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Spirit is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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Ray Rothrock Picture

The Fortune Teller

Ray Rothrock ’77 uses his proven penchant for predicting the future to bolster resilience to cyberattacks and advocate for a nuclear solution to the planet’s energy crisis.

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Each year, the World Economic Forum releases its assessment of top global challenges—those that, among other criteria, could cause the most human suffering. In this year’s “Global Risks Report,” the items that top the “likeliest risks” category include extreme weather conditions, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, natural disasters, data fraud or theft, and cyberattacks.

Three of the risks are climate-related and two are technology-related; few experts have their fingers on the pulse of both.

Ray Rothrock ’77 is an outlier.

Ray Rothrock Picture

Ray Rothrock ’77 utilizes his tech industry experience to advocate for nationwide cybersecurity initiatives and nuclear solutions to the planet’s energy crisis.

Rothrock’s résumé spans the fields of all forms of clean energy, especially nuclear engineering, as well as technology,venture capitalism and business administration. His career changes have hinged on his uncanny knack of knowing what the future holds and how he can be part of it.

Like the World Economic Forum, Rothrock considers the broad areas of cybersecurity and climate change as the planet’s chief threats, particularly if those who can make a difference insist on conducting business as usual. “The cybersecurity issue must be solved quickly,” he said. “Climate change requires a more long-term solution, but both threats are real and must be solved to ensure a secure future.”

Rothrock proselytizes the use of nuclear energy to offset the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels. He also encourages rethinking cybersecurity with a resilience—rather than purely a prevention—perspective.

The buzz Rothrock has created in both the cybersecurity and nuclear energy fields was evident last July, when he found himself in Washington, D.C., sitting at a table with some of the top minds in the country. Members of the Nuclear Threat Initiative’s (NTI) Science and Technology Advisory Group represent some of the nation’s most prestigious academic institutions and key governmental bodies. Rothrock was the only corporate CEO present.

What he may have lacked in academic or governmental title, however, he more than made up for in expertise. During the course of his unpredictable career, he’s garnered a reputation for offering forward-thinking solutions to critical global problems. When groups like the NTI seek out nuclear and cybersecurity experts, Rothrock consistently makes the short list.

Rothrock with his son, Nathaniel, and wife, Meredith, (left) and in his home office in California (right).

Rothrock with his son, Nathaniel, and wife, Meredith, (top) and in his home office in California (bottom).

On a Nuclear Mission

While acquiring merit badges is a routine exercise for a Boy Scout, for Rothrock, earning an atomic energy badge proved life-changing. Before a scientist from Oak Ridge National Laboratory had even completed his presentation to Rothrock’s troop, the 13-year-old was hooked.

In the summer of 1973, Rothrock and his father set out for a campus tour of Texas A&M University. By the time the visit was over, an associate engineering dean had not only convinced him to attend the university, but to also enroll that very day. The Rothrock men had the unfortunate task of finding a pay phone to let Ray's mother know that her husband would be returning to Fort Worth alone.

Rothrock participated in a diverse array of extracurricular activities during his time in Aggieland, including the Texas A&M W5AC Amateur Radio Club (second from left).

Rothrock spent the next four years pursuing the nuclear engineering field with gusto. Along with engineering and honorary organizations, he was involved in the Photography Club, presided over Radio Club W5AC, and served on the Memorial Student Center (MSC) Directorate, receiving the MSC Distinguished Student Award his senior year.

But of all his campus achievements, the one with the most lasting impact on Texas A&M students was spurred on by the absence of instrumental music options for non-cadets. With support from others in his calculus class, Rothrock led a successful campaign to create the Texas A&M Symphonic Band. He took full advantage of the new venture, playing oboe his sophomore year, clarinet his junior year and baritone saxophone his senior year.

From Texas A&M, Rothrock ventured to Boston, earning a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1978. But a short time into his first job as a nuclear safety engineer, he watched the impossible happen on live television: the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor meltdown. The ensuing public outcry and plummeting price of uranium signaled that the glory days of nuclear energy had ended.

“I was going to be a nuclear engineer the rest of my life,” Rothrock said. “But when Three Mile Island happened, the country changed perspective. I knew my efforts to do something significant in the field had vanished.”

Rather than try to salvage his career, Rothrock sought out the next big thing. He’d read a magazine article about Silicon Valley in National Geographic and had even purchased an Apple II computer. The personal computer revolution was unfolding.

