Jorge Rojas, MS ’07: From Engineer to Business Leader

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Jorge Rojas, MS ’07: From Engineer to Business Leader

The skills he learned at Stanford GSB served the CEMEX executive well when Hurricane Maria put his staffers at risk.
November 15, 2018
By the time Jorge Rojas entered the Stanford Sloan Program, more than half of the students came from countries outside the U.S. “We made great friends from all over the world.” | Courtesy of CEMEX

When Jorge Rojas entered the Stanford Sloan Program in 2006, he had already been to business school.

Rojas had studied at the University of the Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, where he earned his MBA in 1997.

“I was really young and I wanted a change,” Rojas says of his time transitioning from a career in engineering to one in business. “At that time, I did a lot of finance and marketing, but I wasn’t that worried about people management. What really prepared me as a leader was Stanford.”

Rojas has been leading global teams at CEMEX for the last 18 years. He started for the multinational building supply company as director of strategic planning in Bogotá.

He knew he would be stepping into a global cohort at Stanford, but he didn’t anticipate that his bonds with the diverse group would become as tight as they are. He and his wife lived in Escondido Village during their time on campus and had dinner three or four times a week with classmates and neighbors from Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina.

Making Friends from Far Corners

“I expected to have friends, but I didn’t expect to become as close as we did,” Rojas says. “I think Stanford was one of the best, happiest years of my life. We made great friends from all over the world.”

Rojas remembers learning about supply chains during Professor Hau L. Lee’s operations course from a peer who had experience in clothing production in China. Another classmate taught him and others how to spell their names with Japanese characters at one of many multicultural events throughout the year.

As a manager, the most difficult tasks are related to people: how to choose the right team, how to empower them, how to let someone go. It’s people who really make things happen for a good leader.
Jorge Rojas

International students were first included in Sloan Program cohorts in 1963. By the 1970s, about 20% of the fellows held international passports. In the 2000s, when Rojas attended, about half the program’s participants were non-U.S. citizens.

After completing the Sloan Program, Rojas went on to lead CEMEX’s strategy for a new geography — all of South America. His role later shifted to cover Panama and Central America. In 2011, he took on a position leading strategic planning, marketing, and public affairs for CEMEX in the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean.

Rojas says he applies the lessons he learned at Stanford every day and, like many alumni, says that Interpersonal Dynamics (aka “Touchy Feely”) was one of his most useful classes. “As a manager, the most difficult tasks are related to people: how to choose the right team, how to empower them, how to let someone go,” Rojas says. “It’s people who really make things happen for a good leader.”

In the Eye of an Actual Storm

Rojas’s next position at the company put him in a management role he likely never anticipated — literally in the eye of a storm. As CEO of CEMEX Puerto Rico, he had to ensure the safety and well-being of 280 employees when Hurricane Maria struck the island in September 2017.

“My first priority was to make sure all of our people were safe,” Rojas remembers.

Soon after the storm hit, supervisors reached out to teams to make sure employees were accounted for. A handful of staffers needed help relocating to hotels. About a dozen had no lines of communication, and their managers needed to track them down in person.

One week after the hurricane, everyone in CEMEX’s Puerto Rico operation was accounted for, Rojas says. But it would take more than 45 days for operations to return to normal. “We resumed our operations soon compared to other players in the industry because we had a business continuity plan that worked well, and because of the hard work of our people,” he says.

His next order of business was to lead the organization as the country rebuilt. “The biggest challenge was to move beyond that event and start planning and executing for the future,” Rojas says.

Rojas recently took on a new role with CEMEX as vice president of Supply Chain for South America and the Caribbean. He leads a team of more than 1,400.

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