Part 2: Carol Rattray (’78) on Her Philanthropic Roots, Beginnings of Zoomdojo, and How Cornell is Intertwined
As a continuation of Part 1, Part 2 provides yet another engaging read for not only students but also professionals looking for a change of pace. Carol Rattray shows us that not everything will always pan out as planned. In fact, some of the most memorable and important events in life aren’t planned at all. We will all eventually find our calling if we observe our predilections closely. As students, we are often subject to societal pressures of who we should be, what we should do, and when we should do it. Carol’s story allows us to step back and breathe. Our first career is not an end-all, be-all. There is always room for change, and when it does happen, we shouldn’t be afraid to create a new chapter in our lives.
Embrace change. Pursue your passions and continuously adapt when interests shift.
Check out Part 1: Carol Rattray (’78) on Her Cornell Experience and Career Transition from Finance, to Philanthropy and Entrepreneurship if you haven’t done so already!
The early years as an investment banker left little time for anything else. Giving back in a significant way was important to me but not yet possible, instead filed away as a future priority. Why was giving back important? My service activities at Cornell were truly rewarding. Doing good left an indelible mark. Luckily, like so many things in life, a series of events beginning with an unforeseen move, a chance encounter and an “aha” moment, ultimately led to the right time and vehicle for philanthropy.
When I moved to Hong Kong and began to travel around Asia, I rediscovered history along with a new passion – Asian arts. I went for the full immersion: Chinese ceramics, Southeast Asian textiles, Burmese lacquer and so on. It wasn’t clear what this deep dive was all about but I was definitely learning a lot about the region, in particular, China.
Fast forward, I’m on holiday in the Berkshires where I meet a Chinese student who had just completed his PhD at a university where he was the only Chinese student. He’s surprised and thrilled that I knew a few things about China and so our conversation begins. Over the course of our chatter, I learn he had started an internet company. Now, I’m really intrigued and delighted; it had been awhile since I could talk in depth about business matters. Our conversation meandered through Chinese Ming furniture, the internet and to running startups. And long after the Berkshires holiday, we continued the dialogue.
Although I remained informed about my friend’s company’s progress, it was only after he returned to Beijing and I decided to visit his new office that I had my “aha” moment. One evening, definitely after office hours, I walked into a very cramped, components filled room where a group of young Chinese professionals were huddled together in animated discussion. I understood there and then, what he was doing was something bold and new. I had to support his efforts and so became an angel investor and advisor.
Several years later, after we moved back to the US, the company went public. Using some of the IPO proceeds I was able to start-up my foundation. Finally, the time had arrived for me to give back!
Since the foundation’s inception, I’ve supported projects including restoring architectural structures in Lhasa, supporting Cambodian landmine victims turned weavers, and preserving New York’s open spaces. My Cornell experiences certainly influenced my project choices. As a student I spent a lot of time hanging out at the Johnson Museum and with my architecture friends at Rand Hall. I also took extensive walks around Cornell and hiked, swam and camped the nearby state parks. My Cornell Days were connected to my philanthropy.
After a dozen years of foundation work, I embarked on a new course as an entrepreneur. Zoomdojo, my start up, has to date proven to be a wonderful new journey. Cornell connection is even stronger: it’s a great place to beta test, and to consult and collaborate with students, faculty and administrators. Even my partner (a twice Harvard parent) has become a Big Red fan!
Looking ahead, what’s the next chapter? Unclear. The future is unknowable though I feel confident that through my foundation and Zoomdojo, Cornell will remain an integral part of my future.
Carol Rattray is Managing Director and Co-Founder of Zoomdojo, a tech startup which provides career planning advisory services and related online resources for college students and recent graduates. Since the mid 1990′s, she has been investing, and advising primarily start-ups, in China and in the US. Previously, Rattray was VP in the Capital Capital Markets Groups at Bankers Trust Company (now part of Deutsche Bank). In philanthropy, Rattray is a Co-Founder of the Rattray Kimura Foundation, a private foundation focusing on education. Carol studied Asian Studies at Cornell and received a MBA and MIA from Columbia University.