115. Hero – Nirpal Sihota, Director of Industry Sales at Rockwell Automation Transcript

Nirpal: 00:00 

When those that are around me are engaged. They’re bringing their best self to everything that they’re doing and they’re not worried about the results. They’re just working hard and they can lean on me for experiences, knowledge, sounding board, just being willing to listen. Even if I don’t know the answer. I think that’s when I know that I’m being successful. And that’s my, why I always look back to those personal engagements and really making sure that they are meaningful and valuable

Chris: 00:33 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why a podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics, spotlights the heroes that keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger. And on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features of benefits based on products that come to market. Instead, we focused on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why today we have a hero conversation. I’m very excited to sit down with Nirpal Sihota, who is the director of industry sales at Rockwell automation. So welcome Nirpal. 

Nirpal: 01:12 

Yeah. Thank you, Chris. Looking forward to the conversation. 

Chris: 01:14

 No doubt. Absolutely. Very excited. And now you’re located in where again? 

Nirpal: 01:19 

In California. I’m in Northern California, near the Napa Valley area.

Chris: 01:23 

Oh, okay. Okay. Looking forward to this conversation with you all the way out in California and we love to get these started just by learning more about the guests and about, about their personal journey. So what can you share with us? 

Nirpal: 01:37 

Yeah.  Always interesting to talk about yourself. I’ve always told people when I do this when I introduced myself that I’m a first generation Asian Indian here in America. So my parents both got a high school level education, one here in America and one in India and they immigrated over here in the late seventies. And It’s interesting to bring that up because a lot of what you’re going to hear the way I work and things I do you know, they work those hard nine to five jobs, even over time to put three kids through school. And they didn’t have a large education to work off of.

So a lot of what we learned and did was kinda on our own. We had to learn on the fly. We had to learn on our own. There wasn’t an internet to leverage at that point, so to figure out some questions. And so we just had to get things done. And it’s interesting because I bring that up as the school I went to was Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

And their motto was learn by doing which now when I self reflect onto it, it’s like, “Oh, no wonder.” I really thought about that school and enjoyed going there because how I worked or how I even grew up. You just learn by doing and figure it out and then go from there. So I got my start in this industry with Siemens back in the late nineties and got an opportunity to work with them for about 11 years.

Got to take on multiple roles and opportunities from an account manager to a business development manager, to a sales manager there. So I learned a lot there and that’s where I cut my teeth in the industry part of it. I then got an opportunity to work for a couple of years at a local Bay Area integrator. So I really got to learn about working for a smaller company being able to make changes very quickly, nimbly, agilely, and then being able to leverage that into learning about the industry and background that I just didn’t have as much knowledge about. And I’ve now been at Rockwell for nine and a half years.

I started out as an account manager, took on a sales manager role. And then just recently here over the last three years, I’ve been in a, my present role, which is a director of sales roles for the Western part of the United States where I got the experience now to start managing managers and working on a broader team and a broader responsibility of the organization as well.

So today I am a director of industry sales over the Western part of the United States. I’m trying to work on all the key things that our manufacturing companies are looking for our help on. 

Chris: 04:06 

Okay.  Thank you for walking us through that. So as part of, you’re over that Western United States, what are some of the challenges that you see out there that from your, the industries that you’re serving and supporting.

Nirpal: 04:17 

Yeah, we cover everything from at least my visibility from the Dakota’s all the way over to Alaska and Hawaii to give a frame of reference. And when you look at that landscape, you’ve got everything from oil and gas to food and beverage to electric vehicle startups and many other industries as well.

You know, some of the biggest challenges we see coming is just where is our country as a whole, going to rely on energy going forward and the impact that’s gonna have on the industries that we cover, will we be seeing more startup companies and electric vehicle as we depend, maybe less on oil or does we need to depend more on oil or not?

What does it mean with all the things that are happening with travel that’s going on with COVID right now? So what does the aerospace industry look like five to 10 years from now? Is it looking the same? Is it going to be more regional, smaller players because there’s just not a need for the bigger guy who says maybe people travel differently going forward?

