Driving Disruption: Roshan Pujari Of Stardust Power On The Innovative Approaches They Are Taking To Disrupt Their Industries

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Focus on Midstream Development: Recognizing the value in midstream components rather than solely focusing on raw material extraction, we have strategically invested in midstream infrastructure. This approach adds significant value to the entire supply chain and allows for new raw material sources to come online. For example, by aggregating supply from multiple brine sources we can serve as a cornerstone of the American supply chain for lithium.

In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes, but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Roshan Pujari.

Roshan Pujari, who grew up in Oklahoma with over 20 years of experience as a business executive and entrepreneur, is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Stardust Power. With a strong background in finance and lithium, Mr. Pujari has led over two billion dollars in transactions, known for his expertise in analysis and deal-making. At Stardust Power, he drives the company’s growth in the American lithium industry through ethical leadership and financial acumen. His efforts are revolutionizing the U.S. lithium landscape, emphasizing economic development, sustainability, and national security. Mr. Pujari also founded VIKASA Capital Inc., a boutique investment firm investing in global markets and the American energy transition. A dedicated philanthropist, he established the Pujari Foundation, supporting arts, culture, education, and community initiatives worldwide. He contributes to various boards, including The Heritage Hal School, Oklahoma Arts Council, Allied Arts, and the Integris Centre for Mind Body Spirit. Mr. Pujari attended the University of Redlands with honors in history and government.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Certainly! I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, which has been evident since my 20s when I founded multiple businesses. My journey into the investment world began with VIKASA Capital, where I leveraged unique skill sets to navigate and succeed in various markets. This experience opened up numerous opportunities for me, and eventually, I became an investor in the lithium sector.

As I delved deeper into the lithium industry, I recognized the critical need for resilient American supply chains. This insight highlighted a significant opportunity to make a tangible impact. Consequently, I decided to start our own operating company in the sector, aiming to address this need and contribute to the growth and stability of the supply chain.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What truly sets our company apart is our ability to leverage diverse skill sets to build a thoughtful and efficient business model. This approach not only reduces risk for investors and stakeholders but also maintains a strong focus on sustainability. By integrating our collective expertise in finance, accounting, and the lithium sector, we are able to craft transactions that are highly efficient and adhere to the highest environmental and social standards.

For instance, during a recent project, we were able to streamline operations in a way that significantly minimized environmental impact while maximizing value for our stakeholders. By employing advanced financial strategies and adhering to rigorous sustainability protocols, we demonstrated that it’s possible to achieve robust growth and value creation without compromising our commitment to environmental and social responsibility. This holistic approach underscores our dedication to creating a balanced and impactful business.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Integrity: Integrity is paramount in my approach to business. It involves being transparent and honest, even when delivering difficult information. For example, we once invested in a company that faced an unprecedented situation when NASA sought to take over some of its assets. We were upfront and transparent with our investors about the challenges and potential impacts. This openness fostered trust and ultimately, we navigated the situation successfully, ensuring positive outcomes for our investors.
  • Perseverance: Founding and growing a company requires relentless perseverance. When I started my own company, it went through multiple iterations and faced numerous challenges. We continuously refined our business model, investing our own capital and time. Despite the hurdles, we kept pushing forward, and after years of hard work and dedication, we built a highly successful business. This journey underscored the importance of persistence in achieving long-term goals.
  • Leadership: Effective leadership is crucial, and I believe in leading by example. I never ask my employees to do something I wouldn’t do myself. I am mindful of their families and personal lives, and I strive to be one of the hardest working members of the team. This approach fosters a supportive and motivated work environment, where everyone feels valued and driven to contribute to our collective success.

Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.

One significant challenge we faced was during our decision-making process for our De-SPAC. We believed strongly in the value and potential of our company, so we made the deliberate choice to reject certain types of financing that could have impacted our long-term growth negatively. Instead of accepting certain structured financing, we opted for common equity, fully aware of the challenging market. We believe this aligns the business with the investors. This decision underscored our confidence in our company’s value and future prospects.

