Entrepreneurship comes in all shapes, sizes, and avenues.
Whether you are raising VC to go all in on a startup or you are championing a new initiative at a Fortune 100 company, there is a way to incorporate the entrepreneurial mindset into whatever you are doing.
We sat down with Noel Paul to talk about how he developed the entrepreneurial mindset at Indiana behemoths Eli Lilly & Elanco, and how that has fueled his success in launching Tiger Careers and Consulting.
Noel Paul is the CEO of Tiger Careers and Consulting. Prior to starting Tiger Careers in 2018, Noel Paul was the Global Leader of Corporate Responsibility at Elanco and the Global Program Leader for International MBA Recruiting at Eli Lilly. He has also been an executive Mentor at Purdue Foundry, an accelerator and incubator program in Indiana. He works with the International Center, and coaches expats through his consulting work at his company, Tiger Careers and Consulting.
Be sure to check out these great clips from the show:
- [2:33] Memories from Pakistan and moving to the United States
- [11:48] Taking a chance on Lilly
- [15:30] Paying it forward
- [17:47] Tips for success at a large corporation
- [26:33] Corporate Innovation success and failure
- [27:35]Securing corporate clients for startups
- [32:38] Importance of finishing the job and building relationships
- [40:27] Entrepreneurial experience in corporate social responsibility
In our conversation with Noel, you will learn about:
- The Power of Relationships: Noel highlights the importance of building strategic external relationships, especially in a startup environment. He also acknowledges the value of internal relationships within a large organization.
- Innovating via Intrapreneurship: Noel shares his gratifying entrepreneurial experience of securing a $3 million grant from the Gates Foundation to commercialize animal health products for smallholder farmers in East Africa.
- Climbing The Corporate Ladder: Noel’s career path took him from civil engineering to HR and global marketing at Eli Lilly. His time at Lilly taught him the importance of continuous improvement and the value of a supportive company culture.
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Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
Companies and organizations:
- Eli Lilly and Company
- Tiger Careers & Consulting
- Purdue University Daniels School of Business
- Marathon Oil
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Abyssinia Restaurant
- Noel S. Paul
- Nathan Lewis
- Alessandro Franchi
- Michael Porter
- Mark Kramer
- Matt Hunckler
- Christopher (Toph) Day
- Nate Spangle
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Matt: From the crossroads of America and the Hoosier state of Indiana. This is Get IN, the podcast, focused on the unfolding stories and extraordinary innovations happening right now in the Heartland. I’m Matt Hunckler, CEO at Powderkeg, and I will be one of your hosts for today’s conversation. I’m joined in studio by co-hosts, Christopher “Toph” Day, CEO of Elevate Ventures and Nate Spangle, Head of Community here at Powderkeg. And on the show today is Noel Paul, CEO at tiger careers and consulting and previous global leader of corporate responsibility at Elanco and global program leader at Lilly.
Noel: Wow. This is the greatest country. You have your freedoms. And you get to decide whether you’re going to be successful and how successful instead of it being predetermined for you.
Matt: Prior to starting Tiger Careers in 2018, Noel Paul was the global leader of corporate responsibility at Elanco and the global program leader for international MBA recruiting at Eli Lilly. He is now an executive mentor at Purdue Foundry, an accelerator and incubator program in Indiana. And he works with the international center and actually coaches expats through his consulting work at his company, Tiger Careers and Consulting.
On today’s show, we will be talking about transitioning from large corporations to entrepreneurship. I’m sure we’ll be covering corporate innovation and responsibility, and of course, talent attraction and everything else that goes into entrepreneurship, Noel, welcome to Get IN.
Noel: Thanks very much for having me gang.
Toph: Could we just shorten your bio to like hashtag rockstar? Hashtag rockstar.
Noel: Absolutely. Let’s do it. Let’s do it. I’m grateful. I’m grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had.
Matt: You’re not originally born and raised in Indiana, is that right?
Noel: Not born, but yes raised. So I was born in Pakistan and my family moved us here to Indianapolis when I was six years old.
Ironically it was between New York City and Indianapolis. And my dad chose because my dad’s cousin was in New York City and he got a job in Saudi Arabia six months before we came. So by default, the support structure was only in Indianapolis. So my dad had really good friends. And when we landed, there was already half a duplex.
It was already furnished. They already had a car for us. There was food in the fridge. And so thank you for the Sanger family. For blessing us with a soft landing. How did you know the Singer family? My parents knew them back home and some of our neighbors back home.
Toph: And then, and they had moved here
Noel: and they’d already moved here.
Yeah, that’s great. That’s incredible.
Matt: Do you have memories from Pakistan?
Noel: Yes. Very few, but a few key ones. So I remember. I was I remember things like going to school because I was a kindergartner, right? Literally going in a horse and buggy or on my dad’s scooter. I
Toph: knew we were kinfolk.
I’m sorry. I used to take a horse and buggy to church on Sundays.
Noel: Oh, wow. See, there you go. There you go. Yeah. So then I don’t have that claim to fame. I have zero horse and buggy experience. I was also unfortunately part of the 1971 war between India and Pakistan and I was five years old, but ironically enough, That we moved to the States, and even though India was the enemy, I moved here to the United States, and I married someone from India, so it’s interesting how it works out, and then very close to the Indian community, even being president of the Indian Association of Indianapolis as a Pakistani was a great, kind of reassurance that, cultural divides can be bridged, and that’s what makes America great.
