• Dr. Svetlana Filiatreau – Director of International Programs, Pamplin College of Business 
  • Susi Rountree – Engineering Alumna, Business Development Director at ExcelRedstone
  • Saherah Khan – Pamplin Alumna, Academic Partnerships & Program Manager at Emzingo

Earlier this year, Dr. Svetlana Filiatreau facilitated a speaker event titled “Alumni Taking Ut Prosim Global.” This discussion centered around Virginia Tech’s motto: “Ut Prosim” — “That I May Serve” — and how Hokies are applying the idea of service in careers abroad post-graduation.  

With the help of two panelists, Susi Rountree and Saherah Khan, Dr. Filiatreau identified ways in which graduates of Virginia Tech can lead successful careers in international business. Personal and professional development were primary areas of focus, while key takeaways consisted of how cultural sensitivity, diversity, and inclusion all play significant roles in successful business practices. 


Question from Dr. Svetlana Filiatreau:

Can you share some of the personal experiences that motivated you to take Ut Prosim global? In what ways have your personal journeys and VT experiences informed what Ut Prosim looks like in your personal lives? 

Susi Rountree: 

After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1993 and working in a series of jobs in the United States, Susi Rountree has been living and continuing her professional career in London for almost three years. Although she studied engineering at Virginia Tech, her current work focuses more on business development and identifying ways in which her company can grow. 

“Our CEO/Owner of the company has decided how big he wants us to be, so I look at the business and see how we can grow — whether it’s going more global than we are, or what other offerings we have, or what we need to do.”

One of the greatest lessons that Susi learned from Virginia Tech was how to open her mind up to new experiences. 

“I was a consultant for about seven years. I traveled around the world, and I lived in Germany, Australia, and London for a year. And then I got this opportunity almost three years ago to go back to London. In all my travels, London has always been my favorite city, so I went back to it.” 

Saherah Khan:

Saherah is a recent graduate of Virginia Tech, receiving a degree in Management with a concentration of Consulting in 2018. However, she also picked up a major in Public Affairs and Urban Affairs.

“I never felt fulfilled by just my business degree, and I knew I wanted to do more than just stay within the business realm. I was always interested in social impact and how I could combine the power of business and create good for the world, the environment, and all the people around us.” 

Saherah wanted to create her own path, and she decided to work for a nonprofit upon graduating. 

“I realized that it wasn’t necessarily what I wanted to do. There weren't enough business people in the nonprofit world, and I’m a very business-minded person — because, of course, Pamplin classes teach you how to be a good business leader.” 

After doing some research, she knew that she wanted to combine business and social impact, which ultimately led to her current position at a social enterprise called Emzingo. 

“We create international programs for universities, so students can go abroad to countries like South Africa, Peru, Spain, Amsterdam, and Brazil. You go through those programs and you learn how to be a good, responsible business leader, but you also work with the locals there and help them with a consulting project. So you’re in the fields, you’re with the farmers, you’re with the coffee growers, you’re with the people doing the work on the fields, but seeing their businesses and how they view business in general.”

Saherah’s job is also business development, as she creates these partnerships with the universities and also runs the programs on the ground. 

Question from Dr. Svetlana Filiatreau:

Susi, you mentioned that you consulted, and that opened up the door to your current position. You’ve also spent some time in Houston. How was it transitioning from Houston to permanently living in London?  

Answer from Susi Rountree: 

“In Houston, I was in sales. My customers were a couple of the oil companies, one having a big presence in Houston as well as London. I was traveling back and forth between the two, which is a horrible commute when you have to do it every month. I decided to pick a country, and I chose to pick the U.S. I stayed in the U.S. for a couple more years, and then I had the opportunity and decided to go back to London — to avoid the commute.” 

Susi also shared that there wasn’t much of a culture shock. 

“Since I already had so much experience living in London, it wasn’t so bad. It is a little bit different when you’re not there on an expense account. When you’re just there living, London is expensive compared to here, so you kind of get used to that and some of the changes with that. But the experience is something that I wouldn’t trade for the world.” 

She also noted the importance of exploring the world beyond what’s familiar or comfortable. 

