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A trader working the stock market makes millions inside a week. When questioned, he says he’s a financial whizz kid from the future, capitalising on early-21stcentury volatility.
This sci-ﬁ story makes Meri Rosich JEMBA2003 laugh – but it contains a grain of truth, she says: “That’s how future generations will look back at this period in human history. An era marked by volatility in ﬁnance, in tech disruption and in public opinion – a lot of it driven by the phenomenon of connectivity and its capacity to shape big trends.”
Rosich has a unique vantage point from which to assess our times. For two decades, she has enjoyed an international career at the frontier of digital innovation and business transformation. Her résumé spans pioneering leadership roles in digital with many of the world’s foremost innovators, through to starting up her own award-winning business publishing educational apps.
A globally recognised thought-leader in data-led strategy, Rosich currently heads up data science for Visa in Asia Paciﬁc. She has collected industry and academic awards, her PhD thesis being honoured with the European Doctorate Award.
The common thread that runs through her professional life is change: “You start your career pursuing a passion or a dream. For me, what was most interesting was online publishing and digital media sales at a time when that industry was in its infancy. I’ve always been fascinated by the power of technology to transform business and business processes, drive innovation and improve things. Ten years ago we called it innovation. Today we call it business transformation.”
‘My hope is that digital change will usher in new skills, new opportunities, with automation giving humans the freedom to do more interesting things’
Her current work revolves around the future of data and the transformational power it has to change businesses, create new business models and empower leaders. She also teaches executive MBA electives at a number of universities, focusing on big-data strategy: “I’m always interested in areas that have to do with the power of data, which has the potential to revolutionise so many areas of life. We’re starting now to understand the full potential of data, the opportunities as well as the threats and the challenges, and how it can generate ethical dilemmas. Business ethics is going to be a growing area in the future.”
A growing concern in the age of digital disruption is the capacity for transformation to drive inequality. Rosich is particularly concerned about the over-exposure of personal data and the implications this has for cybersecurity, with policy decisions always lagging behind technological advances. As new problems emerge, she argues, organisations have a duty to address the ethical issues that arise: “Policy has trouble keeping up with technology, so it’s really down to businesses and organisations to develop their own sets of ethical standards. And they need to be held to account to very high standards in this regard.”
That said, Rosich is optimistic about our future.
“It’s human nature to be hungry and lean and to push at the boundaries of what we know and what we can do. We need to harness that and drive a positive outlook as we imagine our future in technology. We’re already addressing some of the major problems we face – things like water conservation in our big cities, or quality of life for people with disabilities. Balance and independence are two really important dimensions that we need to protect. And it’s going to be absolutely critical that we include everyone – that everyone is brought along in this evolution.”
Part of the democratisation of technological advancement means addressing the diversity gaps in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), an area Rosich is passionately about as an ambassador for the UN Women STEM programme. She has also led the women’s group in the United Nations Association in Singapore, where she is currently based and co-founded the Female Founders regional think-tank and the Women Data Leaders Asia network: “I always dreamt of doing something for the United Nations and these opportunities have dovetailed with my ambition to do something about the lack of diversity in STEM. Over my career I’ve learnt that equality of opportunity can vary dramatically from country to country.
“Here in Singapore equality is very high, but in some other societies in Asia women’s priorities are very rooted in family needs and there is a striking lack of support for women’s right and capabilities to realise their ambitions.”
She urges organisations everywhere to think more about issues like parental leave, workplace ﬂexibility and how to build more choice into company culture.
It’s a responsibility that forward-thinking employers might want to invest resources, capital and research into, she says: “I hope that in the workplace of the future, men and women will have more options open to them to attend to the needs of the family without that meaning an enforced break or disruption in their career trajectory. Smart businesses are already thinking about this and ﬁguring out what works and what doesn’t work when you have people working at home.”
For herself, Rosich has been fortunate in having ﬂexible employers, as well as an uncompromising position on inequality of treatment that has seen her call out bad behaviour when she encounters it: “If my hand is not shaken or if I ﬁnd someone ‘mansplaining’ I call it out with a smile. I don’t tolerate it. I’ve never deﬁned myself by gender. When I encounter issues – when I’m the only woman in a room – I make myself look at the advantages as well as the disadvantages and I ﬁgure out how to focus on the challenge and amplify my strengths.
“When I have a female translator in a business meeting, I’ll insist that she literally takes her place at the table too, for instance. I think women need to understand that it’s our responsibility to push the agenda and teach people how to treat us and what we deserve.”
The pursuit of equality mobilises Rosich, together with an acute love of learning. There is, she says, so much to learn: from work, from research, from other cultures and languages and from the teaching work that she does with international executives.
But what really drives her is happiness. “You can lose yourself in wanting the unattainable or in measuring yourself against unattainable standards or role models. Happiness comes from enjoying the moment, enjoying the journey without distractions and forgetting about the opinions of others. I’m fascinated by people who are genuinely happy, rather than those who are trying to pursue perfection.”
Her own greatest sources of happiness are her children. And she derives great satisfaction from continuing to learn and “trying to improve a little every day.”
“It is a journey. Its end point is being the best possible person I can be. My work every day brings me into contact with big ideas and concepts – changing our world through big data and machine learning. But at its core, what drives me is empowering my team to achieve their goals in these interesting times we’re living in.”
What does she think the future holds? “Everything will be more integrated, more seamless. In 100 years we will have the resources and materials to do things that we can’t contemplate yet.
“Technology will augment our ability to imagine by thousands of times. My hope is that digital change will usher in new skills, new opportunities, with automation giving humans the freedom to do more interesting things and to innovate.
“I love to think of a future where technology lets us develop stronger bonds with the things that are most important; where machines do the boring things and we are freer to enjoy the outcomes of that productivity by being better connected to our loved ones.”