Matt: That is what makes America great. I agree.
Toph: Are there any moments that, are there a few moments that stick out from when you were in Pakistan for those first? Five six years.
Noel: Yeah. So I mentioned to you like, going to school. I remember looking over the courtyard needing lunch. While the older guys played volleyball in the courtyard.
One specific memory is that during the war, there was a bomber that flew overhead and my mom was changing my clothes on the wicker cot in the open terrace and she flipped over the wicker cot and threw me underneath the covered area and just to protect us. And later on, my uncle took me And so I remember walking around the perimeter of the crater to see where the landing had done.
And we were also, ironically enough, I was a five year old with a military uniform and a whistle. So that when there were air raids, my uncle and I were supposed to go out into the streets and blow whistles to tell all the cars to pull to the side or stop driving during the air raids. And so it was just a very unique kind of experience that again built gratitude for when coming to the States is to say, Wow, this is. The greatest country, you have your freedoms, and you get to decide whether you’re going to be successful and how successful instead of it being predetermined for you.
Toph: Do you remember that airplane ride? Like what, do you remember what you were thinking? Like when your parents, when you knew for sure that you’re moving to America, what was the feeling?
Noel: Yeah, two things, two things stick out. One is I remember that we had a big party the day before we left. And we have a picture still today of all of us wearing money necklaces to celebrate us coming to America, right? And I remember my dad telling me that. It’s just like the movie. Yeah, exactly. And my, and actually I did work at McDonald’s.
That’s awesome. That’s amazing. And, and so did my wife, ironically, and so a lot of our friends and family and cousins and stuff like that. But the party before the necklaces, and I remember my dad telling me that the valuation of the currency was so impacted that we ended up using those necklaces of money for the tickets.
And then, yeah, and then the second thing I remember is, I can’t remember if we flew into LaGuardia and went to JFK or flew into JFK and went to LaGuardia, but there was a helicopter that moved us from one one, one airport to the other. And I still remember the lights over New York city, looking out at the hell, why we were in a helicopter.
I have no idea, but I were still remember the lights, the red lights on the back of the cars, the white lights on the other side of the cars looking down as a little boy going, wow, what is this? And yeah, totally different environment. Definitely clear memories. And this year was 50 years since we landed.
So Valentine’s Day 1973, this year celebrated 50 years landing in the city.
Matt: Oh, congratulations. Yeah, thank you. You’ve achieved some remarkable things with your career, working at companies like Elanco, Eli Lilly. Can you help us understand this, the steps that it took? Cause there are a lot of people want to work with big companies like that who are doing innovative things and the leader of their industry.
And it’s not always clear what the right path is to get there. Sure. What was your path?
Noel: Let me start by saying that I live in gratitude. So I don’t know that I had a firm path going in to get there. I knew that I didn’t want to do a doctor path, right? But I love math and science.
Actually, when I was coming up, I told my parents, I’m like, I either want to go into sports broadcasting or I want to go to engineering. And back in the day, there were only three channels on TV, right? And so my parents would say that means there’s only three sports broadcaster jobs in each city.
Cause there’s only ABC, CBS and NBC. So if there’s only three jobs per city, maybe you should do the engineering. And, fast forward, there’s ESPN now, but I’m still glad I did the engineering path. So I went to Purdue for engineering. And luckily enough, got a co op opportunity. And so I co op with the Indiana Department of Transportation.
So it allowed me to pay for my undergrad, because I would live at home, save the money from one semester to pay for the college for the next semester. So that got me through. And then my senior year, I was an RA. And back in the day, Purdue would pay for your room, board, and tuition. So all the money I’d saved up for my senior year, I banked it.
And that was just a great opportunity to get my undergrad paid for.
Matt: What was the culture like at Purdue? Because Purdue now is top engineering school in the country. Yeah. Just graduating incredible talent is world renowned for its engineering talent, STEM programs. What was it like when you were there?
Noel: I think if I tried to get into and out of Purdue today, I’m not sure that I could. Yeah, I don’t know if I got in a window where they just dropped the standards or something like that, it was definitely hard. I went in thinking chemical engineering and I took freshman chemistry and it kicked my butt and I’m like, I’m not doing chemical engineering.
Oh my gosh. So then I went to civil engineering because we had a couple of family friends that were structural engineers. And they were like, okay, and but we had a great, I had a personally a great experience academically socially, I still keep in touch with my undergrad roommates to this day.
That’s cool. And being back on campus, I went back for my MBA, Lilly sponsored me to go back to Purdue and get my MBA from Krannert. My daughter did her industrial engineering degree from Purdue and graduated in 2020. So strong ties to the campus, but fully respect. And I’ve always respected the Purdue engineering program and the campus and the experience that students and families really experience. So big fan. Boiler up.
Matt: Boiler up. I love it. Yeah it’s a remarkable kind of ecosystem there. And I appreciate you sharing that. So what was your path out of Purdue? Was it like, Hey, go find a job at a big company and
Nate: He said civil engineering, right?
And your undergrad. Yeah. So that seems like an interesting pathway to end up at a Lilly that takes you back to get your MBA. Cause when I think civil engineering, this could be way off, but I think of like architect type engineering, right?
Noel: You’re spot on Nate. You’re spot on. I didn’t, I wasn’t planning on going to Lilly or pharma or anything like that. So civil engineers don’t work at predominantly pharma companies, right? So chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, double E’s, electrical engineers work in those kinds of industries. So I had co op at the Indian department of transportation and I had an offer for them, but I knew that I didn’t want to do engineering my whole life.
