2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Rhett James, MIT (Sloan)

Rhett James

MIT, Sloan School of Management

“Trinbagonian passionate about using real estate as a tool to drive change within communities. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Hometown: San Fernando, Trinidad & Tobago

Fun fact about yourself: I have been growing my hair for 14 years. I have locs and do them myself. It has become part of my brand but happened almost inadvertently. After immigrating, I realized just how little my dollar went and needed to do something with my hair. I do hope we can truly normalize all black hairstyles in business and professional environments.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Howard University, Bachelor of Architecture (B. Arch), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Master of City Planning (MCP) Dual-degree.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Perkins Eastman–a global architecture and design consulting firm.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? I benefited from two internships as a dual-degree. For summer 2019, I interned at Beacon Capital Partners in San Francisco. For summer 2020, I interned at the MIT Community Innovator’s Lab in New York.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be joining Tishman Speyer as a Senior Associate in their Leadership Development Program.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: 

  1. MIT Sloan Dean’s Fellow, a merit-based scholarship awarded to 5% of MBA students
  2. Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) Fellow
  3. President, MIT Sloan Real Estate Club
  4. Vice President of Community and Allyship, Black Business Student Association Allyship team
  5. Co-Founder of Afropup, a pet startup funded by MIT Sandbox
  6. DesignX Startup Accelerator finalist 2019
  7. Led a Pre-f(x) trek for the entering 2021 class
  8. Led a trek to Trinidad and Tobago

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my leadership of the Real Estate Club at Sloan. We helped enrich the real estate offerings at Sloan through new activities including international company treks, case competitions, and industry workshops. We also built a foundation for new industry partnerships, recruiting pipelines, and deepened our relationship with the MIT Center for real estate. Having the benefit of an additional year it is truly exciting to see the fruits of this work.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of becoming a licensed architect. Architecture licensure is a rigorous process involving 5,600 work hours and seven professional exams in areas such as project management and Structural Systems. As an architect, I was able to work on the largest redevelopment project in Washington DC, a $2.5B waterfront masterplan across 24 acres. This experience ultimately helped inform my decision to pursue my MBA.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose MIT Sloan because of the community, method of learning, and the resources across the broader MIT ecosystem. When I visited MIT Sloan as a pre-applicant, I had an informal visit through a Sloanie I was connected to. They even opened their home to me which sold me on the community. I think this is emblematic of the down-to-earth and humble nature of many Sloanies. The Sloan curriculum also has a huge emphasis on learning-by-doing. As a practitioner, I prefer this approach to learning. Finally, MIT Sloan allows you to leverage resources across all of MIT. I was excited about unparalleled opportunities including getting involved with the MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab, MIT Sandbox, and Design-X Accelerators, and helping to manage the endowment through MIT’s Investment Management Company.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Zeynep Ton. She has been a great mentor and role model, both in and out of the classroom. Her teachings surrounding good jobs and satisfying employees, customers, and investors simultaneously meet the challenges of our time. Professor Ton helped me become a better business leader. She has begun to rethink capitalism in a way that benefits everyone. She is also my Sloan fashion icon.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? This superlative is difficult for me—there are so many moments at Sloan. I equally enjoyed the Yarn and Sloan Follies. I am a fun-loving person and Follies is one of the lighter-hearted moments at Sloan where we poke fun at aspects of Sloan. This year, I was part of a skit called “Queer Eye for the Sloan Guy,” which was epic! The Yarn is also such an intimate space where Sloanies share very personal stories. Despite the rigors of the MBA, the Yard reminds us of our humanity. I am cheating at this point, but I also really enjoy Spring Gala—I will never miss an opportunity to dress to the nines and go dancing with friends. I think these things reflect the great community that is Sloan.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I have very few regrets about my MBA experience. Even the things I would have done differently I view as a learning experience. I was laser-focused on real estate coming into the MBA. However, there are so many additional opportunities and resources to explore throughout the MBA. It is quite staggering! Having a plan for things outside of my career could have helped. I eventually found my way but having a clearer picture coming in could have gotten me there quicker.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Honestly, I am not sure what false perceptions of Sloan are floating out there. Perhaps that we are a bunch of quant jocks that don’t have fun. I am always disappointed by applicants who are dissuaded from applying because MIT Sloan is perceived to be extremely quantitative. The one-semester core is manageable and the curriculum is designed to help you learn. After that, it becomes a choose your adventure. As for the fun part, I can assure you we do that too!

What surprised you the most about business school? This seems naïve, but the level of personal and professional growth was more than I expected. This fact hit home for me recently while having a conversation with my supervisor before the MBA. You end up leading fireside chats with fortune 500 CEOs or gleaning insights from billionaires in real estate. It is truly transformative and makes up for all those days you are balancing a calendar that seems impossible—which was also a surprise!

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I was a Management Leadership for Tomorrow MBA prep fellow. I spent one year as a pre-MBA visiting different schools, networking, career planning, and gaining an understanding of the different MBA programs and how each program could best help me best achieve my goals.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Asia Stuerznickel is the G.O.A.T. Her commitment to supporting underrepresented minorities and fostering an inclusive community at Sloan was unmatched! We are a better community because of her. For that, I am grateful.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Overall, Sloan handled the shift very well and was one of the first schools to transition to remote/hybrid learning. Regular COVID-testing and protocols also made me feel at ease in the community. I opted to take all my classes online, which was one of the biggest challenges of the MBA. I realized I enjoy having separate places for living, working, socializing, and relaxation. I am excited to try the hybrid format for my final semester.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? One of my peers, Tiffany Smith (Kellogg MBA’ 18). We both attended Howard University together (B. Arch’ 11). As a fellow first-generation immigrant from the Caribbean and HBCU grad, she demonstrated that it was possible. She also connected me with the resources to make it a reality.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? 

* Lead a vertically integrated development, design, and investment company focused on creating impact with communities.

* Help stimulate and direct investment to the economy in Trinidad and Tobago through sustainable, value-driven projects.

What made Rhett such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Rhett James brought seven years of experience as an architect to his dual MIT Master of City Planning/MBA degree journey.  He has emerged as a natural relationship builder, both across Sloan and MIT.  A new professional staff member in the Career Development Office recalled that at the height of the pandemic Rhett was “a true connector,” reaching into his network to help create new bridges for collaboration across a diversity of clubs for the CDO. Rhett’s curiosity has led him to explore opportunities during his graduate studies ranging from public service to investment management.”

Maura Herson
Assistant Dean, MBA & MSMS Program
MIT, Sloan School of Management



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