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Global Voices: We’re All A Sum Total of Our Experiences

In recognition of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in the U.S., Rohit Jacob spoke about his time working in a family business in India, how his career led him to UL Solutions and what he is most proud of about his heritage.

Headshot of Rohit Jacob in light button-down shirt.

May 29, 2024

As we celebrate Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in the United States, we spoke with Rohit Jacob. The director of finance, real estate and facilities, Rohit has been with UL Solutions since 2019. Read more about what he learned working for his family’s business, what he likes best about working for UL Solutions and how Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month can help lead to a better understanding of diversity.

Please tell us about your background.

I have an undergraduate degree in math. I intended to get my master's degree and teach math. My sister was getting married around the same time, and I was inspired to quit my graduate school to set up a wedding-related website — a reverse auction website for people planning their weddings. This was in 1999 at the height of the dot com bubble.

It was after we launched the site that we realized that while the bride and groom are typically in their 20s, their parents are the actual customer, and at that point they did not trust a website to help organize their children’s weddings.

It was a fun adventure. I learned a lot and developed an appetite for excitement and problem-solving in business. In business, the solution is not always clear, and there are multiple ways to get to various solutions.

I then joined a struggling family business — manufacturing rubber footwear to help out my dad. I thought I’d be there, in a small town in India, for a short time. However, my dad retired shortly after, and I was in charge of the 80-person company.

I gained a lot of experience in everything — working with trade unions, negotiating with banks on debt, optimizing productivity, sales and accounting. I ran the company for seven years and enjoyed problem-solving. Once the business was making a profit, though, I realized I didn't want to do this for the rest of my life.

I decided to get an MBA. My wife and I moved to the United States (U.S.) in 2007 so that I could attend the University of Notre Dame.

How did you get into your line of work?

While I was at Notre Dame, I was a finance intern for a major retailer and found it very interesting to see how a big corporation works. They hired me full-time after graduation as part of a leadership development program.

My first project was to take one of the businesses offshore. I worked on various other projects, such as real estate, finance, merchandising and marketing.

My boss was in real estate and planning to retire, and they started training me to follow in his footsteps. Over time, they asked if I could handle other related areas, like facilities management, construction and lease administration, and also completely unrelated areas, such as pricing and discounting, and supply chain and logistics. I’ve never said no because I enjoy new challenges.

What brought you to UL Solutions?

One of my managers at the retailer had moved to UL Solutions a few years earlier. He reached out about an opportunity. Lease accounting standards had just changed in the U.S., and we had to have one source of information about our locations and leases. In my first three months here, I spent a lot of time using the translator app on my phone, reading our leases in multiple languages. Once we had basic data about our portfolio, we started enriching that data and then moved into using that data to develop a portfolio strategy.

I moved into my current role heading the department in January 2024 when my former boss retired from the position.

What are your favorite things about working for UL Solutions?

I love the global aspect of the company, which has locations in 35 countries. In real estate, we interact with all of those people. Every week, I talk to people from many different backgrounds and countries.

When I started thinking about working here, I asked my kids to find 100 things with UL Marks in our house. It wasn’t that hard. Everywhere you look, you can see the impact of our work.

People care very much about the work here, and it’s not something they do just to pay the bills. People are generally excited to be a part of something bigger.

Why do you think Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month is important?

It’s essential to better understand the breadth of what Asian means. When you say Asian/Pacific American, it’s an incredibly diverse group of people and not a monolith.

I cannot speak to what it is like to grow up Asian, Indian or even South Indian. I can only talk about what it’s like to grow up as a Syrian Orthodox Christian from Kerala, which is a subset of a subset. It’s a very different experience than, for example, people who live in the next state, from languages to food and traditions.

This is a time to appreciate that Asian and Pacific Islanders mean more than one type of person. I hope people use this month to understand the immense diversity of Asia.

What are you proud of about your heritage and traditions?

The first that comes to mind is the practice of meditation. Of course, not every Indian practices meditation, but historically, it has been very important in the culture. It’s something that helps me a great deal, this practice of looking inward.

I love our food and to cook for people. I like the service and communal aspect of cooking and sharing a meal. It brings people together. The food all over the continent is very diverse and specific to each region. Kerala cuisine uses a lot of coconut, for example, and we also eat a lot more meat and seafood than the rest of India.

How can we encourage more students to engage in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)?

Growing up in India, young people were asked if they would become engineers or doctors. It is changing now, and it’s different in the U.S., but there is still a bias toward STEM in Asian American culture. For example, when I first arrived in the U.S., a lot of people assumed I was in IT.

Whether or not you want a career in math or science, a mathematical, logical approach to reasoning will help no matter what you pursue. The approach to problem-solving — trying to break down a big problem into smaller steps and following the steps — is critical for everyone.

Are there any particular experiences that impacted your career?

I think we are all a sum total of all our previous experiences. For me, the wedding startup taught me to understand the customer. We completely missed who the actual customer was. Now, I always try to get customer feedback and incorporate that into my thinking and the processes we are building.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

As a family, we love to travel. Starting at six months old, we’d take our kids back to India to visit family. As immigrants, my wife and I feel this delivers both worlds to our children. Travel is not just about seeing new places for us; it is also about experiencing the diversity of the world. You eat whatever you get, you may not have access to the comforts of home, flights may get delayed, and you may have a rainy day when you want to go to the beach. You learn to take the rough with the smooth — you get what you get, and don’t get upset.

That ties back to my earlier point: I’m only talking about my experience in a tiny part of Asia. People have a billion different points of view and experiences. The important thing is for people to understand that Asian and Pacific Islander is not one community. It’s a multitude of different cultures, languages and backgrounds.


Pictured below: Rohit Jacob on vacation with his wife and children in front of a lakeside mountain view.