And that’s what that allowed me to do. It paid for my school and told me that’s not what I wanted to do. So it was a great experience on both fronts, right?
Nate: So you figured that out while you’re in school. You’re going to be a civil engineer, like that’s what you’re getting your degree in. And before you’re done with school, you’re like, I don’t want to do this forever.
Noel: Yeah, I don’t want to do this forever. So then I started to say, okay, so where can I go to engineering for a little while? Cause I did have a goal to get my professional engineer’s license, right? For civils that matters and you have to have five years of experience and you have to pass the big exam and stuff like that.
So I said, my goal is and some engineering work for a while, get my P. E., but not do engineering forever. And I’d always even thought about doing business, sorry, doing my MBA right after undergrad. But then people were saying, no, go out and get some work experience first. I said, okay. Cool. So my, my plan was if I can get into a firm, a large multinational, that was my criteria that allows me to do engineering for a while, but then demonstrates in the interview process that engineers can do different things in their careers.
Cause I was looking for a long term career. So I had an offer from Marathon Oil and an offer from Exxon which was not ExxonMobil, but just Exxon down in Houston. And then literally I was in the decision making process thinking that I’m going to Houston for Exxon. Late stage in the recruiting process, I see a job posting from Lilly and a physical job posting like on the bulletin board, because this is pre internet, right?
I’m like, Lilly’s hiring civil engineers? Because I knew Lilly from being in Indiana, right? And I’m like, oh I applied for the job, but I didn’t, I used up all my points. So I went in that morning with my resume and I said to the recruiter points. So at Purdue, you have to bid on interview slots based on points.
I’d already used up all my points. So that morning of that Lilly was interviewing. I went to the career center and I went to the Lilly recruiter. His name was Mel Crichton, mechanical engineer. And I said, Mr. Crichton, I did not have enough points to sign up for the interviews. But I’d be really interested in Lilly.
Here’s my resume and he said, Hey, I have a break between ten and ten twenty come back during my break. And so I went home. I changed into my suit I rode my bike back to the career center and he interviewed me Wow, and I got the plant visit Wow And I got the job offer so then it was Lilly and Exxon were the two finalists and my current wife of 30 years and Was my girlfriend at the time remember I’m Pakistani. She’s Indian. And so she said to me if you go to Houston What about us and she was going to school University of Toledo and I’m like, you’re right So then I took the Lilly job which paid less right significantly less And, but it was the best decision she ever made for us.
So 28 years later, I retired from that company.
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Toph: What I love is that single decision. Yeah. To walk into that recruiter’s office and say, Hey, I used up all my points. I would love to interview. Just that single decision of taking the extra whatever it was 15 minutes or first in the same building That might have been an extra five minutes to just go that extra mile right and personally reach out to whomever it is It’s recruiting And say, I’d like a shot.
Nate: That is a reoccurring theme. Yeah. With we have some pretty, spectacular guests on here. And it is a reoccurring theme that they can like almost pinpoint it to one moment where they just trusted their gut, did this kind of like unorthodox thing. Like you show up there, I don’t have any points, but I’m taking a risk here.
I wanna, I’d love to learn more about. Lilly, and you stay there for 28 years. Yeah. One moment as a college senior.
Noel: Yeah, but look, I look at it differently, right? Yes, I did take that chance, but my gratitude is with Mr. Mel Crichton. Because he said, I don’t have any interview slots, but I’m willing to talk to you during my break.
Okay? The defining moment, you could argue, is not Noel going in at 8 o’clock in the morning before the interviews start. It’s Mr. Mel Crichton, the recruiter or the engineer saying, I’m willing to take a chance on you. So my gratitude is to Mel Crichton.
Toph: Do you, so that’s a good example of an outstretched hand.
Foreshadowing for rally speech, an outstretched hand, right? There’s a responsibility of all of us, right? To the next generation.
Noel: Yeah. So check this out. So now fast forward. I’m running Lily’s MBA program globally. Do you think I ever took a break? Yeah, probably not. During career fairs? No, I bet not. I interviewed and was willing to talk to everyone.
Why? Because I had to pay it forward because Mel changed my life. I love it. Okay.
Matt: I love that mindset. Chills. I got chills.
Toph: That’s awesome.
Matt: How did you find yourself in
Noel: that role at Lilly? Yeah I mentioned that my goal was to do some engineering for a while and then do something different. So I had hit five years, I Lilly was really supportive of engineers taking their professional engineering exam and they even said, Hey take the courses, get together and do study groups on company time because they really performed, really support that professional engineering degree license.
So I took the test, I passed. And so I got my PE. So then I went to my boss. Remember there’s no job postings back in the day. And I go to Nate Lewis and I’m like, Nate are there any kind of business oriented roles for an engineer to step into? So he literally brings me a piece of paper that says, here’s an email I got.
It’s a job description for a one year temp assignment in HR. And they’re looking for project management experience, but you don’t have to have HR experience. So me and three other civil engineer buddies, or two, two other civil engineer buddies, all three of us applied for the job while I got the job. And so I got a one year temp assignment to go lead a project to bring all of our 13, 000 us employees onto a automated benefits enrollment process, right? Because it was by paper and so we automated it, right? Automated meaning we did it by phone. It was like, and we put in a call center and all the stuff like that. We redesigned the benefits and after one year they said, do you want to stick around? We have more projects for you to do.