Another tough decision came at the onset of the pandemic. While many companies were laying off employees to manage their balance sheets, we made the difficult choice to retain our staff. We recognized the importance of supporting our employees during such a challenging economic period, even though it put a strain on our business initially. By committing to our team, we not only demonstrated our integrity and leadership but also built lasting partnerships. This decision fostered deep loyalty and trust, ultimately contributing to a stronger, more dedicated workforce as we navigated the subsequent challenges together.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?

In a business context, “disruption” refers to finding alternative paths to achieve your goals, rather than following the conventional methods everyone else is using. It involves seeking innovative and efficient approaches to secure your objectives. For instance, in the lithium industry, instead of relying solely on traditional methods, we explored recycling wastewater and extracting lithium from unconventional sources. We believe in working with the energy ecosystem rather than seeing participants as competitors. This disruptive approach has proven to be economically advantageous and efficient, potentially allowing us to produce lithium in a more cost-competitive manner.

How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?

In our industry, we currently see very little disruption, with most players adhering to traditional methods. Many continue to develop single assets without exploring innovative alternatives. However, we perceive significant value in disruptive innovation. By focusing on unconventional approaches, such as recycling wastewater and building midstream components, we add value to the entire ecosystem.

For instance, we developed an innovative approach to optimize our refinery for multiple sources of brine input. By aggregating supply, we can scale more efficiently and faster. This approach not only maximizes efficiency but also enhances the overall value chain. Disruption, in this context, is both a strategy and a necessity. It has been a key factor in our success, enabling us to distinguish ourselves and make substantial contributions to the industry. By challenging the status quo and pursuing innovative solutions, we continue to lead and drive progress in our field.

What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?

In challenging conventional wisdom, I’ve learned the importance of being thoughtful and considering all perspectives and potential outcomes. It’s crucial not to challenge the status quo merely for the sake of being different, but to do so when there is a strong conviction and a clear plan to limit risk for stakeholders.

For example, when we decided to explore innovative approaches in the lithium sector, such as building a central refinery based on a hub and spoke model, we did so after thorough research and careful consideration of the risks and benefits. The design was done in coordination with the larger team. This approach has taught me to balance innovation with pragmatism, ensuring that any new direction we take is well-founded and strategically sound.

These lessons have significantly shaped my leadership style. I now prioritize informed decision-making, weighing all possible scenarios and maintaining transparency with my team and stakeholders. This careful, conviction-based approach to challenging conventional wisdom ensures that we pursue meaningful innovation while safeguarding our company’s long-term success and stability.

Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?

At Stardust Power, we saw where the American lithium market was moving. There has been substantial investment upstream into raw material production, but little investment into the midstream process. We saw a unique opportunity to lead the midstream. Some argued that we should start on raw material production. However, we saw the real opportunity in focusing on the midstream first. Our strategy gets proven each day the market develops.

What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”?

  1. Recycling of Wastewater for Feedstock: Instead of solely relying on traditional mining methods for lithium extraction, we have implemented a pioneering approach by recycling wastewater as feedstock. This method not only conserves water resources but also reduces environmental impact. For instance, by partnering with oil and gas producers, we’ve established a closed-loop system where produced water is used to extraction lithium..
  2. Focus on Midstream Development: Recognizing the value in midstream components rather than solely focusing on raw material extraction, we have strategically invested in midstream infrastructure. This approach adds significant value to the entire supply chain and allows for new raw material sources to come online. For example, by aggregating supply from multiple brine sources we can serve as a cornerstone of the American supply chain for lithium.
  3. Nonlinear Corporate Thinking in Going Public: We adopted a nonlinear approach when deciding to take our company public. This strategic decision wasn’t just about financing; it encompassed a holistic view of corporate operations and market positioning. We saw the opportunity to leverage public equity to vertically integrate by acquiring interest upstream in raw material supplies. By going public at this stage, we aimed to enhance visibility, attract strategic partnerships, and access capital markets more effectively. This approach aligns our corporate strategy with operational efficiency and financial sustainability.
  4. Aggregating Feedstock for Expanded Capacity: Instead of relying on a single source of feedstock, we have implemented an innovative system for aggregating multiple sources. This forward-thinking approach allows us to scale our production capacity effectively and diversify our supply chain. For instance, by optimization for multiple feedstock and establishing partnerships with various lithium-rich regions and exploring different extraction methods, we ensure a steady and diversified feedstock supply, reducing dependency on any single source.
  5. Integrated Value Chain Approach: We have adopted an integrated value chain approach that spans from extraction to product delivery. This approach involves optimizing each stage of the process — from mining and processing to distribution and marketing — to maximize efficiency and value creation. For example, by vertically integrating our operations, we can control quality standards, reduce costs, and capture more value across the entire lithium supply chain.

