Rutgers EMBAs land on Poets & Quants list of Best & Brightest Executive MBAs for 2019
Following a successful stint in strategy, management consulting, and in startups, Rojo Mathai joined GHD in April 2020 as the Global Head of Digital Experience. GHD is a 90-year-old company and is one of the world's leading engineering and professional services companies operating in water, energy and resources, environment, property and buildings, and transportation sectors. With a geographic footprint spanning across Australia, APAC, North America, the UK, and the Middle East, Rojo will drive the digital transformation, and innovation agendas to help the markets re-imagine their business impact, and guide and shape industry investments for a digital future.
This is the profile of Mathai as it appeared in the Poets and Quants list of 100 Best & Brightest Executive MBAs: Class of 2019:
“Witty, thoughtful, strategic, passionate, integrity, strong faith, ambitious, surprising, unflappable, reliable, persistent, and empathetic.”
Hometown: Princeton, NJ
Family Members: Rakhee (spouse); and three boys, Noah, Mark, and Jonah
Fun fact about yourself: I caught the running bug on the Executive MBA School trip to China. While in China, I went running in the early mornings in Beijing, and Shanghai and then realized how much I loved it. The best way to see a new city is to get out and go for morning runs, just about when the city wakes up. I have never been a serious runner before and I realized very quickly that I needed to build my endurance. While my running buddies were kind and patient enough to take me along with them running, I was slowing them down during the runs. After my return and through regular training – and about nine months later – I ran my first race, the Rutgers Half Marathon. Now I am looking to run races regularly after graduation.
Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering from Bangalore University
Where are you currently working? As a director of consulting services at Publicis Groupé, I run an advisory, strategy, and transformation consulting practice. I focus on the application of strategy and technology to business functions especially in the areas of digital transformation, and advisory consulting.
Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:
Class President of EMBA
Co-founder and board member of non-profit leadership training
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of being elected the class president, which allowed me to connect and network with my classmates and represent the class in school matters. During my time in this role, the leadership team tried to do many things differently. For instance, we decided to give everyone in the class an opportunity to exhibit their leadership capabilities and started a TED-style speaker series. Initiatives such as this were strategic and enhanced the value of the program and provided opportunities for my classmates. I am very passionate about coaching and mentoring. Closer to home, I run a mentoring program for a group of eight men to teach pragmatic leadership skills, which they can apply in their spheres of influence. I am glad to say that I kept the meetings going even during times when I felt the executive MBA workload was too much and I considered putting things on hold until my MBA was complete. At work, I also started a Digital Lab to invent and test new solutions and curate thought-leadership and establish new areas of competence.
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In my career, I have had the opportunity to transition from an individual contributor to a people manager. With a background in management consulting, I have contributed to organizational initiatives that have helped the bottom lines of many companies I have consulted. Most recently, I was fortunate to grow an engagement portfolio in consulting services from scratch to a significant revenue pipeline, with the responsibility of building a global organization of 200+ people and delivering solutions for complex business and technology challenges. All of this while advancing and championing long-term strategic initiatives in the companies.
What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? The combination of Economics, Strategy and International Business was my favorite. I found it extremely helpful due to the global focus it had. On a trip to China with my classmates, I admired observing the real impact of international business, free trade, and the economic benefits that came with executing a well-planned economic growth strategy. The benefits to the country and the people of China, who opened their markets to free trade, were very evident. There were moments when I thought, “If only people knew how much they would benefit through free trade and open markets, the world could be a better place.” Through a combination of the courses, I have now come to firmly believe that greater good for all can be accomplished only through economic growth. This principle has been true for all developed countries and can be very valid for developing countries as well.
