December 19, 2019 • By Christine Byrd
Roopesh Koolwant, MBA ’18, was barely out of college when he found himself floating on a skiff in the Indian Ocean, on his way to upgrade cellular service for the 300 residents of Agalega, a remote island off the coast of Africa.
Today, with his MBA from UCI’s Paul Merage School of Business, Koolwant is a senior consultant for Umlaut in Australia, where he helps the world’s biggest automakers incorporate mobile technology in their vehicles.
“Roopesh’s career combines his technical experience in engineering with newfound learning in business management and digital strategy, allowing him to envision how every industry is being transformed,” says Vijay Gurbaxani, the Taco Bell Endowed Professor of Information Systems and Computer Science. “He is today a digitally driven leader, epitomizing what the Merage School is all about.”
“When I came to the Merage School, I didn’t think I would change industries from telecommunications,” says Koolwant. “But then I realized how I could use my experiences and what I learned to spin my career and reposition myself to do something new and even more challenging.”
Growing up in Mauritius, another island off Africa’s eastern coast, Koolwant started computer coding as a teenager. By the time he finished high school, he had written a program to fully computerize the daily tasks at a nearby medical clinic — from tracking patient records to logging staff hours.
Koolwant studied electronics and communication engineering in India, then returned home to work for the telecom company Emtel, the Southern Hemisphere’s first mobile provider. It was then that he ended up on a little boat, upgrading mobile service on a remote island. Eventually his career at Emtel plateaued.
“When I became coordinator of the core network team, it rang a bell in my mind, saying this is as far as I’ll get with the credentials I have now,” says Koolwant. “But I still wanted to grow, so the question became what to do next.”
After considering an advanced engineering degree and an MBA, Koolwant chose the business degree. He won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in the U.S.
“The MBA was my first choice, but I knew it had to be an MBA with a heavy technological focus,” he says. “That was what I was most interested in.”
The Merage School was the siren calling, with its focus on digital leadership, location on the Tech Coast, diverse community and beautiful weather.
“I joined the school with a technical background and passion for technology, but I discovered a lot of new topics like business analytics, blockchain and the Internet of Things,” he adds.
It was one of the courses taught by Gurbaxani that stoked Koolwant’s interest in big-picture concepts like the Internet of Things. After class one day, Koolwant approached his professor about his challenges landing a summer internship because of his status as a Fulbright Scholar, which limited him to working just one year in the U.S.
A quick email to one of Gurbaxani’s contacts opened the door for Koolwant to intern at Verizon Connect (called Telogis, previously) working on mobile workforce management solutions for fleet owners. Thanks to that experience, the following year he led an MBA consulting project for Kia Motors America, a case study on connected mobility trends.
One of the highlights of Koolwant’s UCI experience was the annual Road to Reinvention conference, sponsored by the Center for Digital Transformation, which brings together industry experts and leaders to discuss the most exciting and disruptive technological changes ahead.
"What the Merage School does best is create an ecosystem where you learn the ins and outs of digital leadership, where you find resources to pursue your technology interests and where you find career opportunities in different industries,” says Koolwant.
This includes bringing leaders from different industries to share their digital transformation stories, a yearly "Bay Area Trek" to visit tech companies, consulting projects with some of the world's biggest corporations, and mentorship from business professionals.
“For me, it was not only important to get a great business degree, but to also get a good grasp of the emerging technologies,” he adds.
One technology that both fascinated and confounded Koolwant was blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin. So he and two classmates threw themselves head first into the 2018 Notre Dame MBA Tech Innovation Challenge, a case competition focused on blockchain.
“Not only did I get to learn about blockchain, but I also got to represent the Paul Merage School of Business alongside other top-notch U.S. universities — and we won against them,” Koolwant says of the team’s first place finish. He continues to pursue blockchain, completing an online certification program and researching applications in connected mobility.
Since graduating and landing a job at Umlaut, with clients including GM, Ford, Toyota, Audi and Volkswagen, Koolwant has worked in Detroit and Dallas. Everywhere he goes he manages to find Merage School alumni. Speaking fluent French, English, Creole and Hindi, Koolwant is prepared to work many places in the world.
When he relocated to the Melbourne office recently, one of his first connections was an Umlaut colleague he shared pizza and beer with at a Merage School Career Center networking event a couple years ago.
“With his work ethic, intellectual curiosity, and skills, Roopesh is well positioned to make a global impact,” says Gurbaxani.
For his part, Koolwant firmly believes that it is important for today’ business leaders to understand emerging technology in a meaningful way.
“Long gone are the days when business managers could just understand the basic concepts behind technologies and still manage a team of engineers. The technologies driving the fourth industrial revolution are a lot more complicated and we also see a lot more engineers stepping up to manage groups and companies,” says Koolwant. “The Merage School does a great job blending business and technology to prepare us to lead in the digital age.”