Every year, the Charlotte Business Journal recognizes 40 individuals under the age of 40 who are making major strides in their careers, guiding the Charlotte area’s development as a major business hub, and are making a positive impact on their communities.
This year, we’re thrilled to announce our own Abhishek (AJ) Ratani is a 2016 winner. True to 40 under 40 tradition, AJ participated in a number of weekly challenges designed to reveal personal details about the winners. Our favorite? This “hidden talent” video in which AJ fearlessly shows off his exceptional capacity for Wobbling in public places. Watch:
Outside of… that, AJ is a new father, a president at Red Ventures, an impactful community leader and has played a huge role in championing the proprietary technology that’s driving RV’s future growth. Here’s a little more about the man some people around here know as ‘The ‘Shek:’
Q: First things first: Pretty much everyone at Red Ventures has seen you Wobble (and also now anyone with an Internet connection…sorry about that), but some say you’re actually a classically trained dancer – is that true?
Haha, absolutely not, but thank you for making that rumor up (and publishing it). I did grow up dancing Dandia, which is a traditional Indian folk dance with sticks, and I’ve always enjoyed the Bollywood style of dancing. I have taken a few classes with my wife, so I know how to salsa and do a few other traditional dances, but for the most part we just like learning ridiculous moves when we go out – like the Wobble.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about growing up in Dubai. Was it anything like it is today?
Absolutely not. I remember when I was growing up there was only one big building in the city, and now it’s just incredible. I was actually just there visiting family. I opened up my Uber app and saw the option to call a helicopter! Things that like just amaze me, and there are always new surprises every time I go back which is awesome.
Q: How old were you when you came to the US?
I was 17, and I was on my way to college in Arkansas (Go Hogs!). I remember landing in Boston, and not being totally shocked because I’d seen the city in movies and on TV. But then I boarded my connecting flight – which was literally a prop plane – to Arkansas. I was on this tiny plane, flying over more greenery than I’d ever seen in my life (all I’d ever seen was desert), and all the familiarity disappeared. When we finally landed it was in the middle of nowhere, and I just remember thinking – “Where is the city?!”
Q: Before coming to RV, you worked for a short time with NASA, correct?
Kind of. I worked for a contractor where I worked on projects for NASA (The Center of Advanced Engineering Environments). I built things like voice recognition tools and applications similar to Wolfram Alpha. We were trying to create an engine that could answer very complex queries based on simple voice commands.
Q: Since starting here (10 years ago!) you’ve had a really unconventional road to business leadership. Can you tell us a little about how you got started?
Sure. When I first started at RV, we were a small company – about 50 people. I was working as an engineer, but was involved in a lot of the sales operations side where I noticed some major inefficiencies in the way we were running the business. I had access to a lot of the data, so I just started digging, coming up with insights and possible solutions. When we started implementing some of my proposed changes based on data, we were able to grow that business by 10x in a matter of months.
For a while, I split my time doing both jobs. I was on the small team that developed our core sales infrastructure and technology (which is still used today) and launched one of our very first partner websites. Meanwhile, I also was running sales operations for that business.
Q: That sounds like enough to keep an entire team at RV busy. How long did that last?
About a year and a half. As an engineer, I would always think to myself, ‘This could be better, this could be more efficient.’ Being on the business side has enabled me to channel all of my skills towards a bigger impact.
Q: What prepared you to take on such a different role? Any advice for others who might be interested in driving a similar career trajectory?
I was very committed to learning quickly and to growing. I also was just lucky; the environment at RV was (and still is) very open to new ideas, regardless of where they come from. If you notice inefficiencies or think you can do something better – even if it’s outside of your core role responsibilities – speak up. Keep an open mind about where your career can go, and make sure you’re working in an environment where you’re able to contribute ideas and experiment. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had the freedom to create, to fail (a lot) and to iterate.
Q: Did you always think you might end up in business? What did you want to be when you were a kid?
No, I always assumed I would be an engineer. I started coding when I was 10 years old and loved everything about computers, but I’ve also always had an over-analytical mind, which is why I fell in love with the business side. Eventually, I feel like both worlds will intersect in my career (it’s kind of started to happen now with my current role), but I can even imagine myself building a technology company and running that at some point in the future.
Q: What excites you most about your current role?
I’m working with really, really smart people who just want to build awesome things. That’s incredibly energizing and motivating. This whole company has been built on the back of technology. All of our partnerships are enabled by the technology we have and our ability to adapt quickly. In my current role, I have the opportunity to help Red Ventures take our technologies to the next level and change the way digital marketing and sales are done.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to figure out what a person wants to get out of his or her career, and it’s my job as a leader to enable that transition or to enable them to develop the skills they need to make that next step. You should always have high expectations of people and fundamentally believe they can achieve great things even they don’t think are possible. You also need to provide the support, feedback and conversations your team needs to reach their goals. To me, that process of setting high expectations and giving lots of feedback (whether it’s positive or constructive) is the ultimate catalyst for growth.
Q: One last (very important) question. Do you Nay Nay?
Thanks AJ, and congratulations to ALL CBJ 40 Under 40 Winners this year!