You did good and I’m like, okay, sure. Then after that, the question was, are you going back to engineering or do you want to declare HR as your new kind of functional home? And I said, I’d love to declare HR because I was interested in business, the HR opportunity they were throwing at me was to support the global marketing function.
And that was going to be my HR role after this project role. And I’m like, Oh, cool. Because that gives me some exposure to the global marketing area. And I was thinking about my MBA anyway. And so I said, yes, I’m going to declare HR as my new role as my new functional home. So from that global marketing HR experience, that’s when I got sponsored to do my MBA.
So that’s where it really led into that 19 years of the 28 years at Lilly being in HR.
Matt: My entire career has been spent working at high growth tech companies and the largest company I’ve ever worked for is maybe 150 people. Yeah. What does it take to succeed at a company of the scale and size of an Eli Lilly?
What are the things that you learned early on that gave you that trajectory to keep reaching new heights and it kept the momentum going in your career
Noel: there? Yeah, so first I say Lilly raised me, right? So that culture, those values I joined when I was 22 years old and I retired when I was 51.
So 29 years, 28 years. In that organization and I’m telling you I respect that company. I respect that culture I respect the leadership both historical and current and already future And so a lot of credit goes to Lilly, right? But what Lilly allowed you to do is to say if you want to pursue something they will support you They will enable you And if you keep doing good things, then good things will happen, right?
And that’s where my focus was, is I really wanted to have an impact in the roles that I was given. I wanted to… Make improvements. So this whole concept of, Eli Lilly’s quote is find what you take what you find here and make it better So I was raised in a continuous improvement mindset So I think and also I think coming back to my personal upbringing, you know coming to America was this huge opportunity. I remember my dad would say America is the greatest country in the world, son, right? And my mom would say education, right? And so they risked so much to come here, right? And so that was an internal motivator for me to say, man, I want to make the most of this opportunity every aspect of my life, right?
Yeah, I really pursued that and Lilly would help you grow. I had some great bosses, right? I can think of an Italian boss named Alessandro Franchi. I reported to him in 1996 to 1998 in that global marketing HR role. I just had brunch with him at Cafe Bundy in December. He’s 73, still love him, still respect him.
We’re still connected. And that’s just how Lilly teaches you is the importance of relationships. Relationships really matter.
Matt: What lesson did you learn from him that stayed with you the most?
Noel: I would say he helped me become assertive. Yeah. Yeah. He writ me a new one. He really did. Constructively.
Yeah really. Can you tell us a story? Yeah, so he was very hard on me but he was very supportive of me, right? And so there were days when I loved him and there were days when I hated him. But I grew so much from working with him and then he asked me to come again in 2000 to build and create a whole new recruiting structure within the firm.
And so that was an amazing build. Talk about entrepreneurial. Talk about startup mindset, talk about business processes, changing the way we do things. But yeah, I think it was really around the area of assertiveness and what he would say is, Noel, you’re too nice, you need to assert yourself. And he even gave me, or somehow I got some audio tapes and a book and stuff like that.
And… Do you remember what those were? Yeah, this whole concept of, the example was… Because it became personal, it’s are you the kind of person that if everyone wants to go to Chinese restaurant for dinner and you’ve had Chinese for the last seven days, will you say, okay, let’s go to Chinese or are you comfortable saying, Hey guys, I’ve had Chinese for the last seven days.
If we can do Mexican, let’s go Mexican. For me, that stuck with me because I was the guy that would say, okay, let’s just do Chinese without ever expressing the fact that I’ve even had seven days of Chinese. Okay. So now I can say, okay. Hey guys, I’ve had seven days of Chinese. So if you still want to go Chinese, I’m going to go get some Mexican food and I’ll sit at the Chinese table with you.
And I can assert myself in that way, personally, professionally because of that growth. That’s a great example.
Nate: I want to double click in your, you talk about you, you went and grew this whole new function. You’re about entrepreneurship at your role in with, within Eli Lilly. Or what I think of Eli Lilly.
I think of this massive corporation. It’s like you show up, you do your job. And it’s if I take a sick day, does it affect you like Lilly’s stock? Is it going to drop down? Probably not. But you’re talking about how you actually move the needle forward on something. Does that happen a lot there?
Noel: It has to, right? Because Lilly or any large organization is really a collective of individual moving parts. And if those, whether you have 200,000 employees, Or 50,000 employees or 150 employees. The pieces need to be moving forward in order for the whole to move forward. So that’s why the talent you attract to your organization, regardless of the size, that person has a role, right?
And the reason organizations move forward, and I’m talking. You know generically now is each individual has to come to work that day and say I want to move the needle on the scope of work I’m responsible for
Matt: Did you ever get frustrated by running into red tape or road bumps because I feel like that is Something in the startup ecosystem you hear about how hard it is to not get anything done at big corporations
Noel: Yeah, because you know remember I’m high energy.
Like people tell me, Noel, you’re always in gear five. I’m like, yes, I am. And if you’re at gear five and the others in the organization want to move a gear three, or they are pulling your reins to let you drive change or at the pace of change that you want to drive, it can be frustrating.
So what would happen is I would naturally gravitate to areas Where people were, there were more people operating gears four and five, right? So I stayed close to the commercial side of Lilly, right? And a little bit in the manufacturing side because of my engineering background Because I wanted to be where the action was, right?
