Whether writing or recording, producing or playing, James Poyser, BBA ’93, is living his dream in the music industry
The lower level in James Poyser’s home is designed for entertaining – but not in the traditional sense.
The room resembles a music museum. Keyboards, nearly a dozen of them, occupy the space within his home studio. A guitar rack is in there, too, sandwiched between the wall and a mixing board. And within arm’s reach is Poyser’s digital keyboard, on which he conducts a chunk of his in-home work.
Gold and platinum albums accentuate the basement walls just beyond Poyser’s studio. Encased in glass, the albums are like a living resumé, dotting the award-winning achievements of his 24-year career in music.
Poyser, BBA ’93, took an unorthodox route to music stardom. That path included earning an undergraduate degree in Finance from Temple University’s Fox School of Business.
Poyser is the keyboardist and pianist for The Roots, the Philadelphia-reared, world-renowned hip-hop band. His passion for music began as a child in Sheffield, England. He’d use his mother’s knitting needles to play drums on her upturned pots and pans. Today, that passion takes shape five days a week on NBC’s The Tonight Show, on which The Roots serve as Jimmy Fallon’s house band.
Behind the scenes, he has famously collaborated as a studio musician, songwriter, and producer for the likes of Mariah Carey, Erykah Badu, and Adele, among others. He’s toured the world, and his work has received three Grammy awards and 10 Grammy Award nominations.
“The relationships are the most-rewarding aspect of this career of mine,” Poyser said, from his home in the Philadelphia suburbs. “They are lifelong. Music has given me the chance to have so many brothers and sisters who will be around long after my hands can’t move.”
FROM SMALL GIGS TO THE BIG TIME
Born in the United Kingdom, Poyser’s family of five moved to the United States when he was only 9. They relocated to West Philadelphia, where Poyser’s father, Felix, organized the New Testament Church of God with only seven congregants.
Religion played an instrumental role in molding young James’ life.
“It was all around me,” Poyser said. “A big part of the worship experience is music. I would see these musicians, and the motion of their arms and feet, and I’d say, ‘I want to do that.’ It seemed like a natural thing.”
Poyser started out with piano lessons and “the little-old-lady experience,” he said of his first piano instructor. As a result, he grew disinterested and temporarily gave up playing. A child his age later reignited that spark. On cassette tape, Poyser recorded his peer’s playing of a song on the keyboard, and Poyser listened to the tape over and over. He not only taught himself to play the song, but how to play it in all 12 musical keys.
Poyser took his music career to a different level during his days at Temple University. Back then, he would schedule regular jam sessions with music majors from the Boyer College of Music, and deliver sidewalk performances outside the Student Center. His college career began across town, as a chemical engineering major at Drexel University. On a trip to Rohm & Haas with classmates, though, he said to himself, “I don’t want to do this for a living,” and transferred to Temple.
“I knew the strength of Fox, and finance was a practical degree that could apply to whatever career path I chose,” Poyser said. “My love would lead me to a career in music, and I figured I’d need a business education to be able to negotiate contracts or run my own production company.”
From there, a series of connections helped Poyser “put the pieces of the puzzle together,” he said, including an interaction with Jeffrey Townes, who’s better known by his stage name.
“I was playing at various churches for community choirs, playing in wedding bands, and teaching piano when I met Jazzy Jeff,” Poyser said. “Jeff asked me to go on tour with his group Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. When we returned from the tour, Jeff asked me to work on a few records in the studio with him and, the next thing you know, I was a staff songwriter for his company A Touch of Jazz. Then I branched out. I had two partners (Chauncey Childs and Victor Duplay), and we started our music production company out of Vic’s apartment and Axis Music Group was born. Vic was friendly with a guy – that’s what he told us – and he thought we could get access to his recording studio.”
That “guy” was Kenny Gamble, one-half of the Philadelphia writing and production team Gamble and Huff that formed the legendary Philadelphia International Records. That partnership gave Poyser access to Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, and musicians who like Poyser were on the rise.
“I’m not surprised at his success,” Gamble said of Poyser. “Some musicians can read and play the charts that you place in front of them, while others can add something creatively to the track. James’ creativity has allowed him to write, produce, and play at a high level.”
Through Jazzy Jeff, Poyser said he “ran into” members of The Roots. Their manager at the time, the late Rich Nichols, asked Poyser if he’d welcome the chance to write with the band. While working with The Roots, Poyser struck up collaborative relationships with rapper Common and neo-soul artist Erykah Badu. Poyser’s career catalogue spans the likes of Lauryn Hill, Carey, Jill Scott, Rihanna, Adele, and Aretha Franklin, too.
