The Remarkable Journey of Tactis’s Group Engagement Director, Rebecca Rodrigues.
Rebecca Celia Rodrigues, Tactis’s Group Engagement Director, was born in Mumbai, then still Bombay. Mumbai is situated on a narrow peninsula on the southwest of Salsette Island, which lies between the Arabian Sea to the west, Thane Creek to the east, and Vasai Creek to the north. As the second most populous city in India, Rebecca would have been welcomed into a colorful world bustling with auto rickshaws, red double decker buses, yellow and black Fiat or Premier Padmini taxis, and bicycles. For the first 11 years of her life, Rebecca thrived as a Mumbaikar, the Marathi word for a Mumbai resident, with family, friends, and good neighbors. Both parents were ambitious, career-conscious, working for banks and, in her own words, “very social individuals.” And with success came transfers to different locations to set up or help onboard new teams. But throughout this time Rebecca would remain studiously in school in Mumbai, riding her bicycle in the afternoon, passing the numerous stalls serving the region’s most enduring street food, Chaat, and setting her sights on the future. Washington D.C., the eventual home of both Rebecca and Tactis, was still twenty-something years – and 7,978 miles – into the future.
It wasn’t only the miles from Mumbai to D.C. that defined Rebecca’s unlikely journey, or the many stops along the way, but the many languages that she had to wrestle with to get there. English was spoken at home growing up. Hindi was a given, if only to get by in Mumbai. And then close on the heels of both English and Hindi came Marathi, the native language of Rebecca’s home state: Maharashtra. And if that weren’t enough, young Rebecca was surrounded by Konkani, a Goan regional language still spoken by Rebecca’s family.
Eat, Pray, and Wadi-spotting
In grade six, Rebecca’s father moved the family to the Sultanate of Oman, officially the oldest continuously independent state in the Arab world. Muscat, the capital, could not have been more different from Mumbai. Rebecca had no choice but to trade a tropical climate for a dusty one, and the bustling streets Mumbai for sand dunes. And it was here that Rebecca picked up two new endeavors, the first was to learn Arabic, a difficult language with no capitals, and written from right to left. And the second was a pastime known as wadi-spotting. Desert towns in the Middle East are not equipped to handle huge amounts of rain, so massive channels called wadis are built to deal with the flooding that occurs on the odd chance that it might rain. From living in a city where one is “often sick and tired of rain,” to use Rebecca’s words, she now found herself in a place where even a light sprinkling is an event, not to mention a dangerous spectator sport as the populace comes out en masse to watch the wadis overflow. Oman, where Rebecca studied the Indian curriculum in a school composed of mainly South Asians, would remain her domicilium for five years until grade 10.
Dubai, or not Dubai
Inching ever closer to a life in Washington D.C., Rebecca now moved Dubai, the UAE’s most populous city, where she would finish high school. Again, in her own words, “This was when Dubai was still a fledgling […] there was, you know, one landmark that you could pretty much see from anywhere in the city, but which you’d be hard-pressed to pick out of a lineup today.” [Editor’s note: especially if that lineup includes Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building]. When asked about how brave she must have been to have lived in three countries – each with completely unique customs and cultures – before the age of 18, Rebecca says, “It was it was kind of exciting, but I do like adventure. I think the move to Oman was maybe a little easier for me because I was younger […] it was exciting to know I was going to be living in the same country as my dad. In India I was in a girl’s school and my brother was in a boy’s school. When we moved to Middle East, we were going to be in the same school.”
It's a Wonderful Life
Thanks to a University Fair in Dubai, and parents glad to entertain Rebecca’s dreams, the girl from sweltering Mumbai now found herself enrolled at a small school called Indiana University of Pennsylvania, in Indiana, PA, birthplace, and hometown to actor Jimmy Stewart, 1908–1997. (Fun fact, Rebecca volunteered at the Jimmy Stewart Museum for two semesters). But with Washington D.C. more than 200 miles away, Rebecca still had a way to go, and that road included having to get a BA in Marketing first. Finally, after three years, just like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it was time for Rebecca to go to Washington.
