Nirav Patel Transcript

Clint Betts

Nirav, thank you so much for coming on the show today, and talking to our community, and being here. What an honor to have you. It's great to see you.

Nirav Patel

Well, it's a pleasure being here, Clint. A pleasure being here today, and honor to meet you as well.

Clint Betts

Hey, let's start with your background, and how you got into business, and starting companies, and leading companies, and what drove you to this career.

Nirav Patel

And I'll talk a little bit about the starting. This is my first time CEO gig. While I've been in the industry for almost three decades, this is the first time that I've played the role of a CEO. And I'll say that it's been all exciting and fun. And I just completed my third anniversary.

Look, this whole drive and passion of trying to do business building has always been something that's with me for a long period of time. I'm pretty excited and pleased with the performance so far and the way we've really built a career through this. And more importantly, the impact we've been able to create to all of our stakeholders, our employees, our customers, and the communities that we work in.

Clint Betts

What's the history of Bristlecone? Am I saying that right, by the way?

Nirav Patel

Yeah, yeah, you are. So Bristlecone has a very, very interesting history and a long history. And coincidentally we are celebrating our 25th anniversary this year so we've been around in the industry for 25 years. For businesses like ours was started by a bunch of passionate executives that worked in the world of SAP.

It was back in '98 that they decided to come out and start this Silicon Valley startup. We continue to be, even today, headquartered out of San Jose. While I'm personally based out of Dallas. That's where we started as a Silicon Valley startup. The journey since then has been fantastic. We are over 2,800 people.

It's in '94 that the Mahindra Group decided to buy this asset because the value and the passion that we saw clearly we thought we could meaningfully create a huge impact, not just within the Mahindra Group but for the industry in terms of how the supply chain could have its own space. And long until the COVID was hit is when we realized the impact and the value. We can be more excited about playing in the world of supply chain and digital in helping a lot of our clients. So that's a little bit of our history in terms of how we came about. A bunch of passionate leaders, and the team that are working day in day out on harder issues to solve like supply chain.

Clint Betts

Mahindra has this famous philosophy around Rise. I'm guessing you guys adhere to it as well at Bristlecone. Can you tell us a little bit more about Rise and why it's such an impactful philosophy around business?

Nirav Patel

Absolutely. That was one of the biggest factors that drove me personally towards a culture that believed in the Rise philosophy. And the Rise philosophy is really focused around the culture of how we think about empowering others, and letting others rise, and letting them achieve their outcomes. And it's only in letting others rise is we believe that we rise together as a company.

So I think we've been extremely passionate about our Rise philosophy. Clearly for us in Bristlecone, and to me as an individual leader, I think that resonates very, very strongly with sort of our cultural beliefs and where we should be focusing on creating the impact. Not just on our clients and our employees but also on the communities that we serve.

Clint Betts

Being so involved in supply chain, and digital enterprises, and things like that must have been fascinating during the pandemic. What did you learn during the pandemic?

Nirav Patel

Resiliency is a very, very interesting aspect of humans at large that we could learn. Not just the impact of what happened with the virus, but how we as humans really learned to stand back up, in my opinion, is the most and the biggest learning that we've taken. We did not expect that the supply chain would be a little bit of a consequence of what happened in COVID.

When it comes to the commercial world, we realized and saw that most products, as they came out of the COVID play, that the demand really spiked. Supply chain took a little bit of a toll in terms of not being able to have the products be available at the right place, right time. Most organizations started to really look at the weaknesses that existed in the system in the supply chain.

Two big things I call human resiliency and corporate resiliency. And corporate resiliency by way of saying it is essentially that you can only do so much in predicting where the world and demand will be. But what you can do for sure is that if you do get knocked down. And we believe in that statement when we say that we thrive on change. Essentially we are saying that change is inevitable, it's going to happen no matter what you try to do to prevent it. I think what you can do is to build a level of resiliency within your organizations.

As I believe humans have now built a very strong sense of resiliency to sort of fight back with everything that's happened. So to me, there's a lot of parallel with what happened with humans in post-COVID mindset, and I think the same mindset exists right now in corporations where resiliency becomes a number one priority over everything else.

Clint Betts

How resilient do you think the supply chain is now just generally? And how resilient do you think organizations are post-COVID?

Nirav Patel

Look, this is a journey. I keep saying this to a lot of our clients that when you hit upon a problem you realize you start to look at how to prevent it. It's like one of the CEOs, our customer CEOs, recently told me at one point, which was brilliant. I said to him, "Mark, how do you really look at this market environment where there's a softness in the demand, interest rates are significantly high trying to contain inflation? What does this mean to your organization?"