It may sound simplistic for a career musician, but Poyser points to “listening” as his key to success.
“It’s all about good synergy and listening to one another, and not just in a musical sense,” he said. “If you’re paying attention, the song will tell you how to play it. If you’re making a left turn here, everyone in the room needs to make that left. That way, you’re producing a piece of music that’s not coerced or fake. It’s real. We’re not forcing a piece of music to come out.”
Poyser’s schedule in the studio doesn’t always allow him to tour with The Roots, but he’s played on each of their albums since Things Fall Apart. He’s appeared in primetime since 2009, when Fallon tapped The Roots as his house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. That agreement continued when Fallon, in 2014, took over The Tonight Show. Poyser is even the focus of a weekly segment called, “Jimmy’s Thank-You Notes,” for which Poyser delivers the musical accompaniment while trying not to break a smile.
“I remember (Nichols) called me and said, ‘Would you be into this?’ and I said, ‘Of course.’ I couldn’t turn it down,” Poyser said.
Poyser’s rising profile does not faze his son Jadyn, 9.
“He doesn’t care one bit,” Poyser said, giggling. “It’s like, ‘Oh cool.’ There was a commercial that came on, and Jimmy is on the screen, and Jadyn looks up and dismissively goes, ‘Hey, there’s your boss.’”
“THE PIANO, TO HIM, IS A BOX OF MAGIC”
Every day breeds new opportunity for Poyser, who oozes with creativity.
It would be easy for him, while riding AMTRAK, to sink into the soothing tones of familiar songs, or get lost in his overflowing email account. Instead, he views his commute from Philadelphia to New York City five days a week as an excuse to generate music.
Technological advances have helped Poyser turn a quiet-ride car into a mobile studio. Through headphones, he listens back to the programing and editing work he’s completed on his laptop. Poyser made headlines last January when he and Jazzy Jeff released for digital download Snow Beats EP, a four-song collection on which the duo had worked while stuck indoors by more than two feet of snow. They laid down drumbeats, piano, and synth over four hours to complete their work.
“At times, I’m in the middle of something when I reach my destination,” Poyser said of his commute. “I’ll say to myself, ‘We got here too soon!’ I just try to jot down a few notes so that, when I have some free time, I can go to an empty room and pick up where I left off. There’s never a chance for downtime. You have to stay creative. Today, guys are writing hit records on their iPhones.”
From that standpoint, Poyser seldom takes downtime. That would explain how he’s able to meld his playing career with his passion for production and songwriting, through which he’s shared creative space with some of today’s top artists.
Badu, for example, won’t step into the recording studio without Poyser. She has called upon him as a co-producer on all five of her albums. She calls Poyser “my studio husband,” because of their efficacious chemistry.
“The piano, to him, is a box of magic, and he just continues pulling stuff out of there,” Badu said. “The chords, the combinations, the sequences – he’s like Schroeder from Peanuts. He has his head down, his tongue is out a little bit, and he’s excited about what he’s playing.”
While working on her album “Mama’s Gun,” Badu said she became so focused on achieving perfection that she wouldn’t leave the studio. And Poyser, unwilling to disappoint Badu, stayed there with her.
“James never complained,” she said. “I caught him with a beard because he hadn’t gone home to shave. We worked tirelessly for two weeks, straight toward the end of the album. He looked worn down, and a friend came to me and gave me a sticky-note that James had passed him. It said, ‘Help me!’ That made me laugh, because his wit is as strong as his playing.”
Poyser is equal parts serious and self-deprecating. He can lavish eloquent praise upon his boyhood inspirations – legends like Miles Davis and Marvin Gay – and, in the same breath, wonder aloud how much makeup is required “to take the shine off my big bald head.”
Given his high profile, he’s surprisingly unostentatious and down to Earth. He does, however, allow himself to get carried away when it comes to his craft. From the baby grand piano in his living room, to the massive keyboard collection in his basement, it’s clear to outsiders what Poyser does for a living.
He smiles widely as he starts to tell a familiar story about one of those keyboards: Herbie Hancock once joined Poyser in his home studio and, when Hancock offered to tune Poyser’s Fender Rhodes, Poyser had another favor in mind. He asked Hancock to sign the inside of the keyboard. Upon request, Poyser removes the lid of the Fender to reveal Hancock’s autograph.