What’s packaging and food is going to look like, is everything going to be done by Amazon and Walmart and dropped at your doorstep because no one’s going to be going to retail or to grocery stores anymore? Those are those key things. And so when you then lump those up and say, so what is our workforce look like going forward?

How do they need to be thinking about looking like going forward, what does our customer’s workforce look like going forward? Is everyone going to be just pounding behind computers for the rest of their lives now going forward, these are all those challenges that we’re seeing out there in the industry that we’re trying to get our head wrapped around to develop, “hey, so what do we do?” And how do we go after this thing and really be successful as a company going in the next five to 10 years. 

Chris: 06:05 

Wow. That’s a lot of topics that you really are in front of you, but it sounds like it’s also, it’s challenging, but it sounds like it’s going to be pretty exciting too, as things evolve and you’re in the midst of so many different areas.

Nirpal: 06:21 

If nothing else, it’s not going to be boring. It’ll definitely, it’ll definitely challenge people to maybe get uncomfortable and maybe have to change themselves, maybe enough have to brand themselves a little bit differently. So if you were someone that enjoys being challenged, uncomfortable, having some fun and seeing what happens if you tried something differently, you’re probably going to enjoy the next five to 10 years. If you’re not that person, these next five to 10 years might be very rough. 

Chris: 06:46 

That’s right. That’s the give you a little bumpy. That’s right. Yeah. You mentioned that your territory really caught me a couple of things you said that I just wanted to clarify. Mainly I want to clarify for my wife. So yeah. So did you say you’re over Alaska and Hawaii too? 

Nirpal: 07:02 

Yes. We’ve got that as part of the territory in the Western part of the United States. 

Chris: 07:06 

Don’t let her know. Cause we honeymooned to Hawaii and fell in love with it. So do you get to go out to, and she’s been to Alaska she’s trying to get me to go there. Do you get to go to those regions very often? 

Nirpal: 07:16 

No I have not been to Hawaii since I’ve had this role.  Just in the last three years, I did get an opportunity to go to Alaska. We had an event that was up there a year and a half ago, two years ago that I felt was a great opportunity for me to go meet customers and some team members that we have up there.

And the whole aspect of it still being light outside at 1130 at night, just blew my mind. It just was something brand new for me. I did not know what to expect. I was in my hotel room. Just looking out, going, this is erie. This is weird just to not feel normal at all. And so I’ve gotten an opportunity to travel out there once and I’d love to go back out there. And oftentimes what ends up happening is at least for this role, you ended up going, flying into an airport and then going to a visit and then right back to an airport. So a lot of my quote unquote knowledge is based on what I hear around the airport more than I am around the sights and sounds of the cities and everything else.

Chris: 08:17 

I got you. I got you. But yeah, that Alaska, that, that sounds like that was a, it probably took a while to get used to no doubt Oh yeah. Very fun. Very fun. So how about the listener out there? Who wants to come into industry? They want to figure out how. Any advice you’d offer up?

Nirpal: 08:32 

When they, especially, if someone’s wanting to enter this industry or just enter this industry, the number one advice I have or the aha moment I remember at some point when I joined Rockwell was how small this industry is. It’s not that big as much as we think it’s big and pure numbers, tell us it’s big.

You would be surprised on how many people stay in this industry, how many people move around in this industry and how small it is when you really look into it and understand it a little bit more. And so the reason I bring that up is, if someone’s looking to break in this industry, it’s great to get into those associations.

It’s great to get into networking with companies and customers and your own organization because I think if you spend time doing those types of things and getting to meet as many people, you will find that they naturally will move around such that you’ll get to learn a lot as they move around and where they go and what they do to really understand more about this industry maybe even have more opportunities for themselves that they didn’t even think about before. 

Um, number two, I think we’re living in an age where technology is so huge in this industry, I’d encourage everyone to understand what artificial intelligence means going forward, what analytics means, what software means, because those things are becoming bigger and bigger deals.

And so if someone’s looking to enter this industry, they should really go spend a little bit of time on what those type of applications and information and software is or whatever the right word may be. Is going to become over the next five, 10, 15, 20 years, because you don’t get a better sense of where this industry is going and how to really get involved in understanding it going forward.