He gave me a brilliant answer, and he said that "It's not the question of, it's a question of when the markets bounce back." The level of confidence that he had was to say that we know for sure that the markets are going to get better and the demand environment is going to come out better.

One of the things we want to learn from what happened in the post-COVID, I call it the revenge phase, where the spending really spiked up is I don't want the supply chain to break again. Input from him was, "I want to prioritize supply chain. I want to really make sure that my supply chain is resilient." Now, to answer your question, why do they feel confident that they will not be able to get knocked down by supply chain issues?

They're equally aware of the systemic issues that exist in how the supply chain system has been left out in the legacy environment for such a long time. So clearly they understand the modernization of the supply chain is a many-year, probably a decade's journey. So you are going to constantly prioritize investments in the supply chain area to modernize your estate.

And whether that means building new ERP systems, installing new systems of visibility, taking advantage of the cool new technologies of the AI, the generative AI, as well as the IoTs, which increases sort of an awareness of your network and where your supply chain really operates today.

So to me, I feel we are still in very early days. One of the most recent McKinsey surveys says that 80% of supply chain systems will be AI-led in the next three years compared to 30% predicted just before COVID. So you can see how COVID has really accelerated digital adoption. Increasingly customers are prioritizing AI and supply chain to be their number one priorities to really make sure that their journey of modernization continues, and that they lead, and make supply chain a little bit of a competitive advantage. In the past supply chain was a do-no-harm approach, saying, "Let it continue and make sure that we get the products and on-time deliveries as we expect." But today I think increasingly customers think of supply chain as a strategic priority and make sure that is a competitive advantage.

Clint Betts

I mean, and using Bristlecone, I'm sure that they can control the supply chain a lot better. But I wonder, how often are you thinking of geopolitical issues? How often are people asking you these types of questions? How much of the supply chain can you really control? For some reason you probably are thinking like, hey, about the war in Ukraine, or China, and Taiwan, all these types of things, right? And you're running a company but you also have to think about these geopolitical issues. How does that affect business, competence, and supply chain?

Nirav Patel

Well, Clint, that's a great question. I'm going to answer it the way I have answered many of my work colleagues that they've asked me about, what's my view of the world? I think the world is going through four big transitions. And I say the word because this is beyond the supply chain, this is beyond one company's realm, and it's actually the four big transitions.

One, we are going through a massive AI transition. And what that means is everything in and around our world we are going to see become more AI. More AI leverage, more technology leveraged, more prediction leverage. So that's one big transition. The second is what I call the green transition, and this transition is real, it's happening.

I think there might be some bumps on the road, I mean, in terms of the pace at which the transition happens. But I can collectively see the world has really taken on itself. And more importantly, the younger generation is the one that has really caught on and believed in it. Your customers start to really demand climate action. You will see that. So to me, that is a second big transition.

The third, and you said that in that your point is a little geopolitical, I call decoupling of the supply chain. And what I mean really by that is, all the decoupling of the world you can call it as. The macro issues, the geopolitical issues are almost a constant thing to be around. And no longer a country or a nation or a state or a company should rely on a static set of assumptions.

Which essentially means that this decoupling of the supply chain is happening and you will have to bake in the macro dynamics while designing your supply chain and so you no longer can make an assumption that what works today will actually work five years from now.

You're in a constant change to what I call rewire your supply chain now to prepare and make sure that your demand is not missing on products and services that you're a supply for. To me, the third big transition is what I call the decoupling of the supply chain. And inherently inside that transition is the macro issues to play out for the set of products and services that you're selling to your customers in terms of where your network lies, in terms of the products, and where you source from.

And the final, which I think is the most important final but the most important one is what I call the human transition. We as humans have learned to deal with these three big transitions and adapt to that. And so if this is going to be the real state to be, how are you going to really prepare yourself, your kids, your colleagues, your organizations to deal with these three big mega transitions? Not just as somebody who is contributing to building that transitions but also even as users.

Climate action affects everybody, everybody out there. Every individual out there in the world, right? When you get hit with these natural disasters, I mean, it doesn't look at who is rich, poor, gender, ethnicity, or any which way you look at it, it just hits everybody at the same time, much like COVID. I think in that conversation I feel that we as humans have to deal with what I call a transition which is almost like saying the humans that will transition better are the ones that can manage the three other transitions in a very meaningful way. Sorry for a very long answer, Clint, but that's the best way I'm thinking about where the world is going to go and how everything is interconnected in some form on those four transitions.