“This is my room,” Poyser said of his home studio. “My favorite (time) is when I’m playing for myself, alone, and I don’t know what I’m doing. All I know is that my hands are moving.”
Beyond the scope of music, Poyser is active on social media. And despite his standard, soft-spoken tone, he is quite outspoken on Twitter when it comes to his beloved basketball team. He heaps support upon the Philadelphia 76ers, who are going through a tenuous rebuilding process.
He views social media as another outlet for his creativity. He never wants to lose that edge.
“People are taking chances and doing new things in music,” he said. “I don’t want to be the old guy, shaking my cane or my fist, saying, ‘You meddling youngsters!’ If there’s something to learn, it’s how to stay current and stay inspired.”
He’s even kicked the tires on pursuing an advanced degree in orchestration “if I win the lottery,” he said. Going back to school, he said, would make his parents beam with an even greater sense of pride.
“I loved my Temple experience, because that set me on a course that gave me the confidence to know that I wasn’t going to fail,” Poyser said. “I knew God had a plan for me. My parents have always been encouraging and supportive of my career. But they are old school, so from time to time, my mom will say, ‘When are you going to get a real job,” and my dad will say, ‘When are you going to go back to school for your Master’s, son?”
No time soon, Poyser said. There are too many gigs to play and songs to write.
Lori Bush, MBA ’85, retired in January 2016 as president and CEO of Rodan + Fields, the San Francisco-based startup that in her eight years on the job became one of the nation’s top premium skincare companies. And as she walked out the door, she couldn’t help but think of everything that paved the way to her success.
It was not only the faith of Drs. Katie Rodan and Kathy Fields, the dermatologists who founded the company and brought Bush aboard, knowing she was, as Rodan said, “a force of nature.” And not only the support of Bush’s husband, Steve, himself a successful executive, or the inspiration of her late father, Meyer Hermelin, who she said expected her “to break through gender boundaries.”
It was also because of all she had learned in her years at the Fox School of Business, where she took night classes toward attaining her MBA while working as a product manager at a Philadelphia-area diagnostics company called BioData. It was during that time, Bush said, that she came to understand principles that have sustained her throughout her career.
In other words, the fundamental rules still apply all these years later. They have allowed her to hopscotch from one high-profile position to another, with consumer health and beauty giants like Neutrogena, Johnson & Johnson, and Nu Skin, before landing at Rodan + Fields in the fall of 2007.
There, Fields said, “(Bush) literally, single-handedly, was tasked with creating what is now a billion-dollar company.”
“Lori,” Rodan said, “was just the absolute perfect person to execute that dream that Dr. Kathy Fields and I had for this company.”
While Bush’s career didn’t start at the Fox School, it certainly gained direction and momentum there. A Cleveland native (and the older of two daughters born to Meyer and his wife Barbara), she earned her degree in medical technology from The Ohio State University in 1978, and worked for a time at a laboratory in Muncie, Ind., before coming to BioData in 1980.
Her drive was unquestionable; in addition to her full-time job and classwork (which she began in 1983), she waited tables at the Comedy Factory Outlet, a Philadelphia nightclub, and worked as an aerobics instructor. As she put it, “I developed a very poor habit of not sleeping. … I’ve always said I’ll sleep when I’m done.” (That, too, has carried over. Fields mentioned that, more than once, she has received dead-of-night emails from Bush about one business matter or another.)
Back then, there was no Internet. There were no cell phones. Bush can remember pounding out assignments on a manual typewriter.
“In order to really produce a piece of work that was meaningful,” she said, “it required a sense of courage — being able to pick up the telephone and calling somebody that you didn’t even know and asking them to provide you with their time, information, and resources, to be able to produce a body of work that at the time allowed me to get an A on an assignment. But more importantly, really, it allowed me to develop the know-how to make things happen — how to get things done, how to put yourself out there and ask for what you needed, and position it in a way that others would see how it could benefit the greater good.”
It wasn’t too long before her fellow students sought her out, not only wanting her to be a part of their teams while working on a project, but also to set the tone.
“I think probably the most material thing that came out of that graduate work for me,” she said, “was the courage to lead, really.”
The influence of her first marketing professor, Robert Linneman, was also invaluable. While Bush’s science background led her to adopt a methodical approach to business matters, Linneman, who worked at Temple University from 1964-90 and died in 2007, helped her to understand how applying such an approach to marketing was a key to unlocking creative ideation.
