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Drivers of Innovation: UL's Operations Leader Sees Diversity as Growth Driver

To mark Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Heli Patel discusses the factors that keep her committed to UL’s business and mission.

Headshot of Heli Patel

May 28, 2021

Heli Patel first joined UL seven years ago, and now serves as operations leader for the EMC Wireless division of the Consumer, Medical & Information Technologies (CMIT) Customer Operating Unit (COU). Born in Gujarat, India, Patel moved with her family to Canada at age 3 and pursued her education and career in the San Francisco Bay area. She is currently based in UL’s Fremont, California, office.

How did you come to establish yourself in the Bay Area, and how did you first come to UL?

I was born in Gujarat, India, and moved to Canada with my family when I was 3 years old. I eventually ended up in the Bay Area, and attended San Jose State University to study management information systems. I’ve always been interested in a blend of project management and business operations.

I then earned my MBA also at San Jose State University, where I also teach data visualization part time as a professor, as well.

I’ve been with UL for seven years, and first joined as a contractor. From that point, I slowly moved closer to UL’s operations. I began by reading various standards and technical documents, and working on programs for third-party vendors. Then I started working on putting together dashboards from Fulcrum, Oracle and other sources to help determine what the best uses for this data are. I was able to grow from there, seeking more and more responsibilities within UL’s operations.

What does your current role at UL involve?

I’m focused on our EMC Wireless business, managing the operations of a large customer. I oversee project engineers to ensure effective strategy, correct tools, processes and efficiencies. I also manage the business analytics side of this effort to support better decision making and strategy.

How do you see yourself building trust at UL?

Trust comes from a lot of the activities we carry out already. For me, it starts with trust between employees, as well as building trust between our division and other laboratories and departments at UL. Team trust in turn carries over to our relationships with customers.

In EMC, it’s not so much safety as it is ensuring proper testing, validations, and so forth. There’s a lot that goes into that. We trust that we’re following the right procedures, and that our collaborators are, as well.

What is one of your favorite things about working at UL?

The people at UL — they keep me here. These relationships tie in with trust, and at the end of the day everyone works to stay here and help the company’s mission.

Second are the growth opportunities at UL — if you seek them out. I’ve never been told no when it comes to taking on more responsibility here. You can get stuck in one role, especially in Silicon Valley, but not at UL.

What does the idea of AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?

We see so much nowadays, starting with Black Lives Matter. It’s a learning opportunity. I’m Indian, and my husband is Korean. There is so much diversity at UL, and in my own family.

Look, this is one month — it’s a great start. But there’s so much more to it than calling someone an Asian American. It’s a chance to learn about their upbringing, their struggles and cultural practices. In our business we have offices globally, and AAPI Heritage Month helps with understanding how we conduct business, too.

So, again, it’s a start, but it takes more than a month. You must get out of your comfort zone and ask questions, otherwise you’ll never know. My own team has many Asian Americans — they’re Chinese Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Filipino Americans. This diversity helps with understanding different cultures, values and languages. I truly believe there is power in diversity and we can learn so much from one other if we allow ourselves to do so.