Chris: 10:19 

No doubt. Absolutely. What do you look forward to the future in Nepal? What gets you excited? So you’re right technology is changing rapidly. So just curious on your take on what excites you. 

Nirpal: 10:32 

What excites me is really the ability that there’s bigger impact that can be made into how people are doing work than ever before.

And what I mean by that is there are a lot of companies that have these sustainability goals, these safety goals, these other goals that are pretty lofty goals. And sometimes you wonder can I really make an impact into that? The more and more I’m staring at this. And the more and more I’m seeing how things are going in the future.

I do actually think those things can be impacted a lot more than maybe one may have thought about if they only thought about it from a PLC, HMI drives perspective. And that’s exciting. That you can really sit down with someone. And explain the overall benefits that it brings to a company and what it could mean for them.

And that might even for that person, who’s trying to get involved in the industry, give them more motivation around why they’re doing what they’re doing to begin with. I’ve seen some people here within Rockwell that have taken on sustainability responsibilities, safety responsibilities that came from sales.

And it’s because they truly are helping the company move down a path. And then if they’re right, they can use that to help other companies go do the same thing as well. And so that, to me, it’s very exciting. I think most of our manufacturing company and even ourselves, I feel are getting even more tightly interwoven, sorry, intertwined as a whole such that everyone knows what everything has got going on. And I think there’s more opportunities because of that to really help make a bigger difference. 

Chris: 12:08 

No doubt. Absolutely. Great stuff. And when we sit back and you think the things that have helped you and that you get excited about, are there any resources that helped you that, because we’re trying to guide people with recommendations as well. So does anything stand out? 

Nirpal: 12:22 

First thing I would tell people before they even worry about resources is to go spend time getting to know as many people in your organization. I think we’d all be surprised on how many resources are already living and breathing within the organization before we even go look for other organizations to help us.

And I think the more you network within the organization and learn from others, might be first of all, how you get better, learn more, do some things as well. The second piece I would encourage for everyone to be thinking about is really spending time learning their own emotional intelligence piece really understanding how they work with others and how they make others feel and engage with them because I think as we all get to this base, that’s going to be this virtual world. How you interact with people is going to become even more important than it’s ever been, because it’s easy to type a text or a Skype or a Teams.

And and just write something it’s a different, have a conversation with someone and really being able to talk empathetically with them and doing some things. So anyone that goes to research some of that stuff, will find plenty of data and information that’s out there. And there’s plenty of stuff on artificial intelligence.

I think if anyone just looked some stuff up, if they’re going to spend some time, whether it’s in like our website or just in general in the marketplace, they’ll see plenty of information that’s out there where they probably get a step up versus anyone else out there and learning what that means and what it could do.

 Chris: 14:01 

Google’s a wonderful thing. You could find so much out there on a lot of these topics. Thank you for bringing that insight for listeners as well. And I love on these episodes to talk about mentors and give you, give the guests a chance to, give recognition to people who have helped them in their career, or even maybe talk about, how you are able to mentor people now and help them and guide them what that looks like. Anything you’d like to share there? 

Nirpal: 14:25 

Yes. I have a great mentor in the store. I’ve got a few mentors in this organization, but I’ll speak to one here for a minute or two. So Sujeet Chand is our CTO. And I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him from a personal and professional perspective.

And the reason I really enjoy having the conversations with him. As he eloquently points out, he goes, “Nirpal there’s so many things you can go do to test yourself. There’s so many things you can do to analyze yourself there. There’s so many, assessments, reports all these types of things.” He goes, “At the end of the day, you just have to know who you are and you have to be willing to be proud about that. Be positive about that and use that as the main thing that you have, that brings value of you compared to everyone else.” And when you hear an executive of a company, say that and say it in such a very easy way of having a dialogue. There’s just something about that conversation that I’ve always enjoyed of having with him.

