Roohi Rustum MPA/MBA 2017 is using values-based leadership to tell brand narratives.

By Katie Gibson
May 19, 2017


STUDENT-Rustum_Roohi.jpgMoving to Cleveland to work in brand management for Nestlé might seem like an unusual path for a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) graduate. But Roohi Rustum MPA/MBA 2017, a concurrent degree candidate with the Sloan School of Management at MIT, is thrilled to have found a job at the intersection of her interests in leadership, global supply chains, community organizing and the thread that connects them all: storytelling.

“Brands build customer stories,” says Rustum, who worked as a teacher and later trained teachers in Bangladesh before beginning her concurrent program at Sloan and HKS.

“As a student and later, Teaching Fellow with Marshall Ganz, diving deep into values-based leadership through coaching and building students is core to how I understand building and leading individuals and highly effective teams."

Rustum will be working at the Cleveland site of Nestlé, and she smiles as she starts listing brand names housed there.

“Stouffer’s!” she says. “Hot Pockets! DiGiorno! All these brands are familiar, and people have strong memories of them. They’re so customizable and personal.”

While Ganz’s public narrative coursework focuses on non-commercial narratives—community organizing, activism, labor organizing—Rustum argues that principled values-based leadership is massively significant in business discussions.

“I’ve gained an analytical framework for leading through values, which you don’t always get in the boardroom,” she says. “Often, in a business context, people on either side of the table are working from different narratives, with an understanding of different values and different risks. It makes a huge difference when you listen for their individual stories instead of just hearing numbers.”

Concurrently with her time at HKS, Rustum’s work at Sloan has focused on manufacturing and operations, building on her experiences in Bangladesh.

“I’ve thought a lot about neighborhoods, and how businesses have the potential to influence urban development and lift families out of poverty,” Rustum says. “Supply chains, brands, labor—it’s all connected.” She spent her summer internships at the supply chain strategy divisions at Gap and Nike.

“Clothes are how people express themselves to try on different personas,” she says. “And food is another way of doing that. What does a customer’s experience and story look like? That’s a question worth asking.”

As a concurrent degree student, Rustum is part of a small but strong and like-minded group.

“There are more than 30 of us, and it’s been a great community,” she says of her fellow degree students.

“I’ve loved having a community that straddles both worlds: practical values-based leadership with a grounding in organizational practice.”

Rustum found another home at the Center for Public Leadership, where she spent a year as a Zuckerman Fellow.

“Everyone has to find their niche here,” she says. “The faculty at CPL really went out of their way to mentor us. Their support—and this whole experience—has been a gift.”

As Rustum prepares to move to Cleveland, she’s looking forward to helping build the stories of Nestlé’s brands, and participating in the story of her new home.

“Cleveland is revitalizing right now,” she says. “It’s got a lot of opportunity and the potential to be a beacon city. I’m looking forward to getting involved in the community outside of work, too. A one-dimensional life is impossible.”

Any good storyteller—in or out of the boardroom—would agree.