Why did you choose this executive MBA program? With my background in management consulting, I make decisions only after thorough research and understanding the short and long-term benefits of any venture. When deciding to join an Executive MBA program, I had a choice of many schools from the Northeast. I was looking for a globally-renowned school that would provide me with guidance, instruction, and the environment to propel my career to the next level. The program had to be well-rounded with emphasis on my core areas of importance: strategy, and finance. I also looked at other factors in the program, such as diversity in the student body and the experience of the teaching faculty. I wanted to be in class, sitting and learning from others, which effectively ruled out an online program. Most faculty in the Rutgers EMBA are from industry, coming with real-world experience. Like most EMBA candidates, my goal was to attend the best school that was logistically feasible and to attain the maximum return on investment. Finally, I relied on EMBA rankings to help inform my decision. When I saw how Rutgers rankings had improved consistently year-over-year, I recognized these accomplishments don’t come easily and the Rutgers program was the one for me.
What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I enjoyed being in a class of leaders with diverse backgrounds of industries and cultures and learning many new things. The Executive MBA program is unique in the sense that you get to hear different perspectives and discover best practices, which is challenging to get in any other manner. One of the most exciting opportunities of an EMBA is those insights you gain through your classmates. I also tested many of the assumptions and ideas I had picked up through environments and experience that shaped me, especially in business and corporate strategy through engaging interactions with the faculty. This allowed me to understand why things did work when it did, and when it didn’t.
What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? One of my goals in joining the program was to hone my leadership skills – and execute decisions with relevant information. While previously I just knew how to make the right choices, I did not fully understand the reasons “why?” A year into the program, I was able to use every bit of learning I encountered. The real-world application orientation of the program – through its emphasis on market analysis, and investigations of journal and news articles in Managerial Statistics, Business Law, and Economics – helped me relate theory to practice. Leadership starts not just with knowledge, but also with people skills and with a genuine interest in improving the lives of people.
Professor Langdana’s “Cycle-Of-One” leadership lessons rescued me from some sticky corner-office situations and this mode of learning and its implementation helped me and my organization accomplish double-digit growth in revenue and size. The beauty of the EMBA program lies in the gradual build-up and enlightenment that comes with it over two years. In the “language of MBA,” I consider it an utter waste of an investment if an MBA degree doesn’t make you a better human being because at the receiving end of all decisions, are people whose lives you can impact as a leader.
Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? Do the best you can. Having a full-time career and a family with three kids with ages ranging from 5 to 15 can test your ability to juggle and manage different balls in the air all at the same time. Adding a full-time MBA program on top of that was daunting and would require sacrifice, but I was prepared for the challenge. The first thing to be disrupted was my sleep schedule and free time during the day. Quite frankly, most of us waste lots of time on any given day. I gave up watching TV and movies and honestly, I didn’t miss anything. I had long given up the habit of reading, due to time commitments, and here I was beginning to read long case studies, class notes, and journal articles, and textbooks.
Every little bit of available time became an opportunity to do something toward school. Train rides and lunch breaks became occasions to learn. A supportive family is essential during this time and my wife stepped in to take over and shield me from the mundane things and only involved me in the most critical tasks. Remarkably, I was still able to keep up with social events and relationships with friends and extended family. Everyone was appreciative of my pursuit and supported me in every way possible. I’d suggest, if you are considering an executive MBA program, not to be intimidated. Managing your time is challenging, but it will make you keenly aware of inefficiencies in your daily actions.
What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Whatever you learn, look for opportunities to apply immediately. Don’t join the program thinking you know everything, which is perhaps a great disservice you could do to yourself. Moreover, always balance what you pay for the program with what you are getting out of the program. You put your best foot forward and get it done. The program is so short and quick that you will need to leave your perfectionist tendencies behind and find compromises and balance in whatever you can. You will never regret joining an executive program because of what you gain from it – take the plunge and be willing to step out of your comfort zone. Be in it, so it makes you better. The rest will take care of itself.
