We recently caught up with Yuval Gonczarowski (MBA 2017), the Chief Technology Officer at ClimaCell Inc, a weather technology SaaS startup utilizing unique data sources like wireless signals and connected vehicles to map all the weather data in the world. Prior to ClimaCell, Yuval advised numerous tech companies on digital and technology transformation with McKinsey and Company, and previously worked as an engineer deploying rapid prototyping devices for Intel and Apple.

Yuval discusses his path to HBS, experience at Harvard Business School, and career post-MBA:

What was your career plan when you arrived at HBS?

My goal in life has always been to walk the fine line between technology and management. Throughout my career I've been in roles that embodied both mindsets – some purely technological (as an engineer) and some purely managerial. At HBS, I wanted to see how I could combine both and attach a more business-oriented perspective to the challenge: from added customer value to pricing, marketing, and so on. It's always a shame to see brilliant organizations where the technology team and the business team don’t speak the same language and work towards a common goal.

What influenced your decision to go into consulting and then to join ClimaCell?

My summer months at HBS were spent with McKinsey & Company in the Boston office. My challenge there was exactly what I was looking for: applying technological analytics aspects to a financial-services client in an effort to improve customer value and help with digital transformation. It was a fantastic summer over which I learned a lot about myself, and worked with a great team. After HBS, I joined McKinsey full-time as a consultant and spent a lot of time in the digital and technological spaces, working on key strategic initiatives for top-tier customers. However, the "startup bug" was always in me: creating something from nothing, positively impacting a market, and thinking big. I joined ClimaCell in Boston after its Series-A funding, and played a role in growing the company through additional funding rounds from one with a handful of technical people to a company that now has over 100 members in three locations worldwide. We’re working to revolutionize the weather-technology space by putting together a perspective that embraces data, models and products.

What were some of the most helpful resources you tapped into while you were an MBA?

The Digital Initiative (DI) was a natural home for someone like me who lives and breathes technology. The DI is the hub for tech at HBS, building community and expertise around digital transformation. Together with the DI's support, and with a few great community members, I helped co-found CODE@HBS with the mission to bring technologists together at HBS. The club still exists today, and serves as a valuable resource both for students with prior experience as well as for people who are interested in the space.

Two classes come to mind that left a big impact on the way I perceive life, career, and business: I was fortunate enough to have Professor Clayton Christensen himself teach us his Building and Sustaining Successful Enterprises (BSSE) class, frameworks from which I use literally daily, and Launching Tech Ventures (LTV) with Professor Jeffrey Rayport, which taught me how to turn frameworks into outcomes. Additionally, during my time at HBS, I worked on an independent project, which encompassed the practical aspects of company valuation.

Of course, there are many other professors who I feel lucky and fortunate to have spent time with and learn from, as well as classmates from diverse backgrounds who made classes interesting and always challenging.

How has the HBS alumni network impacted your career?

Oh, this is a fun story! To me, the alumni network is more than a way to land a good job or network for personal benefits. It is a true and real network, in its purest form. For example, during my first year at HBS, my wife and I were arriving separately from two places to take a flight back to Boston with a top-tier airline. My wife had some challenges to make the flight on time, while I was waiting nervously at the gate. Someone from the ground crew went above and beyond to selflessly help her navigate swiftly through the airport. When we returned to Boston, I searched the alumni network for people in the airline and sent them an email with the story. They were delighted to connect, and made sure the person who helped us at the gate was acknowledged for their great customer service. It was such a great feeling!

What is something in your current role that surprised you? What type of person thrives working at the intersection of tech and organizations?

Not a surprise, but a known challenge: as a leader in the technology space, one cannot only wear the hat of strong R&D or engineering background. It's essential to combine and collaborate. In some discussions that are technology-heavy I often find myself pausing and putting on our "product hat" to shift the mindset: what does the customer want? What is the use-case? Weather is such a complex industry, as it means something different to everyone. This is a great perspective that is embodied by our CPO and his team that I am proud to work alongside. People don't necessarily care about the rain-rate in a current street and point-in-time, they care about what the weather means for them (Do I need to take an umbrella? How many diners will my restaurant get tomorrow? Should I close the airport ramp today and prepare for de-icing?).

What part of your role is different from what you imagined it might be?

The best part of being CTO of ClimaCell is that I work with an exceptional group of scientists, engineers, and product managers, which means I have something to learn from everyone. Fortunately, my background and position allows me to start an intelligent (or, at least I hope it's intelligent) conversation with everyone in the organization, from the most senior meteorologists and scientists to the experienced sales and marketing team, and help connect the dots of the different mindsets. In that aspect, the HBS General Management degree is a fantastic tool that allows a leader to speak many languages.

What is the best advice you could offer to incoming MBAs interested in the Digital Initiative and/or the tech community as a whole?

In every position I had, I made sure to make time to sit with every new employee that joined my teams and establish a set of common values to work together. Here's a public link to my personal values presentation (admittedly, there are parts there I borrowed from other inspirational people I’ve worked with and for). If I had to pick a first among equals, I would pick this value: "I am never the smartest person in the room. You are most likely not either." The technology community and the digital space are filled with brilliant and unique minds, and as you become leaders in the amazing ecosystem, all we can do is tap and connect them together to create something big. Listen, learn, and be humble.