So for example that global marketing role in HR, right? That was great because we were working across cultures, we were building global strategies. And even though I was not doing the marketing, I was around people that were doing that. So it gave me energy. And then the role after that, I went to be the HR leader for our US business to business group.
Okay. Now that group was 300 employees, a carve out of how do we manage our account relationships with at that time, HMOs. And I told my hiring manager, Brad, who I still have a relationship with, right? Brad, I said, Brad, I’ll come take this job, but I need to be on the leadership team table.
I need to be the HR leader for the U S B two B group. Otherwise, it’s not gonna be a real stretch for me. He’s of course you are the HR leader. I’ll coach you from here and you way to be assertive. . Yes, exactly. Yeah. Thank you. Sandro. And we agreed that was going to be the stretch opportunity for me is to be on that leadership team with the leaders of the USB to be we did this huge organizational transformation, right?
To your point, Nate, is like those 300 people. We had to make the change of how we approached our account management business processes. The talent that we had coming into the organization, the marketing tools we were using the same detail sheet as we would for a diabetes endocrinologist in Greenwood with a medical director at Kaiser Permanente that had 9 million lives of diabetic patients.
And so we had to transform how we did business to business marketing. And so it was a two year journey. I remember meeting in the A frame of Rick’s boat yard with our leadership team doing poster sessions. So we’re gonna be doing a lot of different things, changing our mission, vision the capabilities of people we wanted to bring into that organization, how we coach and develop people.
So we’d be an attractive place to have talent come into because that B to B experience is going to be crucial for future leaders of Pharma and future leaders of Lilly, because if they didn’t appreciate the pair, they were going to have huge misses on their big, important strategic business decisions.
So we did a two year organizational transformation. And manufacturing might have been slow. Medical might have been slow. R and D might have been slow. So Nate, to your point, those 300 people, we had to move the needle. It was critical to Lilly’s business success. 9 billion were coming through that account management.
Toph: So there’s a lot of corporates that either don’t have innovation centers today, but know they need to do it. They’re thinking about doing it. There are corporations that have innovation centers that maybe not. Maybe they aren’t going well. Maybe they look at them as profit centers when maybe it shouldn’t be looked at as a profit center, or maybe it should be.
And there’s, corporations are doing really well at innovation. So can you talk about two, two high level questions, and one has a part A, part B. So corporate innovation if you’re thinking about setting up corporate innovation, or you’re doing it today, and it just doesn’t seem to be going well for some reason.
What are some of the things that you’ve seen work really well and the flip side, mistakes that were made and how something was set up that you had to unwind maybe several years later. Yeah. And then the flip side from the entrepreneurial side is every startup. The dream is to get a relationship with a corporate, right?
Is a early adopter, first time buyer, whatever it may be. And sometimes what did the dog catches the car, so to speak, and then maybe you regret getting that early corporate customer because they suck all the life out of you wanting, a different set of product requirements that don’t serve the core market.
Can you talk about the good and the bad on both sides of that equation that you’ve seen?
Noel: Yeah to process your question, right? The first part is corporate innovation, what’s worked and what hasn’t worked, right? Second is more on the entrepreneurial side is, how does, securing a corporate client either help or sometimes hinder the success of an entrepreneurial startup, right?
Okay, fair. Okay, I want to make sure I process that so I think on the a lot of words in one question. That’s okay, man. It’s okay. I got you. I got you. Keep me on track, though. So on the first side, I would say in a corporate environment, innovation can happen does happen. Innovation can fail and does fail.
And I think a lot of that is really specific to two things. One is what’s the culture in that organization in terms of nurturing that innovation, right? And their kind of what I call tolerance for it, acceptance for it, thirst for it, right? So that culture is really gonna matter, right? And the second part that really matters is the people, right?
And I’m talking specifically the leadership because I think leadership is super critical. On nurturing that culture, on nurturing those ideas, on nurturing that innovation. Because if you have leaders that are risk tolerant and that are oriented towards coaching from failure versus afraid of failure or not wanting to fail.
No one wants to fail. But if you have an outlook that says, look, So we’re gonna learn from this and if we do this and we get 75 percent then we can fix the other 25 percent and keep going and improve it, right? But if you’re, if you say 75 percent is not enough as a threshold to advance, then you’re really risking not innovating and someone else at another company, at a competitor, at a disruptor, at a startup could beat you to the punch because their risk tolerance.
And their tolerance for failure and their willingness to learn from failure is greater than yours. So I think a lot of it has to do with, excuse me, the organizational culture and the leaders and how they view all those elements of risk tolerance. Learning from failure, their tolerance to coach and willingness to coach through those stumbles versus saying, I don’t want to take that risk that help.
Yeah. Yeah. And then I think on the entrepreneurial side, having coached several startups and being in a startup for a while in the health tech sector and then my own startup, right? Is you have to keep going, right? You just can’t. Yeah, you have to keep going. You just can’t risk not pursuing that client or not pursuing that big corporate partnership.
But at the same time, if you don’t get that corporate partnership, then what did you learn about why that corporate partnership did not accept you? And so how do you tweak your product? How do you tweak your process? How do you tweak your value proposition? Because… You have to keep going, but you have to keep learning, right?
And so I don’t think it’s a binary answer of don’t innovate because I don’t think that’s an acceptable answer. You have to innovate, you have to continuously innovate, but that’s a big word. So you can think about continuously improving, which is more incremental, right? Sometimes we’re chasing the holy grail of this big, huge destination of we innovated!
