is AI and how it’s already changing all aspects of our business. Our corporate learning customers are now benefitting from augmented reality and generative AI-based solutions. Our BlueCherry customers are seeing AI-driven enhancements to speed implementation and time to achieve success. Our BPO division is leveraging our two new Centers of Excellence (for AI) to transform how we support our call center customer customers. Unlike many of our competitors, we don’t see AI as the end of call centers.

We believe it will revolutionize how they operate! It will be a collaborative effort between humans and technology that will enhance the quality of the service we provide to our customers, and more so to how they service their customers.

We’re dedicated to continuing our role as a trailblazer in technology-driven solutions. As industries evolve, we’re ready to help our clients embrace the opportunities presented by AI, machine learning, IoT, and whatever technology comes next. We’re not just adapting to change; we’re shaping it. Our focus will always be on helping our clients thrive in a digitally transformed world.

Q. Is there a final message you’d like to share with our readers—business leaders who are navigating the complexities of technology-driven change?

Absolutely! To all the visionary leaders out there, I want to emphasize that technology is not just a tool; it’s a strategy. Embrace innovation not for its own sake, but for the value it can bring to your business. Stay agile, be willing to explore new horizons, and remember that success in the digital age is about collaboration and adaptability.

I will end this with some advice I wish someone had given me before I became CEO. I don’t think I would’ve changed a thing I did, but these tips would have been useful and helped me sleep a little better some nights:

  • You will have sleepless nights and brainstorming sessions at 3 a.m.
  • You can’t do everything yourself.
  • Know that failure and setbacks are essential parts of the process.
  • You are only as good as your team, hire the best and brightest and let them do their job.
  • And lastly, hard work — no matter how high you advance in an organization — day in, day out, hard work is always necessary to keep the company evolving and successful.

At CGS, we’re not just here  to provide solutions; we’re  here to be your partners in conquering the challenges and seizing the opportunities of the tech-driven future. Together, we can create a new era of business excellence.

“Our solutions are united by a common thread – the commitment to driving innovation, efficiency, and success for our clients in a digital-first world.”

“To all the visionary leaders out there, I want to emphasize that technology is not just a tool; it’s a strategy. Embrace innovation not for its own sake, but for the value it can bring to your business. Stay agile, be willing to explore new horizons, and remember that success in the digital age is about collaboration and adaptability.”

“The passion we had for bridging the gap and blending cutting-edge technology with business value to solve practical problems was the core philosophy in 1985 and continues to be the driving force behind CGS and the incredible work we do for customers to this day.”