“To this day, when I’m looking at a piece of blank paper, I always start off with his approach,” she said, “which he referred to as a shirtsleeve approach to strategic planning. He started off with the situation analysis and I remember him saying, ‘When you truly understand where you are, where you need to go starts to become obvious.’ It works. All I can say is, it works.”
She might not have been able to predict her life’s next turn, however. It came when she attended a clinical pathology conference at a hotel in Las Vegas, soon after completing her graduate work at the Fox School. While awaiting an elevator the day before the conference began, her future husband approached. Steve recalled everyone had been setting up their exhibits, and as a result Lori was dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt. She nonetheless had a certain presence about her, he said. He would later tell friends that he knew right away he wanted to marry her, even if she was far less certain.
After some idle chitchat about the speed of the elevator, he asked if she was a pathologist.
“Do I look like a pathologist?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “This is my first pathology meeting. You’ll have to tell me what a pathologist looks like.”
They talked some more in the elevator. (“I was young and cocky then, too,” Steve said with a laugh.) He learned where her booth was, and made it a point to visit the next day. In the meantime, Lori did her homework as well, learning from one of Steve’s co-workers that he was a brilliant business mind.
Long story short, they were married in February 1987. Steve estimates that they have lived in the same place for no more than a five-year stretch during their 29 years of marriage, while he has assumed one executive position or another, and she has gone from Minnetonka (in Minneapolis) to vice president of professional marketing at Neutrogena (in Los Angeles), to executive director of Worldwide Skincare Ventures for Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies (in Skillman, N.J.) to president of Nu Skin (in Provo, Utah).
They’ve had their weekends, though. They’ve vacationed all over the globe. And they phone one another each and every night, no matter where either of them happens to be at that moment.
“I think the important part of that is each of us felt a strong commitment to the other person’s career, and so that meant in my case I needed to help Lori,” Steve said. “I wanted Lori to have it all. I wanted Lori to have a family. I wanted her to have a career. I wanted her to have a relationship with a spouse that was fulfilling.”
By Lori’s telling, that has been the case.
“Sometimes I think he knows me better than I know myself,” she said, “and he’s been a great business adviser.”
After all these years, Lori still has that same presence Steve noticed in that elevator. He said he has seen her making presentations at awards ceremonies, and while the other executives on stage wilt as the proceedings wear on, she remains fresh throughout. It’s a great quality, he noted, one that enables her to light up every room she enters, to draw people to her, to lead.
The other thing that sets her apart in his estimation is the fact that she is “a strategic visionary.”
“She can see further out than most people can,” he said, “and she understands very well the consequences one, two, three, four years out of behaviors and policies that you put in place today.”
All of which has made her a valued executive, wherever she has been. Rodan and Fields noticed that when they first crossed paths with Bush in the early ’90s, while she was at Neutrogena. The two doctors, close ever since they had done their residencies at Stanford from 1984-87, had developed an anti-acne regimen called Proactiv, and approached Neutrogena COO Allan Kurtzman about marketing it.
Kirtzman, who died in 2001, declined, saying that Rodan and Fields would be better served doing an infomercial.
“Personally, I thought he was insulting us,” Rodan said. “I thought either he was going to test and see how low we would go in order to sell our product, or he was just out of his mind.”
It turned out that he was right, though — they marketed Proactiv in just such fashion (through Guthy-Renker), and the product was a hit.
In 2002 they expanded their footprint into anti-aging products, launching the Rodan + Fields Dermatologist brand in department stores. In short order they sold to Estee Lauder. They also continued to stay in touch with Bush, but the timing was never quite right for a collaboration, nor was Bush able to make much headway with some of the products she had in mind at Johnson & Johnson. It was then that Jan Zwiren, the then-J&J head of business development, mentioned direct selling to her, something with which Bush had no familiarity.
“All I could think about was Avon,” she said. “I said that. ‘Like Avon?’ And she said, ‘Like Avon or Mary Kay or Amway.’ There were business models I didn’t understand — in some cases business models that didn’t have the best reputation — and so I started researching direct selling.”
Bush quickly got up to speed and, upon leaving Johnson & Johnson for Nu Skin in 2000, immersed herself in direct selling, calling it “an amazing outlet for innovation.”
After six years at Nu Skin, Bush struck out on her own as a strategy consultant for consumer health and beauty companies. And after doing so she contacted Rodan and Fields about some technological matter related to Proactiv. Before she even had a chance to pose her question, however, she was told that the two doctors were considering buying back their company from Estee Lauder, and were interested in taking it into a direct-selling channel. They needed her expertise, and in time would need her in the fold — something that became a reality about a year later.
