As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nader Mikhail.
Nader Mikhail is the CEO and Founder of Elementum. He has made it his life’s work to empower the world’s supply chains with technology that ensures they can manage through supply chain disruptions. It was with this mission in mind that Nader founded Elementum, the first supply chain incident management platform for the $25T product economy. With over 20 years in the supply chain and cloud industries, Nader is sought after for his unique insights working with Fortune 1000 product companies. His commentary has appeared in publications such as Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, and Huffington Post. Prior to founding Elementum, Nader was a Vice President at Flextronics and a consultant at McKinsey & Co. He holds Bachelors Degrees in Engineering and Economics from UC Irvine and an MBA from Stanford Business School.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I knew at an early age I wanted to be an entrepreneur and have been building and advising businesses for the better part of the last 20 years. My interest in the supply chain took shape while I was consulting with some of the world’s best companies at McKinsey & Co. The concept of cloud computing was relatively new at that point and I had a front row seat to how businesses were adapting their business and operations online — the front office digitized first (sales and marketing) but back-office operations lagged by decades. From there I went to Flex, the manufacturing powerhouse, and got a front-row seat to the challenges of running a global operation with 200,000 employees in 40 countries. That was the genesis of my company today: Elementum. And the problem we’re solving today is how to catapult supply chain operations to the cloud era. Something every business desperately needs in a post-Covid virtual-first world.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My first job was selling shoes at Champs Sports while I was in high school. The objective was simple: sell as many shoes as possible. What they didn’t teach us was the importance of a great product in achieving this goal. So in the beginning, we followed the mantra that “the customer was always right” and sold them whatever they wanted — not what was often obvious they ‘needed’. One time we had a customer insist that basketball shoes would be just fine for soccer. Despite our better judgment, we sold the shoes. Two days later the customer was back and really unhappy we didn’t ‘push them’ to get the right shoes. The big lesson here: while it’s important to make the customer happy — it’s just as important to make them successful.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Good to Great by Jim Collins in one of my favorites. It’s about building your teams by getting the right people on the bus and in the right seat. The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz has also shaped my career. This book was particularly relevant for our decision making when Covid emerged and we decided to offer our product for free for companies that needed more insight into disruptions in their supply chain.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
What struck me when I first started working in the supply chain was the sheer volume of people it takes to make a product. Millions of warehouse workers, factory line workers, and logistics professionals are the backbone of our economy but go largely unnoticed. For most people in the supply chain — if they are in the spotlight it’s because something bad has happened. We wanted to build a technology company that made heroes out of supply chain operators and give them tools to do their jobs more effectively for the modern age.
If you think about these heroes, they don’t have a mechanism to operate more efficiently. Working in supply chain is like standing in front of hoover dam and plugging holes with bubble gum. There are 500 potential points of failure and previously there was no other way to solve it other than brute force or hope. Our technology empowers them with the right tools to do their job better and avoid burn-out.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Grit is my number one principle. We have five core values in the company. One of them is relentlessness which is to overcome any obstacle that gets in the way of achieving our mission. This is a trait that we have in common with our supply chain heroes. There’s no choice but to get the job done.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Like every other working parent out there I’ve had to navigate the new reality of working from home, homeschooling and parenting. It’s the biggest change many of us have encountered in our careers.
If you have young kids, they are going to be drop-in participants to meetings, and we’re embracing it. By adapting our way of working so that when your kid drops in the back of your meeting, we celebrate it and make it part of the culture. That’s life. This is one of the first things we embraced quickly at Elementum.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Boundaries. It’s very easy right now to just have no boundaries when work starts and ends. And it has a knock-on effect for our overall well being. We’ve created new rules of the road around boundaries so people don’t feel like they have to constantly work around the clock.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
My wife is a child psychologist so this is most certainly her arena. As a family we have instituted daily nature walks in the afternoons. It gets us out of the house, appreciating nature and gives me a bonding activity to look forward to at the end of the workday. I have also become the designated Costco shopper for the extended family. This allows my family members who are more at-risk to avoid the stress of shopping for food.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
If you do anything that makes work or life from home better — regardless of what industry you’re in — this is your moment. Whether it’s entertainment, technology, communication, education, etc. Companies that already offered services and products that make our lives better and more engaging at home have a head start.
With many shelter-in-place orders putting the home at the center of our universes again, our worlds are getting smaller and local communities have never been more important. At the same time, a surge in remote work unlocks the potential to tap talent pools from anywhere in the world. If your job can be done remotely, all of a sudden, where you are doesn’t seem as important as the value you bring to your organization.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
There is going to be a huge shift toward working virtually. At Elementum, we have already made the decision to go virtual. With so many companies going virtual, there will be fewer obstacles to spending quality time with family. I think we’ll see a major reassessment of values as the family and home become the center of gravity for many again.
People are also going to have to get comfortable with video conferencing. This has been 15–20 years in the making. We have to think differently about how we work from home. When you show up to work, even though it’s your home office, go through the routine so you can mentally prepared to be in the zone. We’re not going to replace the water cooler conversation from home, we’ll have to adapt and create new opportunities for this type of connection.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Elementum is the only cloud-based incident management platform for supply chain, so what we do is incredibly useful for companies trying to keep their operations humming amidst so much disruption. For instance, at the start of the pandemic when supply chain teams had to transition to working-from-home, Elementum customers were already in a position to effectively manage short term disruptions remotely through a central platform.
Going forward, supply chains have to figure out how to operate in the new normal, where an increased rate of exceptions like stockouts, late shipments and production delays are here to stay. That’s why we are providing our Essentials edition for free to new customers, which includes virtually tailoring their account to fit their business within 24 hours. We are also in the process of making it easier for customers to engage with us remotely.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Make it easier for customers to do business with you. Be thoughtful of how your customers can reach you in this new world. Find ways to make your business more digital-friendly. We all need to meet customers where they are. We can’t expect the experience to be the same as it used to be. There isn’t a one-for-one replacement for business over drinks. Instead, we need to rethink the experience from the ground up as opposed to cherry-picking.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The Stockdale paradox is one of my favorite quotes. “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” — General Stockdale. It’s an important reminder to stay focused and disciplined in whatever you set out to achieve. But do so in a grounded way, while always believing you will prevail in the end.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I can be reached on LinkedIn, Medium and our industry blog, Supply Chain Trends.