“Sometimes, you get so focused on either your local area, your local geography, or even just the U.S. that you don’t realize everything that’s going on in the world and the impact that it has on what you do. You can see there are a lot more experiences. We truly are global, and you can see the big difference that’s happened since I’ve been in the career world. It’s the whole butterfly effect. Everything that you do across the world causes a tsunami over here, or the other way around. But everything that you do truly has a global impact now, so you’ve got to look global.”     

Question from Dr. Svetlana Filiatreau:

Saherah, you’ve shared that your international education ‘was really quite challenging, and it started at an early age.’ Would you like to speak to how your experience with a different type of education helped shape your worldview and what you do today?  

Answer from Saherah Khan:

For context, Saherah was born in Arlington, Virginia, and she was raised in the United States during her adolescence. However, when she was 14-years-old, her Pakistani father moved her and her family to a remote village in Pakistan for two years. 

“Dealing with the move was very challenging. I was very, very confused about my purpose at that point, and then eventually learned so much in the setting that I was placed in.”

For those two years, Saherah was not allowed to go to school, and she spent them “living like a village woman.” 

“I learned when you say ‘nontraditional education,’ I learned about the world. I was able to see outside of the bubble that we’re trapped in, what I feel is in America in general, but especially for me in the Northern Virginia area. I learned just about how women are treated abroad, I learned about how children are treated abroad, I learned about the differences in stereotypes, and I learned about just a ton of different things culturally.” 

She also encourages those who have the opportunity to study abroad to take advantage of it. 

“I got this huge sense of cultural awareness that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t travel abroad, and so that’s why I think there's a huge value in studying abroad. Travel and study abroad intentionally, because when you’re abroad, you want to see: How is me being here having an impact? How is this different from what I experience when I’m in my hometown? There’s a ton of value in living abroad, and that is one of the things I would definitely recommend for all students to take advantage of while they’re in college.” 

Question from Susi Rountree: 

Do you find that your views change the more different types of people that you meet? With the different cultures, does that help change your perspective?    

Answer from Saherah Khan:

Saherah’s answer was very clear. 

“Absolutely. 100%. Our identity is the sum of our experiences, our backgrounds, and what we’ve been exposed to. If we are only limited in what we’re exposed to and the things that are close to us, then we don’t get to see anything that exists beyond that. We’ll never be able to truly comprehend other people. We’ll never be able to see why other people think the way they do, or why they have certain viewpoints, and I think being exposed to different cultures, different people, different thoughts, and different ideas helps you understand people in your everyday life in general.” 

Question from Dr. Svetlana Filiatreau: 

What are the challenges that international companies face today, from the intercultural competency of their staff to perhaps understanding diversity? From the business perspective, what are some of the most critical changes that must be made today in order to face the world more effectively? 

Answer from Saherah Khan:

Saherah pointed out that her company is essentially virtual. 

“What that means is that we don’t have a headquarters anywhere, and that’s because we have staff all over the world. The countries I mentioned earlier, where we run our programs, we have country managers and program managers there. It doesn’t make sense for us to have offices everywhere. Instead, we all work remotely, and we meet up when we need to.” 

With Emzingo being an international virtual company, it’s also worth noting that the staff is constantly interacting with each other from various communities and cultures. 

“I’m interacting on a daily basis with my colleagues in Peru, with my colleagues in South Africa, with my colleagues in Brazil, and I need to understand how they function in their own societies in order for me to properly engage with them during my work day. For example, my colleague in South Africa admits it, she always says that I’m running late. This is typical for South Africans — she jokes about it. But that’s very true. For a business meeting, the clients will show up late. That’s normal, and no one's feelings are hurt. For me, if you’re late to a very important meeting for me, I might be a little offended and feel that you don’t value my time. But for her, that’s completely normal. Just understanding those slight cultural differences is super important.” 

Looking toward the future, Saherah provided the following insights. 

“As we become a more diverse society in general, companies need to start figuring out how do we understand everyone’s cultural differences, how these things are going to impact our business in general, and how internally this is going to impact our productivity as well. Because some cultures may see being late is not a problem, or maybe the way their tone comes across is natural. Maybe they’re more stern in the way they talk to their superiors or clients, and that’s normal to them. But maybe, like in America, talking to clients has to be more respectable and maybe a little more soft. Understanding those differences is going to be key in how businesses lead the future.”    