He brings such a clarity and simplicity to the way he dialogues things and he’s part of a $7 billion company and he’s a CTO. So it’s not like the guy can’t be handling situations. It just makes it so easy to have a conversation and share his practices. And it’s just amazing walking out of there every time. And I have always walked away going, “I learned something and I felt better about myself every single time.” And so I used that whenever I’m dealing with people in general, even if I’m not mentoring them to try to make them feel better, that they learned something to begin with. And then I can do that for people that officially consider me a mentor even better.

And Sujeet to me is the epitome of what I would point to, to say that’s what a mentorship looks like; helps you, helps you learn, makes you feel better. It makes you want to even go do more when you leave that room, right? 

Chris: 16:21 

No doubt. If you don’t have that in your career right now, and you’re listening, just be intentional search and start asking questions. And it’s really important to have that type of people that can speak into your life. 

Nirpal: 16:36 

People want to help others. People are positive and want to do other things to help others. And so if you don’t go ask there, they’re going to, that are not going to be willing to do that. They’re not going to just be thinking to do, go do that. And so wherever you are out there, if you’re looking for one person. Just go ahead and ask, go ask your manager, go ask your peer, go talk to someone. You’d be surprised how many people want to help, 

  Chris: 17:02 

I’m gonna try to ask this question the right way in Nirpal. So you have the title of director of industry sales, and people may have certain perceptions when they see that sales title and they may not all be positive. So if there, if you had a chance to debunk some myths around, what you do and sales in general, what would that be? 

Nirpal: 17:27 

So my kids still think I’m a car salesman. They still don’t know what the heck I do because I keep telling them I’m in sales and they’re like, and then the follow up now is, “Oh, so you’re like Michael Scott.” So that’s our now follow up to it as well, in our space and what we do we’re problem solvers. That’s what we’re trying to do.

Someone has an issue that they’re trying to solve. Whatever it may be. It could be a small as an I’m trying to get this conveyor going faster, or it can be as complex as I’m trying to get more production through my entire manufacturing facility. That’s what I do. That’s I wake up and my team wakes up saying, “Hey, someone’s got some kind of issue that we know we can solve, that we can do, and we can help them be better. Let’s go help them. Let’s go talk to them. Let’s go figure it out. Let’s go really understand it. And let’s go see if we can help them solve that issue.” That’s what we really do.

That if I could change my title to be their problem solver, or as I’ve always tried to change it to master of the universe, because I just always loved He-Man when I was a kid. 

Chris: 18:33 

That’s right. We had a guest in manufacturing on that we record it with and he said, he’s looking for a customer advocate and I thought that was an interesting title. He said, “I’d like for you guys in sales to change your titles to customer advocates cause that’s what I’m looking for as an end user is somebody who’s going to help me understand my problems, help me understand how to sell this internally up, to get their approval and things like,” I just thought that was an interesting take.

Nirpal: 18:58 

I think that’s actually probably the best title you can know to someone, because again, problem-solver makes it seem okay so if I got a leak in my faucet, are you going to solve that? But if you’re talking about it from a customer advocate, think about it this way. You’re on Amazon right now and you’re trying to do something.

That’s all they think about is, “Hey, you need something here. We got it.” If you don’t need it, or if you’re having an issue with it, “Hey, we’ll solve that.” They’re just customer advocates. That’s what they’re doing. 

Chris: 19:22 

That’s right. So I got one more question about work Nirpal, and then we’ll get off the work path and have some fun outside of work. So when you’re in that moment, things are really going well. You’re feel like you’re doing the work that you enjoy the most. You’re really feeling joy and happiness and you’re feeling fulfillment. What are you doing in those moments, 

Nirpal: 19:43 

Celebrating successes?. When those situations come up, if you’re not willing to high five and let a person know that they’re doing a great job and letting others know that’s exactly the impact we’re trying to make. Then you’re doing a disservice to them. And to me, you’re missing out on an opportunity to really make it something even more meaningful. That’s what feels really good, when things are going well. Then when I’m picking up the phone and, or texting or emailing and really letting someone know that was awesome. That’s great. That’s fun. That’s exciting. And then using that to broadcast and letting people know this is what it looks like we’re all having some fun and enjoying what we’re doing.

