On the job: A chat with HP’s new chief strategy & incubation officer, Savi Baveja

Why he's all about "creating the new" with disruptive businesses in areas such as healthcare, 3D printing, microfluidics, edge computing, and more.

By Leigh-Ann Jackson — July 15, 2021

Sarabjit Singh “Savi” Baveja is all about “creating the new.” Formerly a senior partner at the consultancy firm Bain & Company, he joined HP as its chief strategy and incubation officer in January with a “mission to create big new things that will shape the future of HP.” 

He was immediately struck by the company’s culture, which fosters the kind of big thinking and innovation that motivates him.

“There’s a pent up energy to explore here,” he said. “I haven’t heard any ‘Not invented here,’ or ‘Who is this guy?’ or ‘Why are we doing this?’ at all, which has been awesome.”

In fact, as he gleefully recalled, there was one member of his team who was a bit too keen: “I had someone make a list of ideas that could be incubated and accelerated and he came back to me and said, ‘I think there’s at least 41 things that could be incubated.’ I was like, ‘Whoa! I’m not going to do 41 things! Let’s just pick a few.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that talent doesn’t care what you look like or where you come from.

While at Bain, Baveja led the company’s technology, strategy, and advanced analytics areas. He’s now leading HP employees as they tackle such efforts as using microfluidics to improve personalized health and wellness, and accelerating software that makes edge computing faster. While he’s excited about the company being a hotbed of ideas — and he does use the word “excited” a lot when discussing his work — Baveja has also lauded HP’s commitment to “creating a better world for all.” He points to HP’s response to the COVID-19 crisis in India as a prime example of that dedication.

In keeping with his Sikh faith, he has a strong belief in equality and he feels that his religious identity has shaped who he is professionally and personally. To kick off Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in May, he shared a companywide statement in which he wrote: “I’m proud to be part of a company that has a rich legacy in championing equal rights for underrepresented groups and remains committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

The Garage spoke with Baveja from his home office in San Francisco.

What drew you to HP?

I’ve known [HP CEO] Enrique Lores for over 20 years. I knew HP was a diversity-friendly company. I knew it had a good culture. The prospect of being at the table for a major transformation of an iconic Silicon Valley company — I could not resist.

What is your team currently incubating? 

One of the many exciting things we’re doing is innovating on custom-printed medical orthotics. One out of four people lives with foot pain that turns into back pain and ankle pain. At least half of those people need medical orthotics; they can’t just go to the drugstore and buy an insole. The only option that has existed for them is about half a dozen visits to a podiatrist or specialist and a very long, complicated process of casting your foot in plaster. By the time all this is done, it has cost more than $5,000 dollars and taken months to get you the solution. We’re talking about complete disruption — hundreds, not thousands of dollars, and two days, not three to five months. It’s the convenience of getting a medical-grade solution that really solves your foot problem, at a fraction of what it would’ve cost otherwise. That’s what I’m excited about. I connect a lot with the difference it’s going to make in people’s lives. 

Savi's family includes his son Amrit, wife Chetna, and daughter Simran.

The effects of climate change have been front-page news lately. Are you currently accelerating any eco-centric innovations? 

The environmental benefit is a huge part of why we’re working with molded fiber. HP’s 3D printing technology is enabling an entirely new way to make custom packaging that’s cost-effective, fast to produce, and eco-friendly. It minimizes single-use plastics by replacing them with something that is completely biodegradable. Molded fiber pulp can be made of anything — newspaper, bamboo, jute. That’s the cool thing about it.  

You’ve been working in Silicon Valley for over 30 years. What changes have you seen in the culture?

I’ve seen the culture change in good ways and bad.  For some people, it's just about the money and I think that’s unhealthy. I always thought it was about creating, inventing, and solving big problems that have an impact on the world. Of course there are financial rewards that come with that, but that wasn’t the only point. A positive thing that I’ve seen is more and more people are coming into entrepreneurship because the cost of creating a new business has gone down. It’s much easier to start a business than it ever was. I love that there’s this tremendous energy to become an entrepreneur, to create and build something. 


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And a lot of those new entrepreneurs represent a wider variety of backgrounds. What do you think about the recent DEI efforts that have been implemented to benefit those rising entrepreneurs?

Candidly, I think there’s a long way to go. I don’t think we in Silicon Valley look hard enough to find the talent or do nearly enough to nurture it and bring the best out of it. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that talent doesn’t care what you look like or where you come from. It’s equally sprinkled around every community. Silicon Valley still has this idea of the “superhero,” “the genius.” That, I think, has been negative for women, minorities, and foreigners because there’s a picture of what that person looks like, and it isn’t us. At HP, there are genuine efforts to improve things, but it’s slow. Change is slow.

Does the Sikh concept Chardi Kala, or “eternal optimism,” affect how you view that change? What impact does it have on your work and your daily life?

Literally, it means “rising spirit” — keep your spirit positive and optimistic. I think that’s especially important when bad things happen. It makes you look for the positive, for the opportunity. When Asian hate crimes were happening, I was going: “What can we do to support? What can we do to help?” I started thinking that maybe that’s where the “optimism” comes in. These experiences can make Asian groups better connected to each other, where they weren’t as connected before. 

I had incidents in San Francisco after 9/11 when I had a lot of stuff said to me in elevators or while I was walking around downtown. Many of these people had never interacted with a Sikh before. I thought maybe that’s the opportunity — for them to remember how I reacted to that barb or offensive comment. Maybe that will create a positive impression of what they think of Sikhs. 

There’s always challenges. You turn them into positive energy. You turn them into things you can focus on that are helpful and that move things forward.