Rodan + Fields went from less than $4 million in revenue in 2008 to more than $600 million last year, and from 7,500 consultants to well over 100,000, and continues to grow at high double-digit rates. It is, Rodan said, the nation’s second-largest premium skincare brand.*
* Source: Euromonitor International Limited; rsp terms; all channels, USA, 2015; research conducted in 2015
The timing of their launch was good, in that people were seeking alternate income opportunities with the nation in the throes of the recession, and because of the digital age. If word of their products was once circulated by word of mouth, it was now spread through social media — “word of mouth on steroids,” as Rodan put it.
But the biggest thing was Bush’s leadership — her knowledge, her foresight, and, as always, her drive.
“When she came in, we were just getting started,” Rodan said. “It was really a concept. She helped us not only develop the whole concept, but then execute it to a place where it exceeded our wildest expectations for what this business would become.”
Bush had laid out her retirement plan a decade ago (and true to Linneman’s long-ago advice, she put it in writing): She would step down when she turned 60, as she will in June of this year. Steve, nine years older, retired last August, and they have a vineyard in Sonoma, Calif., called Gremlin Vines, an homage to her dad’s military nickname. They also own a restaurant in that same town, Oso, which is run by David, one of Lori’s five stepchildren, and she and Steve have a 26 year old son, together. (She is, additionally, a step-grandmother to 10.)
Lori will continue to devote herself to charitable causes; she was named co-chair of the International Women’s Day Campaign run by buildOn, Rodan + Fields’ NGO partner. (That organization is dedicating a school in Mali in Lori’s name.)
Beyond that she will see what other new opportunities might await her, what doors might open before her. And when they do, she will once again be more than willing to barge through them.
Born in India, and having served professional appointments around the globe, Bob Patel, MBA ’99, credits geographic moves for helping to shape his leadership style
At first, Bhavesh V. “Bob” Patel felt like a stranger.
Could you blame him? The 10-year-old had been uprooted from his native India and, along with his grandmother, mother, and brother, moved halfway around the world to the United States.
It was 1976 when Patel took up residence with his uncle and aunt in Cleveland, Ohio. With time, this newly formed family of six got by. “Sure, we crowded one another,” Patel said, “but we had a great life.”
Until that point, India had been the only country Patel had known. Many years later, Patel once again was called upon to embrace the unknown, when he left the company at which he’d spent most of his professional life to join a company making its slow emergence from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Those moves — one geographical, one professional — profoundly shaped Patel’s life.
Patel serves as chief executive officer of Dutch company LyondellBasell, one of the world’s premier plastics, chemicals, and refining companies, operating 55 sites in 18 countries. This January, Patel will mark one year in his top role with LyondellBasell, for which he’s worked since 2010. Based in Houston, the site of LyondellBasell’s American headquarters, Patel credits his family for helping him develop international perspective, respect, humility, and work ethic.
“The values, choosing to do things the right way — I learned that from my uncle and from my mother,” said Patel, who earned his Executive MBA in Finance from the Fox School in 1999. “Nothing I’ve achieved would have been possible without the two of them in my life.”
Attention to detail is one of Patel’s strongest traits. That’s why, 15 years ago, one former colleague remarked that he knew Patel was poised for the C-suite, even when Patel was only a junior executive.
The small things mean everything to Patel. His mother, Usha, made the around-the-world voyage “with quite literally $12 left in her pockets,” Patel said, “and that’s not an embellishment.” What filled her pockets made little difference to Usha, who had surrendered a prestigious position as the head of an all-girls school in Mumbai in order to give her sons a better opportunity in life.
“She holds a Master’s degree in English and, when she arrived here, she couldn’t teach. She gave that up for us,” Patel said of his mother, who he calls one of his biggest inspirations. “She worked two jobs for awhile, just long enough to save money and buy a small doughnut-and-coffee shop. That wouldn’t have been possible without my uncle’s sponsorship of us.”
Patel’s uncle, Shirish, worked closely with Patel, acting as a father figure and a career mentor, and offering high-level coaching while encouraging grit, determination, and hard work.
“My life changed because of my uncle,” Patel said. “He was an astounding mentor to me.”
With his uncle and mother serving as endless sources of inspiration, Patel set out on an adult life that had been built upon a foundation of giving back.