No, you innovate by continuously improving and you continuously improve by continuously learning and you continuously learn by trying and it’s okay to fail. And if you don’t have that outlook, then you’re going to struggle, man.
Nate: It’s a verb, not a noun. Yeah. It’s like not a destination. It’s that whole, you’re always working on it.
Yeah. I do think Toph has he’s mentioned this before and I’d love to hear your take on out kicking your coverage a little bit as a startup. Let’s say you do secure that, massive, the mansion that you had to paint, right? It’s Oh, we sold this huge contract. You’re, what would you say to leaders that maybe secure that?
And when is it time to cut ties or figure out a strategy when you oversold you can’t deliver, or they’re taking too much of your time, resources, that whole thing from a startup perspective.
Noel: I think you got to finish the job, right? Because if that big man… Even if you lose 3, 500. Yeah. Even if you lose 3, 500.
Hypothetically. Hypothetically. Hypothetically. Good memories, huh, Toph? The thing is, you have to finish the job because your credibility, right? My dad taught me this. He’s he taught me about your credit. Your credit matters. And what I’ve adopted like myself. Yeah, exactly. Your credit score matters, right?
So I’ve adapted that phrase to say your credit matters, but so does your credibility. Okay. So your credit and your credibility matters. So if you got that one mansion and you got in over your head, finish the job, right? Finish it to the best of your abilities. If you take a loss on it, that’s okay.
Because why? If you do that mansion has friends, right? Yeah. And that mansion can be your referral and you want to be able to tell the house in the smaller neighborhood, like I did this mansion and you can talk to that client and they’ll say good things about our firm, about our, their experience.
And that is how it works. We all know. I learned this phrase when I was at the health tech startup, I was at a military conference in DC and I told him, I’m like, I’m going to give you credit for this phrase. He said, the difference between a contact. And a contract is just one letter, the letter R, and that R stands for relationships.
Oh, yes! Yeah, and I don’t remember his name, I think it was either Dan or Doug or something like that, and I’m like… That’s not my phrase. That’s your phrase. Washington DC conference in October of 2019 or something like that. And I’m like, that’s your phrase, but I’m going to use it. That’s amazing. Okay. So finish the job and then use that person as a referral, as a testimonial or whatever.
But finish it.
Nate: Yeah. And you’re talking about relationships, which I think you has been a consistent thread throughout this conversation. And you mentioned several names like the initial engineer that recruited you to Lilly Mel, right? And your first boss. Oh, no.
Noel: Alessandro was my Italian boss.
Nate: Your Italian boss.
Yes. Yes. Yeah. So these relationships that you built within Lilly. Yeah. So spending 28 years there. Was it more important to build relationships with people that worked at Lilly or the people that were in the Indianapolis community?
Noel: I think they both matter. What did you prioritize? I think when you’re in an organization, especially as big as Lilly, you have to prioritize the Lilly organization because in order to get work done across a large entity, knowing people across functional areas, being able to have relationships, to move things, or to escalate things, or to smooth over things or to, massage things or something like that, those things really matter.
So I think in a large org, that matters. If you’re in a startup for, so when I was in the health tech startup, there were only five or six of us in the firm. So my external relationships really mattered, but we had to be very strategic about those, right? So who are the influential sports medicine doctors, who are the influential children’s hospitals?
Who are the influential military contacts that support SBIR work, right? You had to be very strategic about who those relationships need to be. You to be able to advance your efforts,
Nate: While you were building that career at Lilly. Did you ever feel isolated from the Indianapolis community?
If you’re focused on growing relationships internally, was there like Lilly is a staple of Indianapolis. Yeah, but I wouldn’t say that I’m connected with a ton of people at Lilly because I do feel like they spend so much time connecting with each other.
Noel: I would tell you that I had a social circle.
I told you I was president of the Indian Association of Indianapolis while I was at Lilly. So I think, generally speaking Lilly folks are pretty active in the community, in the business community, in the civic community, in the arts community. They’re on boards so I don’t know that’s necessarily a binary thing, right?
Even when I was at Elanco leading the corporate social responsibility initiatives I served on the board of the Indy Hunger Network, which had Gleaners Food Bank, Midwest Food Bank, Second Helping, Sokoa meals on wheels and those, relationships really mattered because, Elanco’s cause was food security and being able to make an impact in our local community.
Those relationships were crucial to engage our employees even through some of the volunteerism that we were doing to make sure that, everyone knew that this is what Elanco stands for. We stand for global food security, and we’re putting our feet and our time and our money and our energy.
To support that commitment.
Matt: Can you tell, I was just going to ask if we could transition a little bit to the startup side and the entrepreneurial side, just because I want to make sure you have a chance to talk about that. And I think it’s fascinating that you went from 20 some years working at big companies to a health tech startup to working with the Purdue foundry to starting your own consulting company.
Can you tell us a little bit about what that transition was like and what was most surprising about that for you?
Toph: Can I add three, three, three quick comments before you transition in? Sure. For our listeners out there that may not be familiar with the magnitude of Lilly. So Lilly is, and correct me if I’m wrong, I think this is high level correct, Lilly’s the number one exporter of pharmaceuticals.
In the state of Indiana. Yeah. In the state of Indiana. Yeah. And then they just, the Lilly endowment, Is the second largest endowment, I believe it is, or top, definitely top three, four right there in the world. And then speaking of like community Nate, Lilly just announcing was a 2. 7 billion manufacturing facility in the leap district. It’s halfway between Purdue and Indianapolis. That’s so cool. That’s going to transform like that entire area.
