IACCGH Shell Distinguished Lecture: “Leading in Times of Uncertainty”


Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner with Bob Patel and Indian Consul General Anupam Ray, and IACCGH members and attendees on May 4, at IACCGH Distinguished lecture at the Hilton Americas.
Photos: Bijay Dixit

HOUSTON: On May 4, the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston hosted Bhavesh (Bob) Patel, CEO and Chairman of the Management Board of LyondellBasell, one of the world’s largest plastics, chemical and refining companies for the Shell IACCGH Distinguished Lecture Series.

Prior to the lecture, in a special show of support for IACCGH, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner stopped by to visit with Patel and India’s Consul General Anupam Ray at a VIP Reception.

A native of India who came to the United States at 10 years old, Patel discussed his experience running a large, global company and what he learned from turning the organization around through the Chapter 11 process.

“Facing bankruptcy changes you and changes the culture of the organization fundamentally,” said Patel. “You quickly learn what’s really important and that the upfront decision-making process is so critical because of the potential consequences on the back end. Using data and making the right, and sometimes hard, decisions in the beginning can save even harder decisions later.”


When taking on new challenges, Patel noted that he always asks himself two, fundamental questions.

“I always ask myself, first, can I contribute? And second, can I learn from this opportunity?”

Patel also noted that there is great value in diversity, not only visual or cultural diversity, but diversity of thought.

“I have had the opportunity to lead very diverse teams in terms of culture, but also thought, and we were always better for it.” said Patel. “In the end, because of the diversity I believe we arrived at better decisions because we included the entire team. This is the real and proven power of diversity.”

Patel also shared his philosophy around running a large company in the petrochemical sector noting that three things are inevitable: “Death, Taxes and the Cycle (cyclical nature of the industry).” Yet, he noted that it’s possible to find opportunity in the ups and downs, provided the business is run conservatively.


“It’s important to keep costs low, even in the good times because it gives you greater flexibility in the more challenging times. I always ask my team if we could afford to take on any given­ initiative in a low price environment,” Patel noted. “Maintaining financial strength is key, so it’s wise to keep costs in check and resist the temptation to over leverage, even when borrowing is easy and cheap.”

“We’ve worked hard to maintain steady costs and investment, so we can continue to invest and grow through any cycle,” he noted. “But you must be patient and sometimes a contrarian to what others are doing. By doing so, you can help put the business on a steady, sustainable path as opposed to one with big ups and downs.”

The session concluded with a question and answer session .

Shell General Manager for CRI/Criterion Catalysts, Diane Chamberlain presented the speaker with a plaque of appreciation and spoke of Shell’s commitment to investing in the community it serves. Diane had been Patel’s peer about 20 years ago, bringing this full circle for her.

IACCGH also awarded the first recipient of the International Internship Scholarship to Ankit Bhowmick,  a Petroleum Engineering student who will be performing a summer internship at Shell Technology India in Bangalore.

The Chamber started the tradition last year of raffling a Rolex watch donated by Karat22 Jewelers to raise funds dedicated to sending students from area Universities to India, furthering ties between Houston and India.

If you’re interested in either helping with the Rolex Watch Scholarship fundraiser, or you know of students in the Houston area interested in Internships in India, please send an email to info@iaccgh.com.