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A Father and Son’s Global Mindset Leads to MBAs at Scranton

A Father and Son’s Global Mindset Leads to MBAs at Scranton
The Pillai family poses with Murli Rajan, Ph.D., at Rathin’s graduation. From left: Sunil Pillai, Dr. Rajan, Rathin and Swarna Pillai.

When Sunil Pillai G’83, of Mumbai, India, was finishing up his MBA at Scranton at age 23, he promised himself that if he eventually got married and had a child, that child would go to Scranton for his or her MBA.

“God has been kind,” said Sunil in a recent interview. “I had one son. And his name is Rathin.”

It was pretty clear from early on that Rathin Pillai G’12, who, like his dad, grew up in Mumbai, would follow in his father’s footsteps.

“My dad had his framed final certification on the wall at home. He’d say to me, ‘That’s the degree that has gotten me this far. You can talk back to me all you want, but until you have that degree, I won’t listen,’” remembered Rathin.

Like Father, Like Son

Rathin had a lot to live up to. Sunil had gone from Scranton to Pfizer International in New York to Colgate Palmolive in India, quickly moving up the corporate ladder. He eventually became vice president of marketing and sales at CavinKare, a conglomerate in fast-moving consumer goods, then vice president of marketing at Reliance Communications, Global Operations, and, most recently, COO at Tata Teleservices. He is currently a guest faculty member at IIM Bangalore and founder and director of Strategy Green Consultancy.

“I owe this whole career of mine to Scranton and the education I got there,” said Sunil. “It got me to move from being just a young kid playing around in the streets of Mumbai to be a formative professional in the way I looked at things.”

Rathin, a TV executive who recently took on a strategy and business development role at India’s Network 18 (Viacom in the United States), said it was essential — for both of them — to go abroad for their graduate degrees.

“I think I speak for both of us when I say we needed a global perspective. Had we studied for our MBAs in India, it would’ve been specific to India marketing only,” he said.

Sunil and his son both chose Scranton because it had a good reputation, was a “friendly campus” and was close to major cities. Although the two graduated about 30 years apart, they had a campus friend in common — Murli Rajan, Ph.D. G’84, now interim dean of the Kania School of Management. Rajan was Sunil’s roommate in the ’80s and became a lifelong friend.

Paying it Forward

Sunil paid it forward when Rajan arrived in Scranton from India for his MBA just a year later. Rajan traveled directly from the airport to the Hotel Jermyn on Spruce Street, where the other international students were staying while they looked for more permanent housing.

“Sunil called me as soon as I got there. He found out where I was staying,” said Dr. Rajan. “I don’t even know how he did that. We spoke the same language; we both speak Tamil. I couldn’t believe it. He just made me feel so welcome.”

When Rathin arrived in 2010, he found out that his dad’s friend would be his adviser. Having that personal connection was a comfort to Rathin, but he said he felt on level with almost everyone at Scranton.

“I never felt alone on that campus or in Scranton in general,” said Rathin. “It’s not just the students; it’s the professors as well. They made me feel at home right from the start.”

Sunil said his own acceptance into the University community made it possible for him to focus on his studies and excel in his courses.

“I grew into a professional at Scranton,” said Sunil. “I learned to understand the world better.”

He expanded his global knowledge when he went on to work in India, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and East Africa. And now, as he sits in his house gazing out at the Arabian Sea, he looks back with pride at his experience in Scranton, where it all began.

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