Noel: Yeah, I think they made two commitments. I think it was one was 1. 6 and 3. 1. I think it’s like 4. 7. I could be off, but it’s several billion dollars.
So it’s not small, significant.
Matt: That’s huge impact. Yeah, that’s huge impact. And I bet we could ask you three Three more hours of questions about your time at Lilly and Elanco. But it’s fascinating to me that you did make that transition into startups, innovation, entrepreneurship, starting your own consulting company.
Was that a no brainer for you or did it take some ruminating decision making to to really make the leap?
Noel: Yeah. Let me bridge from the Elanco cause that was my last experience within the Lilly umbrella was Elanco. Did you follow that spin out? I retired before they spun out. So they spun out in 2018.
They offered us the early retirement package in 17. So it was still part of the Lilly umbrella at the time. But one entrepreneurial entrant, I’d call it an intrapreneurial experience that really was, I would say. One of my most, if not the most gratifying role was leading the corporate social responsibility efforts at Elanco, which turned into an intrapreneurial experience because we were doing a lot of funding and donations and stuff like that.
And so we were doing a donation into East Africa and the Gates Foundation was the largest donor. And we were going to meet, I was on the strategy committee for the project and we were in Seattle at the Gates Foundation and they asked us, are, is Elanco going to be commercializing their products into East Africa?
To help smallholder farmers were like, no, they said what if we de risk your investment into that and support you to go in there? Because the only way to sustainably take poverty away is to help smallholder farmers improve their milk yields, improve their poultry yields. And so I secured a 3 million grant from the Gates Foundation to commercialize animal health products for poultry and smallholder poultry and dairy farmers into Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Oh my God. Okay. And so that was a new business venture. It was intrapreneurial. We had manufacturing, regulatory, marketing, pricing all the value chain of the firm going to produce, smallholder farmer sachets of product for two dairy cows when we were selling to commercial farms at 10, 000 head, right?
And so that was an amazing intrapreneurial experience where we said we can create a viable business. And have tremendous societal impact, right? And so the concept is called Shared Value. It was developed out of Harvard by Professor Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in 2011. So we shaped that whole concept.
You talk about innovation. You talk about entrepreneurship inside of a firm. Elanco 7000 people, 3 billion dollars. And we were going to go into East Africa and sell to small holder farmers through distributors.
Toph: That’s quite a feat when you think about it, like you put in SAS terms, you’re taking a mega enterprise SAS product and taking it down to PLG.
Matt: Yeah. Yeah.
Toph: That’s hard to do.
Noel: What’s PLG? Product led growth.
Gotcha. Gotcha. And that was really an amazing entrepreneurial venture. So then when I said, okay, I’m going to retire. And again, Got permission from my wife to take the package. And so I knew for the last six or seven years at Lilly that I really wanted to start my own coaching and consulting company.
And I knew that was going to be the next chapter. And in before retiring, I was testing the marketplace a little bit, stuff like that, talking to people, checking my network. And so I knew that coaching and consulting was going to be my space. And I knew I also loved tigers because of the leadership characteristics.
They have night vision, one of the best night vision of any mammal. And so because I focus on insights, I thought that was a good pairing. And also because of my global experiences. Tigers are revered in many global cultures. So that’s where I anchored on Tigers, right? And I had done my MBA at Purdue.
And so I went back to Krannert and I said, Hey, you need any coaching? Cause I’ve run the MBA program. I’m an alum. And so they brought me on to do coaching of their executive MBAs. And then I went to the International Center because I said, Hey, I’ve used you for my international talent management work.
Do you need any help? Yes, we could use your help, Noel. So then I ended up getting those couple engagements. And then while I was coaching the Purdue MBAs, their career center director retired, and they said, Hey, Noel, are you up for another nine to five? And I said, Sure, this would have been March of 2020.
So during COVID, right? And so I said, Sure, I’ll put my name in the ring. And then I got the job, so I ran the career center for two and a half years while I had my company to do coaching and consulting, and then in August of last year, yeah, so about one year ago, I wrapped up that and I came back to my firm full time.
Matt: What’s the number one piece of advice that you could give any executive MBA? So someone who’s already in a leadership position. I know you’ve talked to a lot of different folks that have gone through, not just through the executive MBA program, but even when you’re at Lilly and Elanco if you could only give one piece of advice,
Noel: Oh, I’m terrible.
I can’t, I’m a coach. We don’t have just one piece of advice. That’s not how coaches are three.
Matt: What are your top three pieces of advice? For a leader.
Noel: Yeah. So I would say one you have to be able to listen. You have to be able to listen. Two, you have to be able to coach, right? And it has to be sincere listening and has to be sincere coaching.
You can’t do it because you want to get ahead, right? Because you have to be really authentic in your sincere concern for people. And if you’re a fake listening, people see through that crap, right? And if you’re not sincerely coaching because you’re really not sincerely wanting to see them be successful, then it’s going to be inauthentic, right?
So listen and coach. And the third thing is more business related. And I would say, don’t just build a strategy, but think as much about implementation as you think about strategy. Cause I think I see a lot of people. That are either very good at implementation, right? And missed a strategy. They’re ready fire and never aim.
Okay. Then I see people that are very good at strategy and they’re like ready aim, and you got to fire, right? And so if you can combine the two of having a smart strategy with a driven implementation, then that’s how you win. That’s great.
