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Issue Date: April 2009, Posted On: 4/7/2009


Dev Patnaik: Jumping Ahead


Jump Associates founder practices what he preaches with empathic approach


By Martin Desmarais



From the file 

Company: Jump Associates LLC

Position: Co-founder and chief executive officer

Education: Bachelor’s degree in product design from Stanford University.

Age: 38

Quote: “This kind of message is something that people need out there. ... I am deeply concerned that corporate America is running things on PowerPoint and I don’t think it is getting us anywhere.”

SAN MATEO, Calif. – Dev Patnaik, co-founder and chief executive officer of strategy consulting firm Jump Associates LLC, believes so much in what has led to the success of his 10-year-old company that he wrote a book about it.

In January, “Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy,” hit the bookshelves. The book extols on what the 38-year-old Patnaik has staked his professional career on: companies will succeed when they tap into the power of empathy, which is the ability to reach outside of ourselves, connect with people and see the situation through their eyes. As Patnaik asserts, when people inside a company develop a shared sense of what is going on in the world, they see new opportunities faster than competitors. In addition, they have the courage to take a risk on something new and stick with their gut feelings, even if it does not take off right away.

As a growth strategy consulting firm, San Mateo-based Jump Associates helps its clients translate this use of empathy into success and has done so with such giant names as IBM, General Electric Corp., Nike Inc., Target Corp., General Mills Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Proctor & Gamble and Harley-Davidson Motor Co. In his book, Patnaik examines how some of these corporate giants used empathy to drive change and sustain growth within their organizations.

Even though the book essentially highlights the knowledge that Jump Associates has used with its clients and, in the process, expanded from a small, single-client firm to a 50-employee company with offices in California and New York, Patnaik has no hesitation about sharing his trade secrets.

“This kind of message is something that people need out there,” he said. “I am deeply concerned that corporate America is running things on PowerPoint and I don’t think it is getting us anywhere.”

Patnaik is not simply satisfied that the world has now become a so-called “global society,” because he believes most people still can’t relate to others. “We are more connected and more separated from each other than at any point in out history,” he said. “But I think we are getting back to it … [and we need to because] there is tremendous value in that human connection.”

The point has not always been easy to sell, but Jump Associates has had a decade to perfect the pitch. “On the face of it, empathy is a sort of touchy feely kind of word and some tough guy businessmen say, ‘I don’t have time for that, in this economy.’ But it is exactly what they need,” Patnaik said.

Jump Associates describes its approach as a fundamentally new kind of strategy consulting and a hybrid process fusing social science, design and business strategy, all with the goal of identifying new markets, reinventing existing categories and developing new sources of revenue.

While working with Target, for example, Jump Associates was able to transform the company’s back-to-school business by changing the face of its back-to-school theme to going back to college, which Jump Associates determined was a key moment that resonated with parents and kids of all ages.

Jump Associates created a new product platform focused on this new theme and, in the first year alone, increased third quarter sales 12 percent.

With Wrangler Jeans, Jump Associates helped the company reconnect with its American cowboy consumers by visiting ranches and attending rodeos to experience the life of “true American cowboys and cowgirls” and creating new fashions that better fit their lives. Jump Associates work on this and product recommendations have led to double-digit annual growth for Wrangler’s women’s wear.

According to Patnaik, when he talks about using empathy as part of a strategy to fuel company growth it definitely goes against what corporate America is used to, namely sitting in a board room focusing on facts and data and developing new products before hitting the streets. Jump Associates encourages getting out there to meet and understand the consumer and developing products from there.

Still, Jump Associates usually highlights the potential bottom-line results before pitching to clients that they need to get out the boots and head to rodeo, as was the case with Wrangler.

“We don’t sell them on empathy – we sell them on revenue and then they learn the rest,” he added.

Though he is an entrepreneur who is proud of his business success, Patnaik is not afraid to admit that the timing worked out well for Jump Associates, launching in the late 1990s. “We got incredibly lucky,” he said. “When we started the company our customer did not exist yet.”

But around that time, the new title of vice president of innovation started to show up at companies and these were exactly the type of executives that were open to Jump Associates’ message, he added. “There is this whole generation of growth guys who have sprung up,” he said. “That is not something that was clear as a job 10 years ago, but it is part and parcel of what you need today.”

Jump Associates was founded in 1998 by Patnaik, his brother Udaya, Neal Moore and Robert Becker. The firm’s first business was a week-long contract with office furniture company Steelcase Inc. A year later, Steelcase was still a steady client and soon others such as Target and Nike came on board. Media exposure and slots on cultural and tech forums followed, continuing to spread the Jump Associates name.

Patnaik, who was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., credits a stint working in India in for the philosophy that propels Jump Associates.

After graduating from Stanford University in 1992, with a bachelor’s degree in product design, he worked as a designer and design director at steam engineering and control instrumentation company Forbes Marshall in Pune for three years. He then spent another year working as a design consultant in India.

“Everything that I do now can trace back to my experience then,” he said. “I had the realization that design and strategy was connected.”

At Forbes Marshall, Patnaik said design was about seeing what the competition could come up with and making something similar, which meant they were always chasing. “We were constantly in trouble,” he added. “And being in trouble doesn’t feel good.”

He said he eventually had the realization that the products a company makes could depend entirely on what kind of company it wanted to become. “That is where the light kind of went on for me: ‘Huh, there is this connection between design and strategy,’” he added. “Seeing that connection is something that set me off on this road.”

“Wired to Care,” acts as a testament to Patnaik’s success, but more importantly, for him, it helps disseminate a message about something he truly believes in.

The praise has been forthcoming:

“’Wired to Care’ will convince you that businesses succeed with their hearts as much as their heads. Dev Patnaik has given us just what we need for the lean years ahead.” – Malcolm Gladwell, author of “Outliers,” “Blink,” and “The Tipping Point.”

“Empathy might be the most underappreciated ability in business. But with this smart and insightful book, Dev Patnaik shows how to enlist this powerful capacity both to boost your own business and to better our shared world.” – Daniel H. Pink, author of “A Whole New Mind.”

“Especially in a down economy, empathy can seem like a soft concept. But it's not – it's a powerful source of new growth that has helped fuel my business for more than two decades. As ‘Wired to Care’ convincingly shows, the more an organization can understand and empathize with the key motivators of their employees and customers, the more likely that organization will have sustainable success.” – Chip Conley, Founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality and author of “PEAK.”

“Wired to Care offers a roadmap to success paved with empathy, where caring contributes more to the potential success of a company than cost cutting, and where hope is more important than hype. The bottom line is better profits, better products, and happier employees. There is a better day for business (thankfully) when companies are wired to care.” – Robyn Waters, former vice president of trend for Target and author of “The Hummer and the Mini.”

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