Answer from Susi Rountree: 

Susi agreed with Saherah regarding the need to understand differences in cultures. 

“I definitely agree. It’s really about understanding — and this is not only in business, but in life. Understanding who you’re talking to, understanding where they’re coming from, because that helps you approach whatever discussion that you’re trying to have with them.” 

Susi also added that we’re constantly “selling” everything in life. 

“Whether you’re trying to talk to anyone just to try to get to where you’re trying to go, there’s always a little bit of sales in everything that you do. So, I think you need to understand who you’re talking to and what they’re doing. A lot of that comes from culture, a lot of it comes from what their experiences are, and just being open to that. That helps you get along in business. That’s going to continue. The more global that we become, the more important that’s going to be.”     

Question from Dr. Svetlana Filiatreau: 

What are the recent trends in the marketplace that educators and students should be watching and preparing for in order to be successful as individuals, as Hokies, and as changemakers?

Answer from Susi Rountree: 

Susi provided an experience that she observed upon returning to Virginia Tech. 

“It’s been awhile since I’ve been back on campus. However, I could hear the same conversations and the same thoughts that I had when I was here many, many years ago, but you’re communicating in different ways. I saw everybody on their phones, I saw people on their computers, and all of that. It’s interesting to me that while the topics haven’t necessarily changed, how you go about having those conversations have. We’ll see more and more technology come into our lives, but what that does is make the world smaller.”

Answer from Saherah Khan:

Saherah shared her findings from a recent report focusing on Generation Z, who are individuals born after 1996. 

“So there’s this trend where Generation Z wants more out of their work, out of their job, out of their career. They don’t just want to sit in a cubicle anymore. They want to know that their company is doing something more than just the profit. What are you doing for the environment? Where do our products come from? These questions are something that’s becoming more important to younger people, and I think that’s been very interesting, because I kind of struggled with that when I was here. I didn’t know how to combine business and social impact, but there are strategic ways to go about it.” 

She also pointed out that these questions are critical for individuals who are trying to figure out what they want to do upon graduating. 

“There are tons of businesses that practice very, very good leadership. Like Patagonia for example. The materials they use are very important to them, and where they’re sourced, and all of that is very important. Netflix is another really good one. They care a lot about their employees. I mean, these companies, you can research them, but there are other ways to find that social change you want to see without having to sacrifice salary. I think that’s something that’s been a trend amongst younger generations: I want more than just the profit. I want more than just an office. I really want to see my company doing good for the world.”        

Question from Dr. Svetlana Filiatreau: 

What can we do both individually and collectively today to prepare ourselves and next generations to be changemakers in this ever-changing world?  

Answer from Saherah Khan:

Saherah answered first, calling out the importance of students developing a sense of curiosity. 

“Develop that sense of curiosity, if you don’t already have it. Have that desire to learn more. Once you graduate, you’ll see that it’s overwhelming. You kind of feel like everything was so structured before, and now I don’t have that structure. But what you do have is the ability to want to learn more, and if you hang on to that, you’ll end up in the right place. But if you’re just kind of not really concerned about it, you’re not strategic about what you want to learn, you’ll find yourself even more lost than you might already be. Something to keep in mind is: What are the things I’m curious about? What do I want to learn?” 

For the faculty and staff, Saherah presented the following advice.

“Provide those opportunities for students to be able to learn. Have more panels, or it may be even to provide opportunities for students to engage in a short-term service-learning project that’s focused on business skills that they can actually utilize in local communities. Provide those opportunities and provide access to that information for students.”    

Answer from Susi Rountree: 

Susi closed with universal advice for both students, faculty, and staff. 

“It’s okay to fail. I think you need to learn to fail, because you learn in everything that you do. So, you learn from everything that you succeed at, and you learn from everything that you fail at. Go out, take risks, and take on challenges. If it works out, great; and if it doesn’t, then that’s okay. Now you’ve learned something that you didn’t want to do, didn’t like to do, and then that kind of points you in another direction.”