“I moved to the D.C. area to look for work,” says Rebecca. “I figured D.C. was a nice pace.” But, as an international student on a student visa, Rebecca needed to be realistic about finding a job if she was to stay in the country. This would prove to be an uphill battle. The 7,978-mile journey was one thing, the acres of ink required to remain there, quite another. “It was really challenging,” she explains. “You can apply for a year of what they call Optional Practical Training (OPT), but during that year, you have to work on finding a company to sponsor you, because you can’t extend your OPT.” So, with a sense of urgency, Rebecca took a job as a temp receptionist at a commercial real estate company, and because of her marketing degree, the company started throwing marketing work at her. And then, when the person in charge of marketing left, the job was left to Rebecca. She embraced the role of marketing coordinator, writing press releases, updating the company website, creating collateral, and dealing with sales packets and stuff like that. But the absence of a green card still hung over her head. Despite conversations and promises of being sponsored, the company never came through. A year later, Rebecca had run out of options. Her only choice was to get back on a student visa. So, she applied for her master’s degree, enrolling in the Brand Management track at the prestigious Brand Center in Richmond, Va. She had finally made it to D.C., but her status was still tenuous. The proverbial ‘hill’ turned out to be ‘uphill.’
She also began to apply for jobs again. After 7,978 miles, one thing was clear, master’s or no master’s, she would still need a company willing to sponsor her long term. It’s not like she could go back to school, again. Then, in the summer during her master’s program, she landed an internship at the Richmond office of an LA-based full-service ad agency, and when she graduated, the same company offered her a job in D.C. Traction was finally in sight. Specializing in transportation accounts, but with exposure to direct mail, photo shoots, radio and television campaigns, business development, and account management, it was an opportunity for Rebecca to learn everything she could from her mentors. Of course, it didn't hurt that after some time, she received the sponsorship she had for so long desired.
Next stop was as marketing manager at a real estate company, where she was thrown into the world of digital marketing. Coincidentally, their premises were close to the offices of Blue Water, the same company eventually acquired by Tactis. One day, an astute head of client services noticed Rebecca and wooed her over to work on the massive FloodSmart account, the National Flood Insurance Program run by FEMA. Other than watching wadis overflow, Rebecca knew very little about floods, and had not worked on a web development team before, either. But knowing the way the world was moving, she knew that it would be a very good skill to develop. Turns out Rebecca was perfect for the role. This was an integrated marketing account. A pure project manager would not work, because marketing materials had to be reviewed. And a web project manager wouldn’t have Rebecca’s ad experience background. Similarly, a purely ad person wouldn't have had the digital experience Rebecca had. So, it kind of worked out. “It was actually really fortunate that I found it,” says Rebecca, “and it found me.” Or, to use the Arabic expression for fate, an artifact from her long journey, Maktoob.
A Long Time Coming
Today, Rebecca plays a pivotal role in the Tactis management team. As a leader on a host of prestigious federal accounts such as DHS FEMA FloodSmart, DOI Bureau of Land Management, DOI National Park Service, DOJ/UNICOR, plus a host of commercial accounts such as Audi, Hyundai, Noble, Acquia, World Bank, plus a long list of associations such as the Association for Accessible Medicines, AMCP, and more, Rebecca’s position has expanded towards the client engagement arena. Today, she focuses on growing client relationships, cultivating the client services practice, and implementing industry best practices for the design and engineering team. Having read about Rebecca’s journey, one might easily conclude that she is all over the map. Quite to the contrary, not only is Rebecca as buttoned-down a person as you will ever meet, but the many stops on her journey have made her comfortably adaptable to the many diverse challenges that we face each day. To put it plainly, the girl from Mumbai has come a long way.
Tactis is a full lifecycle customer experience agency working for organizations across all points of communication, combining human touch with digital expertise to create outcomes that matter. By delivering high-touch solutions that span marketing, technology, and human interactions – through leveraging data and embracing technology – Tactis generates transformational customer experiences that ensure companies own the high-expectation, high-attention moments from which truly human experiences can emerge. For more information visit www.tactis.com.