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Rajesh Nair, SDM ’12: systems thinking for looking ahead and paying forward

Rajesh Nair, SDM '12
Rajesh Nair, SDM '12
Photo: Kathy Tarantola Photography

Rajesh Nair, SDM '12, is successful because he practices prognostication. He looks for signs, predicts where the world is going, anticipates problems and figures out how to solve them. In looking at his own future, Nair decided there was only one place for him: MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM).

Nair has accomplished a lot in life: he founded a successful engineering company that's making an impact on the world, he has 13 patents to his name, he's won numerous awards, and he mentors young people on entrepreneurship and technology.

Sometimes staying ahead of the game means shaking things up, and Nair decided that he needed a new vantage point to scope out the next megatrends. "I've been out of school too long. I wanted to learn about what else was happening in the world," he says.

The SDM program, with its emphasis on systems thinking, was a powerful attraction. "I wanted to study this exact program. It's the only place I applied," Nair says.

Nair is the founder, CTO and chairman of Degree Controls, Inc., an engineering firm that specializes in thermal management for electronics. He bootstrapped the company and grew it to a $14 million business in its first five years and was named the Fastest Growing Company by BusinessNH Magazine in 2001. In 2002, Nair won the Entrepreneur of the Year Award from the New Hampshire High Tech Council and was a finalist for the 2002 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year New England Award. In 2010, his patented data center cooling technology won the Japanese Ministry for Economy, Trade & Industry's Green IT Award.

That technology makes it possible to cool a portion of a data center rather than the whole room. Reducing data center energy loads is a major challenge for web service providers and IT departments, and finding efficient ways to cool data center equipment is a key piece of the puzzle. Degree Controls' system reduces cooling power requirements by 20 to 40 percent.

"This is getting a lot of interest now, but when this whole technology was created, of course, it wasn't very well-known," Nair says. "However, this is how you build a business. Create something that the world will need, and wait for the world to come to you."

Nair's goal at SDM is to explore a range of technologies and markets and perhaps spot the next big megatrend. "My philosophy is to sell shovels during a gold rush," Nair says. "Don't chase the megatrend — look at the opportunities that the megatrend will create."

There's another way Nair looks forward: He mentors young people and prepares them to be innovators and leaders. He is a coach in The Young Entrepreneur Program for high school students organized by TiE-Boston, the local chapter of TiE Global (The Indus Entrepreneurs), the world's largest not-for-profit oganization promoting entrepreneurship. The Boston program encourages students to consider starting businesses and teaches them the fundamentals of researching markets and developing business plans.

"Most of them do not think of entrepreneurship as a goal," Nair says. "When you talk about starting a company they think it's way beyond their capabilities. However, once they realize they can do it, there is no stopping them.

Nair also coaches a New Hampshire high school team in the robotics competition sponsored by FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), which was founded in 1989 to inspire young people's interest and participation in science and technology.

"That's my other mission — somehow paying forward," he says.

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