Matt: Those are amazing. Three golden nuggets. Yeah, that was great.
Toph: And the third one I think of, the word execution, what you’re saying is it’s, it really does come down to those they’re simple words, but very complex and powerful. Practice in reality.
Nate: If people are looking to connect with you now with Tiger and what you’re doing, how can they reach you?
What kind of people should be reaching out to talk to you?
Noel: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a great question. My four areas of focus are career coaching, executive coaching, cross cultural competencies and startup mentoring. So if you’re an executive or a working professional, and you are looking for guidance on how do I become more effective as a leader, then we should talk, right?
If you’re leading a startup and you’re like, I really need some guidance because, founders can be very lonely, right? They have their VCs, they have their board, they have their advisor. But they really can’t just go to someone and just let it all hang out, right? And I think having a startup coach that they can just be fully transparent with I’m concerned about financing I’m concerned about burn rate.
I’m concerned about did I make the right hiring decision? I’m concerned about making the right hiring decision I’m concerned about my board dynamics, they’re really on an island and I think For startup leaders and founders and even VCs. I think VCs should be thinking strategically about investing in coaching for their leaders, whether it’s L1 leaders or whether it’s L2 leaders.
Typically L1s get a lot of love and attention from investors. But those L2s, when you start to grow to 50 people, and you’ve got a line of L2 leaders, those leaders are not getting the coaching that they need. And to your point, Nate, earlier, is every individual collectively matters. And if you have a three or five L2s that aren’t firing on all cylinders, The risk for sustainability, the firm is there and those cracks are happening, but no one’s seeing them because they’re only focusing on the L one.
So I think any startup leader and any VC firm should be thinking about how can tiger careers and consulting help coach those those startups. And then lastly, I would say that if there are any elements where Cross cultural business or cross cultural coaching are relevant. That’s where the multiplier effect of, I think my experiences can really help, whether it’s an international student or universities that are working with international students or a startup that’s looking to expand to global markets.
Or has a leadership team that’s made up of someone from, this country and that culture and this country, how are they max effective in those cross culture dynamics that are really present, but maybe not at the surface, they’re below the surface. So hopefully that helps
Matt: Those are all really great ideas and potential hooks where people could plug in.
This conversation has been amazing. We are at time. Are you okay to go a couple minutes over? Sure. Okay. I don’t want to put you on the spot, but we do have what’s called the lightning round and it’s it’s fast paced. There are no wrong answers. But it’s just
Nate: Three questions, three questions, quick, right off the top of your head.
So outside of the amazing entrepreneurial ecosystem, what is Indiana known for?
Noel: Indiana is known for. Sports.
Nate: Sports. I love it. The amateur sports capital of the world. Yep. What is a hidden gem in Indiana?
Noel: A hidden gem in Indiana, I would say is the cultural ethnicity of restaurants and grocery stores on the northwest side of Indianapolis called International Marketplace.
There’s an Ethiopian restaurant there that we love. There are what’s it called? It’s called Abyssinia. Oh, and so I think there’s a hidden gem of ethnic cuisines and ethnic grocery stores. That, if you don’t make your way out to the northwest side of Indianapolis, by the way, that’s where I grew up.
And those are the two McDonald’s I worked at Lafayette Road and 38th Street and Speedway also. Yeah. Hidden gem.
Nate: Amazing. Okay. Final question. Who is someone that we need to keep on our radar? Someone who is doing big things.
Noel: I’ve got a lot of respect for the IEDC. Okay. And I think as I’ve gotten more involved in the entrepreneurial space, as I’ve gotten more involved in the business community upon retiring, because you did say, when you’re at Lilly and Elanco, you’re focused. The amount of effort and energy being committed to and the initiatives coming out of and through and from and by IEDC.
I’m so proud to be an Indiana business leader because of all those efforts. You hear about the Lilly announcement, you hear about, these initiatives from Elevate Ventures and this whole focus on the black, brown and female entrepreneurs. You think about. The focus on bringing autosports to Indiana.
You think about this semiconductor pursuits. It’s just amazing how firing on all cylinders is happening across the ecosystem across the business community. I think credit goes to the leadership.
Nate: I love that. This has been a spectacular conversation. I did want to say to toast point. The Lilly endowment is the ninth biggest endowment in the world.
Ninth largest in the world. Ninth largest in the world. Insane. It’s huge. Yeah. This has been a great conversation. Noel, thank you so much. I did want to remind the listeners that if you want to get your startup featured on Get In, if you send three larges to 16 Tech, address to Nate at Powderkeg, we’ll wear your startup tee.
We’ll talk, give you a 30 second shout out, minute shout out, talk about what you’re doing, send it to 16 Tech. Guys, this has been a great episode.
Matt: Thank you so much. No, this is awesome.
Noel: Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Matt: This has been get in a powder kick production in partnership with elevate ventures, and we want to hear from you.
If you have suggestions for our guest or segment, reach out to Matt or Nate on LinkedIn or on email to discover top tier tech companies outside of Silicon Valley. In hubs like Indiana, check out our newsletter at powderkeg. com slash newsletter. And to apply for membership to the Powderkeg executive community, check out powderkeg.com/premium. We’ll catch you next time. And next week, as we continue to help. The world Get IN since you just listened to this podcast, you might be thinking about starting one for your company. Lucky for you, our partners over at casted, have you covered casted is the first and only podcast and video marketing platform made specifically for B2B brands.
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