In late 2008 and early 2009, the recession was sending many companies into survival mode. The customer base was drying up, and even if you still had a substantial portfolio of customers, your ability to produce and ship products was likely crippled by skyrocketing energy costs.
But through all the turmoil, Sunil Agrawal saw an opportunity for his business, Nova Consultants Inc.
“If you remember back when crude oil hit almost $150 a barrel, we were sitting in our office thinking about how one third of the GNP in this country was going toward energy, and all this money is going to the same countries which we are trying to fight against,” says Agrawal, Nova’s founder, owner and president. “So we tried to think, what is the one thing we will always need in this country to live on? And we thought that it would be energy. So let's develop ways to save energy, to harness energy which comes from non-carbon sources.”
Agrawal decided to enter the solar energy market. It has been a challenge for the company to keep up with the ever-changing face of solar energy technology, but Agrawal and his team have been able to master the market enough to generate $10 million in 2011 revenue.
Smart Business spoke with Agrawal about how Nova was able to adapt, and the importance of flexibility in the world of business.
How did you identify solar energy as a good direction for the company?
We have on our key staff chemical engineers and electrical engineers. In 2008 and ’09, the Obama Administration was talking about alternative energy, about coming up with a program for alternative energy, so we thought we might have some opportunity in that field. Three or four engineers in our offices started attending conferences and reading journals, reading books, because there was no formal program at that time that could train someone in solar engineering. So we had the time, the guys were there, they were getting paid, they were very interested, they wanted to do something different, so we decided to give solar energy a try to see how it works.
What else in the company's infrastructure allowed you to capitalize on the opportunity?
Raw materials were not needed. It was all intellectual material that was needed. We had plenty of intellectual material to make it happen, and we used it quite a bit. All the investments that we made in 2008 and 2009 paid off in 2010 and 2011. We now have a number of multimillion-dollar contracts. We have positioned ourselves well for growth.
What would you tell other business leaders about defining a new direction for company?
What happens is that when things are going good, people don’t look for new opportunities. They don't look at the future; they are happy with the way things are going. Even though solar energy is developing a presence here in the United States, we are 10 years behind everyone else. It is because things were going good in this country as far as energy is concerned. So we developed it and gave to other countries such as Germany, Japan and Spain. For example, in Germany, 30 percent of the power comes from solar.
So I would say to other CEOs, look to the future. Don't get too caught up in the present. Look in the future and see what is coming toward you. You have to deal with the present but prepare yourself to deal with the future.
Is there still a way to keep that future-focused mentality when times are good?
If you want to grow, keep growing. You have to maintain that, you have to look to the future. If you don’t, then what will happen, everything that you are doing now is going to become routine, and you will lose your edge. Without an edge, without a core competency, you cannot survive in the future.
What is the danger of getting complacent?
The danger is pretty high, because you become an antique then. You are done, and by the time you try to catch up, the technology has already moved on. In our own field, what we are doing right now, engineering energy, these fuels are changing on a weekly basis. The solar panels that we used three months ago are obsolete now. The efficiency and power is increasing that rapidly. So in our field, either you are in or you are out. You don’t have the option to get in and sit back. You have to keep moving with the times.
How to reach: Nova Consultants Inc., (248) 347-3512 or www.novaconsultants.com