These innovative approaches underscore our commitment to disrupting the industry by challenging conventional practices and driving sustainable growth and efficiency in the lithium sector.

Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?

Throughout my career, embracing disruption has been a defining factor that has reshaped my path in significant ways. One area where this is evident is in our approach to investment structures and vehicles. In VIKASA Capital’s Indian capital markets business, for instance, we pioneered the use of innovative and tax-efficient structures that have delivered substantial benefits to our investors. We were first movers in identifying innovative new structures based on a changing tax and regulatory environment. By challenging traditional methods and introducing these new approaches, we not only enhanced investor returns but also set a precedent in the industry.

Moreover, disruption has redefined my leadership style by emphasizing the need for continuous innovation and calculated risk-taking. By pushing boundaries and exploring new ideas, we have been able to stay ahead of market trends and capitalize on emerging opportunities. This journey has been marked by surprises, challenges, and ultimately, transformative growth that continues to shape my career trajectory today.

Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?

Embracing disruption has had a profound impact on me personally, particularly in terms of work-life balance and efficiency. For example, adopting remote work practices has allowed me to dedicate more hours to work while still being present for my family. This flexibility has enabled me to manage my time effectively, ensuring that I can work hard without sacrificing quality time with my loved ones.

Moreover, my commitment to efficiency in operations extends beyond the professional realm. By optimizing processes and embracing innovative technologies, I have cultivated a mindset that values productivity and effectiveness in all aspects of life. This approach not only enhances my professional performance but also allows me to fulfill my responsibilities as a father and husband more effectively.

Overall, embracing disruption has taught me the importance of adaptability and forward-thinking both professionally and personally. It has enabled me to strike a balance between career ambitions and personal fulfillment, ultimately contributing to a more fulfilling and rewarding life journey.

In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?

As a leader focused on driving innovation and embracing disruption, one of my primary concerns is ensuring that I do not impose my own views or ideas onto the company. It’s crucial for me to foster an environment where dissent and open conversation are encouraged, allowing for exploration of alternative approaches.

I often reflect on whether the decisions we make are truly the best for our organization, considering all perspectives and potential outcomes. This reflection guides my leadership by emphasizing collective decision-making among our leadership team. Rather than my personal preferences dictating the course of action, I strive for consensus and buy-in from all stakeholders.

These thoughts drive me to promote a culture of collaboration and diversity of thought within our organization. By valuing input from different perspectives and encouraging constructive debate, we can make informed decisions that are aligned with our strategic goals and values. This approach not only mitigates risks associated with innovation but also fosters a sense of ownership and commitment among our leadership team and employees alike.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I were to start a movement that could bring the most good to the most people, it would focus on fostering strong, supportive communities where everyone can thrive. This movement would emphasize the importance of being active and caring citizens, both socially and environmentally.

I believe that by encouraging people to be good stewards of their local environment, supporting those in need within their communities, and actively working to build strong community bonds, we can create significant positive change globally. Strong communities serve as the foundation for societal progress and resilience. When individuals come together to support each other and their environment, critical masses are achieved, leading to upward spirals of community acceptance and prosperity.

In my own efforts, through initiatives like my family foundation, I am passionate about supporting the arts, education, and community wellness. By investing in programs that foster intellectual growth and creativity, we not only enrich individual lives but also contribute to the overall health and vitality of our communities. Whether through philanthropic initiatives or voluntary involvement with non-profit organizations, I strive to make a meaningful impact locally and globally.

Ultimately, I believe that by promoting strong community values and encouraging active citizenship, we can create a ripple effect of positive change that benefits society as a whole.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.