And so we’ve spent a lot of time trying to focus recognition, and we just continue to focus on that as a management team, because that’s what brings a lot of excitement to the table. 

Chris: 20:38 

That’s great. Can’t forget to celebrate. It’s wonderful that you see that as so important and then that brings you so much happiness.

Nirpal: 20:44 

There’s plenty of, there’s plenty of negativity. Yeah. There, someone wants to go look for that. So I’d rather go focus on something else. 

Chris: 20:50 

Oh yeah. There’s no shortage of negativity, but that’s for sure. 

Nirpal: 20:54 


Chris: 20:55 

So how about let’s get outside of work for a little bit. What do you enjoy for fun? Any hobbies? 

Nirpal: 21:01 

So I like coaching. For a while coached a lot of my kids’ sports. I actually, even at one point put a travel basketball team together for my so  because they were getting to a point that playing recreational wasn’t challenging and I’ve always enjoyed that element of it. um, I’ve taken a hiatus on that and the kids have gotten old enough that they don’t want dad around, which I don’t blame them if I was in their shoes. I’d probably say the same exact thing, but I may want to pick that back up once they’re done with their little mini careers, whatever that looks like, just to be able to go do more of that. I enjoy playing basketball myself.

I still play every Sunday morning unfortunately with COVID, it’s been all outdoors here recently, which hasn’t been as fun, but I still enjoy doing that. Just something about the game, something about the team part of it, something about winning in a game where it’s five people try to work together.

Just always been fun in regard to that. I’m not going to call this a hobby just yet. I am starting to golf once a month with some family members. The reason I don’t bring it up as a hobby, it’s probably more of a hobby that I can get to and go out with them, but if anyone watches my golf game, they know that there’s no way that could be a hobby because it’s that bad.

And so I don’t mind enjoying that and then know. Maybe as much time as I can possibly spend that’s meaningful, we spend watching some movies and TV shows as a family and doing some stuff, um, but I don’t consider that a hobby. That’s just fun things for me to do. Just being able to want to hang out with a family and, watch Amazing Race or whatever we’re deciding to watch as a family.

Chris: 22:36 

Well, I mean, that’s what we’re all about at EECO is his family. So what can you share with us about your family? 

Nirpal: 22:43 

Yeah. So happily married for 18 years now. We’ve got a 15 year old and a 13 year old. So we’ve got a high schooler, an eighth grader. Two smart kids. They know what they got going on. They know they’re able to do what they need to get done and if not, they’ll Google it and figure it out.

And so can’t be more proud of them. My wife and I in 18 years we’ve gone through highs and lows, but we’ve always enjoyed being around each other and trusting each other on a daily basis. We try to have some fun. My wife is very family centric her family lives nearby. So we get to see my nieces and nephews from that side quite a bit. And yeah, we just try to spend time. We’ll never possible now with COVID we’re all spending time all the time. But we’re trying to make the most of it in July now. 

Chris: 23:29 

Okay. So you have some family that’s close to you right there and in proximity?

Nirpal: 23:34 

Yeah, my wife’s family lives really close by and my family actually doesn’t live more than an hour radius away, hour and a half radius away as well. So we can always see them. That’s been a benefit of mine here where I’ve lived. My extended family evolved within a three and a half hour radius.

My wife’s extended family is all within an hour radius. So worst comes to worse. Everyone within a few hours could all be together and enjoying each other’s company. 

Chris: 24:01 

That’s great. That’s wonderful that you have that, that close that’s closeness available. So yeah, good stuff. So I’ve started in Nirpal doing in the hero conversations, a lightening round, and this is just fun. It can be one word answers. It could be sentences, whatever you want, just trying to get through some questions and just learn a little bit more about who you are for our listeners. So you good with that? 

Nirpal: 24:24 

Yeah, absolutely. 

Chris: 24:25 

Okay. All right. So let’s just start off with, I always start with a softie. So how about this favorite food? 

