Editor’s Note: The following interview features a GreenBook Future List honoree, Rogayeh Tabrizi. The GreenBook Future List recognizes leadership, professional growth, personal integrity, passion, and excellence in the next generation of consumer insights and marketing professionals within the first 10 years of their careers.


Introducing Rogayeh Tabrizi

Rogayeh is a tech leader helping Fortune 100 companies connect with their customers to create delight and value. Rogayeh did her Master’s in experimental particle physics at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and worked on the ATLAS Detector at CERN. Rogayeh earned her Ph.D. in economics, focusing on social and economic networks and game theory as a more effective way to engender positive change in the world. Rogayeh saw the need for large enterprises to understand their data to connect with their customers in a meaningful and personalized way. So, she founded Theory+Practice, a company deploying AI tools in Retail and Finance to create intelligent interventions which drive value.


If you could change one thing about the insights industry, what would it be?

The data-first approach. By definition, we are talking about insights, yet our approach to getting insights is data-first. As an industry, we aren’t focusing on the questions we want to ask the stakeholders. How are they going to consume the insights? What is the actual insight we are going after? Why is that the right question to answer? Even if we assume that we got the insight, are the produced insights going to be consumable by all the stakeholders? Are they helpful for them? So that would be the one thing I’d change about the insights industry, changing from a data-first approach to a question-first approach.

 

What is something you’ve built or launched that you’re proud of?

I’m very proud of Theory+Practice overall, but I can highlight two specific aspects: the first is team-focused, and the second is client-focused.

I have a very specialized team. We come from a broad range of disciplines, computer specialists, data scientists, physicists, economists, mathematicians, etc. I feel very proud when I think about how a very culturally, intellectually, and professionally diverse group of people has come together and learned the languages of each other and our clients with humility and curiosity. By doing this, we are unlocking incredible potential, creating tangible value, and tackling seemingly impossible problems, and to me, this is one of our greatest achievements.

To translate our technical skills to create value for the organization, it takes hard work and humility to truly learn a very different language: the language of business. I’m proud of how effectively we partner and communicate with our clients. We help them find the right questions, shed light on the assumptions they are making without realizing, and decode their problems by extracting signals out of their data and turning them into action. We have an excellent track record with our clients in terms of the value that they see in tackling complicated data problems. I am truly grateful and proud of the partnerships that we have built.

 

Do you have a mentor or role model who has made a large impact on your career? If so, who? In what way did they make an impact?

Nitin, Don, and Karen – I can’t just pick one! All three are very strategic people who think about simplifying complexity. They are also some of the smartest people I know yet are extremely humble – their humility is admirable.

Nitin Rakesh, the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Mphasis, is one of my best mentors. He helps me to think about questions. Nitin constantly challenges my mental models, challenging me to think about problems from a different angle, not be too quick to act, and actually sit and think about the consequences of things. He also is a great leader. He has really helped me think about my team – how I interact with them, enable them, and empower them.

Don Berman, Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Cardworks, is a founder himself, and he grew his company over the last 40 years. I have so much to learn from him in terms of building a business that lasts. Don has instilled in me the importance of building the foundations of your business right, investing in the people, and truly trusting and understanding your team.

Karen Oldfield, President and CEO of Nova Scotia Health Authority, is such a strategic person, and she simplifies the complexity so quickly. From Karen, I learned how to navigate extremely complicated stakeholder environments and how you ask the right questions, manage that, understand the nuances and politics, and yet still focus on people and doing the right thing.

 

What sets you apart from your peers? Is there a specific trait that you attribute much of your success to? (For example, resiliency, grit, capacity for risk, etc.)

Curiosity, humility, imagination, and dreaming big are traits that have contributed to my success. I don’t know if they set me apart, but this combination has definitely helped me. I am so deeply curious about anything and everything – it’s just who I am. It’s different from being a learner. I am also a learner, but curiosity is way beyond being a learner. My curiosity feeds into humility, or perhaps is its byproduct, as you realize how much there is that you don’t know. In business, it’s good to be humble because there’s more that you don’t know than you do. The last trait is imagination and dreaming big. So many people think about reasons why things don’t exist or won’t work, but for me, I look at something and think why that can’t be there, why that’s there. Dreaming big is more ambition, but imagination is what is possible; it’s that sense of chasing the seemingly impossible.

 

What changes would you like to see reflected in the industry over the next five years?

Moving away from the bias for action that organizations have. On the one hand, it’s wonderful because they all realize the importance of investing in data and data-driven/data-informed decision-making. So that’s a fantastic thing. But the how-to of it is way too heavy an investment on transforming the data. The industry trend is to solve around their infrastructure and embark on massive transformation projects before thinking about the questions and the ROI value they want to generate. They almost think about business problems and the ROI as secondary priorities to the transformation. However, transformation should always start with what we are hoping to achieve.

 

What’s next on the horizon for you? Are there areas where you’re looking to level up? A company you want to launch? A new milestone you want to reach?

Theory+Practice has a very exciting year ahead! Through working with Fortune 10 and Fortune 100, we’ve discovered a lot of common, and sometimes hidden, patterns in the problems they’re facing. So, we have been able to bring these patterns together and create an ecosystem of use cases. The beauty – and perhaps one of our differentiators – is how we see the interconnectedness between different use cases and how we have created solutions for an ecosystem of use cases.

The odds are if you want to really understand your customers, you’re going to use the same data that you’d use for understanding price sensitivity, promotion affinity, or the same data that you’re going to use to build a recommendation system! So, for the next 12 months, we will focus on creating many efficiencies for this ecosystem, productizing this solution, and going to market with it. Our solution will help organizations create delight for their customers because we are going to give them the ability to put their customers at the center of everything and personalize solutions, decisions, and interventions at an individual level. We believe delight creates impact, and impact drives long-term value.

 

If you had $1M to invest in various parts of the industry, who or what would you invest in? (You can split the amount as you see fit!)

One of the things I’d invest in is helping transition talent from academia into practice sooner and during their academic journey. I would invest in more than just the type of short-term co-op programs that currently exist. Current co-op programs all tend to happen at the undergrad and master’s levels, while very little exists for Ph.D. students. So I’d love to partner with academia to create programs that can have Ph.D. students get their doctorates in practice while working on very real-world problems. The majority of Ph.D. students don’t end up in academia, so those who do have to transition have a difficult time and often end up in jobs not utilizing their skills and talents. That’s why I’d invest in this space because if senior academics had transitioned earlier in their academic journey or had more real-world experience before moving out of academia, the Ph.D. graduates could put their skills and talents to best use.



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