LGBTQ+ Pride Month Alumni Identity Spotlight: James Robertson ’99 MBA
By Carissa Violante
Posted June 16, 2023
Meet James Robertson ’99 MBA co-founder of Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA), an annual national conference for LGBTQ+ MBA students and alumni and one of the inaugural leaders of Q+, a new affinity group for Yale School of Management alumni in the LGBTQ+ community. Professionally, James has focused his career on strengthening community-led responses to HIV/AIDS.
In this LGBTQ+ Pride Month Alumni Identity Spotlight, James celebrates the progress of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, reminds us of the work still to be done, and shares his hopes for the future of the alumni community.
This feature is part of a series focused on amplifying the voices of alumni who are making an impact today and illuminating how the identities we bring to Yale transform both our community and the world.
What is your most enduring memory of your time at Yale?
During the second year of my MBA program, I co-founded ROMBA. Its founding was very much informed by the collaborative advocacy I had learned working on AIDS in San Francisco and then by the management and networking skills I honed at Yale. We partnered with the LGBTQ+ student group at Harvard Business School and invited students from other business schools from around the US. Today the organization continues to enrich the education and professional futures of LGBTQ+ MBA students from all over the world through the annual conference, other year-round programming, and a fellowship that awards more than $5 million of scholarship grants at 70 business schools, including SOM.
I think that Yale SOM was especially well-suited to be the crucible of an idea like ROMBA. At that time, visible LGBTQ+ people were not common in the corporate world. As the idea for ROMBA germinated, I was encouraged by the support we got from classmates and from SOM. Although I think the Dean at the time was a little perplexed by the whole enterprise, I have a particularly fond memory of Professor Sharon Oster – who later became SOM Dean – beginning our class in nonprofit strategy by acknowledging the success of the conference the previous weekend, which had resulted in an article in the New York Times.
How has your identity shaped your Yale experience?
For a gay man who had been on the frontlines of the AIDS response in San Francisco, SOM felt both welcoming and a little alien to me, at least at the start. I arrived in New Haven after four years working to bring greater attention to the epidemic, which was at its peak mortality in this country during those years. That early experience working on AIDS was formative for me and led directly to my applying to business school, an educational option that I had not considered until I understood how vital it is for nonprofit organizations with great missions to be supported by great management. Yale gave me a skill set I could apply to my work but also one that was adaptable, allowing me to move from work in the US to work in sub-Saharan Africa and India – and back again as the epidemic evolved.
What is your hope for the future of the Yale alumni community?
I hope that the university will continue to invest in efforts to ensure that all alumni feel welcomed as members of the Yale family.
What advice would you give to fellow or future Yalies?
Yale encourages connections – across the whole university – academically, professionally, and personally. Lean into the wealth of intellectual challenges and opportunity that Yale affords you. Yale SOM gave me an education that has been central to my career, but it has also never stopped enriching my life – through friendships, a robust professional network, and resources that are available to the alumni community.
James graduated from Yale School of Management in 1999. His career has largely focused on strengthening the community response to HIV/AIDS and increasing access to prevention, care, and treatment programming. From 2010-16, he served as CEO of India HIV/AIDS Alliance in New Delhi, leading the organization to become the largest provider of HIV prevention services to gay and transgender Indians and launching the national care & support program for people living with HIV.
While at SOM, James co-founded Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA), the annual national conference for LGBTQ+ MBA students and alumni. In 2019, he was appointed a Donaldson Fellow, Yale SOM’s highest alumni honor.
James currently consults on HIV/AIDS, organizational strategy, management, and fundraising to nonprofit clients, including most recently the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod. He’s based in Provincetown at present, where he also enjoys running, spending time with his husband Rick, and parenting their dachshund Argos.