Nirpal: 24:33 

It’s going to fall under the whole Mexican realm. So whether it’s burritos, tacos, whatever it may be. I lived on probably Taco Bell too much during college, but even without Taco Bell there’s plenty of burrito, places that I enjoyed. And so I had that one food. I enjoy anything under that. Mexican realm would always be my favorite.

Chris: 24:53 

Oh, we are. We are singing the same song, my friend that is. That’s it. I love it. I love it. So how about a favorite adult beverage? 

Nirpal: 25:01 

Favorite adult beverage? I am going to have to pick that if I had one that I had to do, Sierra Nevada would be the one adult beverage. That was one of the first craft beers that was ever out there. When I was going through college and if I just had to pick that one craft beer. I’d always take a Sierra Nevada over anything else. 

Chris: 25:20 

All right. That sounds good. So how about cats or dogs? 

Nirpal: 25:23 

Dogs. So my daughter for the longest time wanted a dog and we got her one a few years ago. He’s turning out to be possibly my best friend or vice versa, depending on who you ask. I’m the one who’s usually walking and talking and dealing with it. So Chico is the fifth family member that I didn’t bring up earlier. Sorry, Chico, if you’re listening. He uh, yeah, so he’s a black lab three years old and just has an abundance of energy that he gets, I can go on a, run, a walk and he’s still done afterwards and saying, “okay, so what’s next.” I don’t have energy like you bud. 

Chris: 26:00 

That’s awesome. All right. How about a destination or a vacation destination that you’d like to go to? 

Nirpal: 26:06 

There’s not one specific one. I think the best vacations destinations, there’s one, just the four of us go somewhere. We’ve gone the four of us being, my wife and kids.

We’d gone from San Diego to New York and a few other places. And when it’s just the four of us were able to get to see a lot, travel around, get to do our own thing. And so we’ve just enjoyed doing that. We’ve had a chance to go to England and India together as well. And just anything we do together, I don’t have a one I just liked getting to destinations and just seeing everything very cool.

Chris: 26:43 

And last one. This is for your wife a date night. If you have to pick one thing or if you have to take arrange a date night, what are you going? Where are you doing? 

Nirpal: 26:51 

If I had to arrange it, we’d be going out somewhere, just grabbing dinner and nothing has to be fancy spending some time and then heading home and then watching a movie or a show together and keeping it simple.

It doesn’t have to be extraordinary at all. Just getting out to do something and it’s perfectly fine, even if it’s just for an hour, 

Chris: 27:10 

Just that quality time together. 

Nirpal: 27:12 

Yep. Just a little bit of time. We’ve got the luxury with so much family that we’ve got flexibility. We can pull that off. So it’s always nice once in a while to go do that. That’s great. 

Chris: 27:21 

That’s great. This has been a lot of fun. We’ve gotten to know you Nirpal through this conversation and we always wrap these, the, these episodes up with the why on EECO Asks Why. And this is really just talking about your passion. What drives you. So if someone was to come up to you and want to know what your, why is, how would you answer that? 

Nirpal: 27:39

Yeah. It’s funny cause I just worked on this. And when those that are around me are engaged. They’re bringing their best self to everything that they’re doing and they’re not worried about the results. They’re just working hard and they can lean on me for experiences, knowledge, sounding board, just being willing to listen. Even if I don’t know the answer. I think that’s when I know that I’m being successful. And that’s my, why I always look back to those personal engagements and really making sure that they are meaningful and valuable and doing some stuff, probably don’t do it enough with my own family, as much as I do with the workers, but that’s because I’m probably thinking of too many other things when I’m dealing with just the personal side of it, but anything I can do to help people bring their best self and use me on whatever way they can to do that. That’d be my why. 

Chris: 28:35 

I love it. That’s a wonderful wine Nepal. I cannot thank you enough for opening up and being so honest for our listeners and just the wonderful story. Great accomplishments. And thank you so much for being a guest on EECO Asks Why.

Nirpal: 28:47 

Chris to you and Adam, and the team that put this together. Congratulations on a great idea, a great format and style that you guys are putting together and keep up the good work. It’s powerful. It’s been impactful. And I enjoyed it.