Clint Betts

No, that's super interesting, it's super fascinating. And number four, the human transition ties to your number one which is artificial intelligence. How are you thinking about AI, this boon in AI, particularly since ChatGPT took the world by storm, although we pretend like ChatGPT invented AI in December of '22? This is something that's been around for a long time and you've probably been working on even a lot longer than most companies. What do you think about this transition that humans are about to make from status quo to AI being a big part of our lives?

Nirav Patel

Let me first start with a little bit of context on saying that I'm a firm believer in AI. But I'm a firm believer in what I call responsible AI. Like all the pieces of technology, and all things in life, there's always a good side and a bad side. The good thing is that we humans are very quick to spot the weaknesses of anything. If I were to ask you also in the same vein saying, "Tell me how many things are red in color in the room that you're sitting in?" It's easy for you to spot because you can actually look at them and say, "Okay, here are the things that are red. As by nature, we are very good at spotting the issues.

And so the way you think about it is that you have a new piece of tool and technology where we are also starting to get better at knowing the weaknesses of it. And if you have that, and then you can contain that, then I think you're in a place that you actually can let the good part of that stuff meaningfully help. And I think this is a very disruptive play of generative AI as well as AI in general, right? That is the first transition I listed, and that's happening and that's real. It's going to happen. Now, whether you play a part to it, whether you meaningfully be aware and you meaningfully contribute to that in a way that it can be adopted is the right way I think about the human transition.

The other name I have for the human transition is called the attitude transitions. The reason why I have that is, there's a lot in our attitude towards all of these other transitions that actually has an important role to play. So if you, as an individual, have the right mindset and the right attitude towards the other three transitions, I think we're going to be in a lot, lot better place faster.

Transitions are going to happen no matter what, whether we are in it or not. But I think the question of the pace, as to how fast you can really get to that, is a factor of our attitude and how we believe we are going to play a role in those three transitions.

In my opinion, my advice to individuals is always be very well aware of the downsides, the weaknesses, but use it to make you a smarter decision maker, a smarter user of it. People at times say, "Hey, don't give an iPad to a 2-year-old or a 3-year-old." I mean, why's that? Is it just because you feel there are a lot of other things to do?

And so as humans, you should have a balance of knowing what to do without gadgets and what to do with gadgets so you have a very complete life as such. Right. So I think I would always say, never run away from knowing the weaknesses but just take it with a little bit of clarity that it makes you a better person knowing the darker side of certain tech.

Clint Betts

The second transition is really interesting too, this green transition. It's probably somewhat controversial, at least in the political realm. There's been a lot of debates, and ESG-type things have been politicized, and things of that nature. What do you think about all of that?

Nirav Patel

Well, I think. This is one thing that we are completely united across the Mahindra Group on the belief that we are going to drive and we're going to play a very active role in pushing for climate change. Couldn't agree more with you on the political aspects of it because economic aspects play an important role. I don't think anybody disagrees that they hate the extreme weather that is impacting our world. I don't think anybody disagrees with the fact that it is happening. I mean, it is statistically proven that we are seeing extreme weather all around the world so that is the fact.

Now, who plays what role and how fast you do it to reverse that isn't a good thing for the entire world. There is no disconnect from that point of view. If people have disagreement on the problem itself then I can get it. I don't think a problem is disagreed by many, but I think how you solve it has a slightly different connotation. I look at it and say that the realization of the issue is there, the question is, how do you solve it? There's a bit of that political angle coming in to say, how do you solve it?

I think I broadly look at it and say that look, you as an individual, as a buyer of the world, I mean, you're spending money, you hardened money out there. I mean, you can make an impact on that by just simply buying things that are more supportive of the climate transition, right? So I think you as an individual, as a worker in the corporate world can always make an impact.

In our case, in Mahindra's, we are going above and beyond that, we are pushing ourselves to really commit to be totally green much ahead of the UN mandate and the India mandate. So we are much ahead in that commitment for us from our side. But also equally important, we are also supporting a lot of our clients by having sustainability and green offerings.

So we are now working with many of our clients to think about supply chain and sourcing from a climate lens. And so if they are really very, very mindful of that then I think we will get to a better place. Remember politicization is in terms of how you solve it as against not agreeing on the problem. It's two different things.

Clint Betts

Right. Yes, yes, exactly. I'm glad you said it that way. You mentioned you're based in Dallas but the company is headquartered in San Jose. I wonder how you're thinking about work from home, and remote work, and hybrid, and all of this type of stuff.

Nirav Patel

The future of the workforce is a very evolving thing, in my opinion, because I think there are ... Like with all negative events, there are always things to learn. And I think I've learned the fact that hybrids are here to stay. COVID taught us to go to the other extreme where you can just be shelled in your four walls and work for a long period of time, but I'm not sure if that's the most healthy way to think about it, from a mental health standpoint. I actually feel that hybrids are very real, it's here to stay. I don't think you're going to go into an extreme world that 's all in the office or all at home, you're going to find a middle ground.

