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Sustainability Meets Business: Executive MBA Alumnus Jonathan Tan (MBA ‘14) Details How His Work Intersects with Sustainability

Jonathan Tan MBA AlumnusSustainability in business is a hot topic and relevant in today's business landscape. Jonathan Tan has immersed himself for over 20 years in sustainability. He shares his recent success of founding the Ratio Institute, an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating measurable sustainability and viability in food retail through expert collaboration, industry resources, and practical tools. The Ratio Institute, to date, has worked with over 1,000 grocery stores and 20 grocery chains to create store-level and enterprise sustainability solutions that reduce costs, shift internal cultures, and improve overall performance. Jonathan has made it a goal to make a net positive impact on the earth and shares his leadership values and advice for leaders who want to impact sustainability in business.

What industry are you in, and why did you choose that industry?

I co-founded the Ratio Institute, which is based on the premise that the nexus of sustainability happens at our local grocery stores. Food retailers face many competing pressures. At the Ratio Institute, we are committed to offering insights that make a difference. We believe food retail can be positioned to make a positive impact, and that's why it's our mission to leverage the power of the industry's collective expertise and influence. Together, I believe we can lead the way to a more sustainable and more viable future for everyone. For more than 20 years, I have found ways where my work intersects with environmental, social, and economic sustainability. The Ratio Institute is a culmination of this work. It's a goal of mine to make a net positive impact during my time on this earth.

How do the values of being a servant leader play out in your life?

Building a new organization, new strategy, and new vision on its own is a struggle.  Helping others see and understand the goals can be challenging. As a servant leader, empowering your team to have input into the process can be a struggle. The inherent fear of dilution of a new idea or strategy can creep in. Additionally, wanting to do everything yourself and having control over every step and process can be an intrinsic set of traits and behaviors. However, easing the grasp on the overall strategy, teaching and guiding your team, removing roadblocks to allow your team to succeed, and empowering and allowing your team to make decisions and be part of the process versus a cog in the process has helped accelerate our success.  

Share your recent professional success and what made it successful?

In September 2020, I launched the Ratio Institute in the middle of the pandemic. Allowing team members to own part of the process and empowering them, and trusting them to move things forward has been a large part of the success.

What is one thing that you learned from your experience at Graziadio that has influenced your life?

One thing I learned from my experience at Graziadio that has influenced my life is humility.  I learned more about myself than any technical or scholarly component of the Executive MBA program.  

What is one business tip that you could share that you’ve learned during the pandemic?

For those that lost work, one should dedicate the same amount of time either looking for a new job or defining one's recent work as they would have if they kept working.  For those fortunate to continue working, be 10% less worse every day and in all of one's actions. Thus, continually strive to do better in everything you do.  If you can be 10% less worse each day, each time, each project, success will know no bounds.   

What advice do you have for those looking to build a similar career path or transition into your function or industry?

A person can only be as good as their network. So take care of your network.  Nourish your network.  Grow your network and attend networking events. I'd recommend putting yourself in your network's shoes to consider how they see the world and what is meaningful and valuable to them. Also, think about what the rewards and recognition of your network look like and how you can serve your network. If you can figure these out, your network will bring you advice regardless of your industry, career path, or goals. 

What advice do you have for business owners that may be struggling during this global pandemic?

If a person is truly doing all the things they could and should be doing and the pandemic has cratered their business, you have to make a couple of choices. Do you think it will come back afterward? If so, can you hold on until then or, do you need to find something else?  There is no magic bullet.  It may take more work to generate the income you need.  Thus, your work input per dollar goes up.  Is this additional work worth it to you?  If not, punt.  Any successful person is hustling.  When things are well, they generate more for their input.

What book would you recommend to business school students or alumni?

I'd recommend not a specific book but to read daily in your respective industry about relevant news potentially impacting your sector. Read to learn new skills and things that interest you. If you can, I'd recommend carving out 15 minutes to an hour each day to read. It's like exercise, it's good for you, so just do it.

What is your favorite quote?

My favorite quote is one I created, “Be 10% less worse.”

What do you think makes someone a Best for the World Leader?

I don't think anything different for any leader. A world leader needs to communicate, be open and honest, and know that it's ok to say you don't know. Also, it's ok to say we're figuring things out in real-time. A best for the word leader needs to empower and trust their team to make decisions.