He went on to attend The Ohio State University, where he completed his undergraduate studies in chemical engineering. Shortly thereafter, he went to work for Chevron Phillips Chemical Company. He started there as a process and project engineer, before becoming a general manager of Chevron Phillips’ olefins and natural gas liquids division, where he was responsible for all aspects of the polymers and chemical compounds that comprised one of the company’s largest business lines.
Aspiring to hold a position in upper management, Patel sought a graduate degree business program that would enable him to take his chemical engineering background and apply it in a different way. Patel chose Temple’s Fox School of Business.
“By no means did I think an Executive MBA was the ticket by itself, but I knew it was part of the experience toward building a stronger career for myself,” Patel said. “Fox’s courses were well taught, and gave me the chance to learn theory, finance, strategy, and leadership. It was a great move for me, professionally.”
After earning his MBA from Fox in 1999, Patel would hold a number of positions with Chevron Phillips. He’d oversee product development and sales, corporate planning and mergers and acquisitions, eventually becoming Asia Pacific region general manager.
In January 2009, Jim Gallogly recommended that Patel be given consideration as a high-level executive at LyondellBasell. Gallogly first met Patel at Chevron Phillips, where Gallogly had served as CEO. Thirteen months later, in February 2010, as the company crept toward emerging from bankruptcy, Patel was hired as LyondellBasell’s new senior vice president of olefins and polyolefins within the company’s Americas region. Patel quickly and successfully restructured the division to capitalize on shale gas expansion in the U.S.
A staple of Patel’s career has been “running to where the battle was,” Gallogly said. “He goes where he’s needed, and he always succeeds.”
Having worked previously in both the United States and in Singapore, Patel applied the cultural and professional acumen he had absorbed from years abroad to LyondellBasell’s Netherlands office, as executive vice president of olefins and polyolefins of LyondellBasell’s Europe, Asia, and International (EAI) operations. There, and instead of in Houston, he chose to pilot a company wide program. International experiences, Patel said, had given him a greater appreciation for how cultures differently process the same information, and ultimately lead to different decisions.
“Some cultures are more dutiful. Others are hierarchical. The diversity I’ve experienced in my career has been eye-opening,” Patel said. “Half of LyondellBasell’s employees live in the United States. As a leader, you have to hold the other half of your employees in the same regard. I’ve tried to manage and lead in a manner that includes others and recognizes the global nature of our company.”
“What you see from the outside, while living and working in America, isn’t what you see from the inside, and you discover things as you go. For our longstanding employees, if they were considering retirement or a buyout package, we celebrated their careers. I’ve always said how you treat people who leave is also about the people who remain with the company. Leaders lead with dignity.”
It was with the application of a hands-on touch that helped Patel lead LyondellBasell’s EAI region to outperform its peers by streamlining operations and operating plants more reliably.
Patel’s pedigree gave Gallogly strong reason to believe he’d be an ideal CEO. In five years with LyondellBasell, Patel had run three of the company’s five divisions.
“In a company this large, and in an industry this competitive, you have to be tenacious to be a CEO,” said Gallogly. “He knows which levers to pull and how to get the most out of people. There’s a reason why he’s helped set new financial records each quarter since he’s been LyondellBasell’s CEO.”
“Bob is rare in his combination of gifts,” said Craig Glidden, general counsel and executive vice president of General Motors, who worked with Patel at both Chevron Phillips and LyondellBasell. “He has the fortitude of a CEO, and he’s extremely approachable to any employee. Navigating both worlds, with his business acumen, is the hallmark of a great leader.”
In both his professional and personal life, Patel subscribes to the brand of leadership that is often categorized as “doing well by doing good.” It’s a concept that is rooted in the offering of a chance to someone deserving of an opportunity. Wanting to make a difference, Patel and his wife, Shital, became involved with Pratham. The foundation, which promotes childhood literacy in India, has reached more than 40 million Indian youths since its 1995 founding. The couple and their sons Vishal, 17, and Shyam, 14, recently visited a class in India to meet the recipients of their charitable efforts.
“You could see the enthusiasm in these children, who view education as a privilege,” Patel said. “And it was great for my sons to see that I came from very modest beginnings. I’ve always been driven to do the best I can, and in the right way with ethical orientation.
That’s the way my mother and uncle taught me.”
Patel also sits on the board for Junior Achievement of Southeast Texas, an organization that encourages entrepreneurial thinking and teaches financial literacy among young people, in order that they can create jobs for their communities.
“The values I learned as a child were all we had,” Patel said. “We learned to help people along the way, to try to give back. Those principles have carried me in my adult life, and I believe they’re the foundation of who I am today.”