What was your biggest regret in business school? I should’ve started sooner. I can remember thinking, “If I had known the things, I learned in business school about five years prior, perhaps the career outcomes and results coming out could have been different.” I would advise those considering an Executive MBA program, if you start early, you have more years to apply what you are learning in school. There is no perfect time like right now. Also, once I started the program, I should’ve loosened up a bit. I started taking myself and the courses too seriously in the first few months. Looking back, I should have, perhaps, enjoyed the journey more while going for my goals. Fortunately, for me, the EMBA program brought in a high level of conscientiousness and encouraged a depth of self-exploration I didn’t know existed. In the second year, I learned to slow down, enjoy the journey, and laugh more. I wish I’d learned all this a bit earlier.
Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It is a tough question to answer, as I studied with a group of high achievers. Every person in my class is distinct and remarkable. I have been lucky to meet so many talented people all in one place. Particularly, I admire my friend Ashish George. He is a very quiet, unassuming, and diligent. He is someone with high integrity and values. I am amazed at his ability to multi-task. He has a regular day job and runs his own business. While in business school, he somehow managed to find time to run the entire IT operations for an annual global conference of almost 3,000 attendees. During the run-up to the conference, I could see how stressed he was about being the single point of failure and resolution for the conference registration and the attendees, but I also observed how he handled things with calm and poise.
“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…it wasn’t any singular moment but was a gradual realization. I had reached a stage in my career where further progress would come with recognition as a thought leader, for which I required a different set of qualifications such as an MBA. I have always aspired to be in the C-suite and I realized I needed an EMBA to open doors and boost my career prospects. When I profiled the business leaders whom I admired, I realized that many of them had an MBA.”
What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Building on the lessons from business school, I want to lead an organization that not just achieves business success but also impacts and influences people at the highest levels of management and decision making. I hope to bring attention to a style of leadership that operates on core values of integrity, sound judgment, and strategic planning but which also has the greater good of people and community at heart. As a management consultant, I have worked in several companies from startups to Fortune 500’s and I have observed what poor leadership looks like in the boardrooms and at the top. I hope to make a difference. I also want to bring a portfolio aspect to my career, where I am not just in the corporate world, but I am also involved in non-profits, boards, and volunteer organizations and have multiple spheres of influence, and put to practice what I preach.
In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?
As an empathetic, and trustworthy person, who has an influential style of leadership, who is genuinely interested in people, and leads with principles of integrity, and servant leadership.
What are the top two items on your bucket list? I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and see its volcanic cones and glaciers before it is all gone. It is hard to believe there are glaciers in Africa. I am also a big fan of J. R. R. Tolkien books, and in particular, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and would like to visit New Zealand where the movies were filmed. I enjoy traveling the globe, learning the history and origins of different cultures, tasting various cuisines, and interacting with the locals.
What made Rojo such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?
“When Rojo ran for class president on the platform, “Leaders eat last,” he was unanimously elected. It is tough – very tough – to be a leader in a roomful of leaders, but President Rojo has been truly an amazing class president. His style of leadership can be best described as “leading by influence.” In fact, I remember how passionate Rojo has been about people and mentoring. It isn’t unusual for someone absent in class to receive a call from him, checking on them. In one case, he spent significant time tutoring a classmate from a non-finance background in the second semester, which resulted in the classmate developing an understanding of the subject matter and doing well. After joining REMBA, Rojo deployed his lessons from REMBA and his organization posted double-digit growth. He realized the opportunity to drive growth through digital capabilities at investment banks such as Goldman Sachs where revenue from traditional business lines had stagnated. In fact, as part of an elective at REMBA, he is currently working with the director of innovation, and the Rutgers Entrepreneurship Club to secure venture capital funding for the creation of an Artificial Intelligence-based Human Capital Performance Management (HCPM) platform that measures employee engagement in companies. For the U.S., it is all going to be about pushing productivity forward, and Rojo’s new platform may just be the driver. In Rojo, you have the academic credentials, the inherent leadership qualities, and above all, the power to synthesize topics and learnings from a wide range of courses to focus on the challenge at hand.” - Farrokh Langdana, professor of Finance and Economics and director of the Rutgers Executive MBA Program
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