Tejas Totade | The Innovator 25 North America 2021

Tejas Totade

Chief Technology Officer 

Ruder Finn  

Ridgewood, NJ

Hometown: Thane, India    

“When I joined the PR industry over a decade ago, it took my friends and family by surprise, because back then, public relations was simply not thought to be a career option for an Indian/Asian American technologist straight out of grad school."

Equally well-versed in tech and comms, Tejas Totade is well-positioned as Ruder Finn’s chief technology officer, integrating technology into every facet of the agency’s operation. His goal: empowering communicators to be forces in storytelling, while exceeding client expectations through digital offerings. And with good purpose: the Truth Vector combats the spread of disinformation by uncovering and countering falsehoods before they gain traction. TechLab, Ruder Finn’s tech incubator and trendspotting technology, is also his brainchild. Research powered by TechLab expanded the agency’s relationships, leading to consulting clients like Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer on tools and platforms to ensure their employee outreach efforts were successful during the pandemic.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? 
It is difficult to single out one accomplishment as each one is a critical stepping stone to the next. In general, I am proud of the manner in which I have been able to apply my expertise in data, analytics, and technology, to deliver exceptional value to my clients. I am very grateful to Ruder Finn for recognizing my talents and giving me the opportunities to succeed and grow.

We're at a pivotal moment on the future of the office and how we work. How would like to see 'office/work culture' evolve?
We are no longer tethered to a physical location and that is fantastic in terms of collaboration across international teams and clients. However, it has also led to a steady decline in everyday social skills as an entire generation of fresh college graduates have been onboarded into the "Zoom culture" some without having met even a single colleague of theirs to date. While flexibility is important and is here to stay, I would like the work culture to evolve into a successful hybrid one where employees truly get to enjoy the best of both worlds as they both are important to the overall growth of an employee and by extension the organization they work for.

How can the PR industry make real progress in diversity, inclusion and equity?
When I joined the PR industry over a decade ago, it took my friends and family by surprise, because back then, public relations was simply not thought to be a career option for an Indian/Asian American technologist straight out of grad school. Over the years, efforts have been made to counter this unconscious bias, but it is still a work in progress. Continued collaboration with universities and other educational institutions is key to driving real conversations and opening up public relations as a viable and attractive career choice to the students from underrepresented communities.

What makes you most excited or proud to be part of the PR industry? 
As Heraclitus said over 2000 years ago, "the only constant in life is change." The PR industry embodies this quote. We aren't simply communicators. We are creative problem-solvers. We are change-makers. We don't simply preach transformation, we get the job done and then some and are always looking over the horizon for what's next!

What are your fears/concerns for our industry? 
Every industry has faced challenges during the pandemic and ours is no different. However, I think the past 18 months have shown us that as long as we continue to adapt and innovate and treat our fears/concerns as challenges, our industry will continue to thrive.

What inspires you? This could be a person, place, activity, etc.
Steve Jobs is a constant source of inspiration for me and I still find myself rewatching his old keynotes whenever I am feeling low or stuck on a problem. He dreamt big and impossible and then actually built it! The last part is just as important as the first two. He inspires me to "stay hungry, stay foolish" every single day!

What are you thinking about most these days? 
It is hard not to think about the geopolitical events that have been unfolding every day over the past few weeks. Aside from it, climate change is always on top of my mind. I love reading about the big creative ideas in technology and other disciplines to combat climate change as I strongly believe one (or more) of them will be the next big innovation that will change the course of humanity and life on earth for the better!

What is your idea of happiness?
There is a famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi that goes, "Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony." I couldn't agree more with this idea of happiness!