I think every company's taking, what is the right solution for them. You're a creative company, you're going to bring a lot of creative functions together because that's the best way to assume that human productivity is at its best in certain environments. So some things are done better by sitting together in an office space and so those functions will eventually graduate towards that. I do believe that there are a whole bunch of things that actually can work from anywhere. It actually is an advantage for a lot of employees to think about it.

Our sales at a place where we've said that we're going to give some more time for the hybrid world. I think the jury is still out on where it'll finally land. I think either way we're going to be very comfortable going. And so we're not that fixated about it and we're just talking as we go along. I mean, if 80% of my customers come and say, "I need all of your teams to be in the office servicing me, I think we'll have no choice, we'll move it.

Clint Betts

Since taking the role of CEO, what have you learned about leadership that surprised you? And what have you learned about leadership? About leading a company or leading people or setting a mission?

Nirav Patel

I think that's a very deep question and I'm going to try to respond in some form a little bit more progressive thinking in that way. Leadership is a learning journey. I don't feel, as a leader, you stop learning. To me, I think the greatest source of learning, particularly with my current role, is this idea of trying to run a private company with a public company mindset.

How do you do that, right? You think of it that way. That if you're a public company you're sort of driving a level of accountability where every three months you have to get in front of your investors answering what you said you're going to do, whether you did that or not. And so they are testing you on your commitment and your promise every three months.

I think as a private company you sometimes lose that sense of accountability. You assume you have a little bit of space, and that takes you in a place which somewhat doesn't always drive the best performance. If you know how to operate a private company with a public company mindset, I think that's a very different challenge in itself. So I think to me, my big set of learning in being the CEO for Bristlecone is sort of driving that sense of accountability while keeping a lot of good things around empowerment, leadership progression, vibrant cultures, and so forth have to stay no matter which company you're in, what type of company you're in. But sometimes you come up against that challenge.

And I think our functional challenge, for us, is really on the supply chain and how we can really play a very impactful and meaningful role in the modernization journey. That's the early problem statement I talked about. How can I lead with that conversation? I think otherwise I feel leadership is always a learning journey and so you learn every single day in life. You take good calls. I mean, you take all calls with good intent. Some end up being the right calls and some don't end up being the right calls. Part of the thing is to fail fast, and learn from your mistakes, and build those concepts, and go forward.

Clay Christiansen says it beautifully, right? Nobody is better than him in saying all of these are theories. When a person is sharing their point of view it is a theory they have built. And they have a theory about, if you do these things you get this outcome. The surprise comes in when you go through a different path and you get the same outcome. Or sometimes you get a different path and you get a better outcome. I think people are starting to learn those theories, and they believe that could be a way to really deploy and solve certain problems.

So I think leadership is, in my opinion, an important role. No leaders stop learning. I mean, they just have to constantly look at what works and what doesn't work. And I think you should look at not just what works and doesn't work from your lens but also learn from others in terms of the good things and the bad things that they make the call on.

Clint Betts

Nirav, I can't thank you enough for taking the time to speak with us. This has been so fascinating. And the way you think about the world, and leadership, and technology is just so beautiful, I love it. We end every interview the exact same way at Here we believe the chances one gives are just as important as the chances one takes. And I wonder when you hear that, who comes to mind that may have given you a chance?

Nirav Patel

I have a couple of names that come to my mind. I always cherish the relationships I've had with them. And two of them have been my bosses in my past life on the work front. One of the people was when I was back in India. His name is Mahesh. He gave me a chance to be a business unit head for the first time in my life. And I thought that was a little bit ahead of my own expectations. I used to be a developer project person working on projects and he took a chance on me to run a business unit. There's another person that comes to my mind which is my second phase. When I came to the US, Raj Mehta, he was the CEO at Cognizant, and he took a chance on me running what I call multiple units and markets which used to be called the CMT.

I would say that there is a chance taken by me. On me by Mahindra's, on me being the first time CEO. I would say that you could almost never reflect back on your success without identifying those individuals. And I couldn't agree more with you on this point that you need people to take chances on, and you should always be somebody encouraging of those as you're taking your success story forward.

Clint Betts

Nirav, thank you again so much for joining us today, appreciate everything. We'll continue to track Bristlecone and your success. Thanks, my friend.

Nirav Patel

Thank you. Thank you, Clint. A pleasure talking to you, appreciate it. Enjoyed the conversation

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