He packed his car and headed to California.

A Man of Action

Rothrock’s wife, Meredith, said his sudden cross-country move reveals two traits fundamental to her husband’s long-term success. “His ability to see the future is one thing,” she said. “But it’s his ability and willingness to change direction—to pivot— that defines him.”

In Silicon Valley, Rothrock joined a series of startup technology companies. The first two failed. The third, though, achieved spectacular success: Sun Microsystems.

While Sun’s triumph was due in great part to its product, that product could never have launched without the financial backing of investors. It would be the investors, Rothrock realized, who would ultimately shape this nascent technology industry. He wanted to be on that side of the table, so to speak.

In 1986, Rothrock traded in the warm shores of California for the snowy winters of Boston. But rather than return to MIT, he journeyed across the Charles River to Harvard Business School. He was going to be a venture capitalist.

A Lucrative Venture

Like computer technology in the early 1980s, venture capitalism was a relatively new industry in the latter part of the decade. When he accepted a position with the Rockefeller family’s venture capital fund, Venrock Associates, Rothrock became one of only three members of his 1988 Harvard MBA graduating class to land a job in the field.

Having poured so much of his heart and soul into startup ventures, Rothrock appreciated the benefits intrinsic to his new career from the outset. “As an investor, you can have your fingers in lots of pies, and only one of them has to succeed to make a difference,” he explained.

Rothrock’s experience in the technology industry proved an immediate asset in his new field. Cybersecurity wasn’t addressed much in the early days of the internet, but the precautions needed to keep information safe in an increasingly interconnected world had haunted Rothrock for years. With inadequate attention paid to this side of computer technology development, he predicted that security would eventually become a hot area for investment.

His calculation proved to be a lucrative one.

One of Rothrock’s early investments for Venrock was in computer firewall company Check Point. When the company’s stock went public, it did so at 10 times the amount that Venrock had paid.

By the time Rothrock retired as managing partner of Venrock in 2013, the 53 companies he backed included eight that were successfully launched on the stock market and another three dozen that enjoyed fruitful outcomes. Rothrock’s track record resulted in a two-time listing on the Forbes Midas List of top high-tech and science venture capital dealmakers.

Cyber Resilience

Long consumed by the issue of cybersecurity, Rothrock agreed to shelve his short-lived retirement in 2014 to assume the CEO role at RedSeal, which develops cyber risk modeling platforms. With a detailed model of its network in hand, an organization is in a far better position to bounce back after a cyberattack.

Rothrock’s 2018 book “Digital Resilience: Is Your Company Ready for the Next Cyber Threat” advises companies and organizations to mitigate the damage of cyberattacks before they happen.

“You can’t put out every fire or stop every thief,” Rothrock explained. “You must be resilient in order to effectively deal with it. That’s why buildings are equipped with sprinkler systems.

“The same approach should be taken with cybersecurity,” he continued. “Yes, you should try to keep cyberattacks from happening. But you should also optimize your systems so that you can continue if your network is attacked. In this day and age, we can no longer rely on a whack-a-mole approach to cybersecurity strategy.”

It’s a gospel Rothrock preaches in his 2018 book, “Digital Resilience: Is Your Company Ready for the Next Cyber Threat?”—a publication that has increased his visibility as an in- demand public speaker and subject matter expert.

A Promising Future

On climate change, Rothrock’s stance as a staunch supporter of nuclear alternatives to fossil fuels has likewise put him in the limelight. In 2012, he served as co- executive producer of the film “Pandora’s Promise,” which promotes the safe, clean potential of nuclear energy as a power supply of zero-carbon electricity and heat.

Along with his Nuclear Threat Initiative involvement, Rothrock works with legislators, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Department of Energy and other Washington, D.C., individuals and groups to encourage a renewed look at nuclear energy power sources. He’s particularly excited about the potential of creating energy through nuclear fusion, as opposed to traditional nuclear fission. With nuclear fission—the type of reaction produced in nuclear power plants—atoms are split in two to produce energy. Fusion involves the opposite approach: Energy is created when two light atoms are fused together into a heavier atom.

With the latter method, science shows that radioactivity is mostly avoided, and a nuclear power plant meltdown is impossible. They emphasize that the short-lived waste produced by fusion would alleviate the waste-disposal issue associated with fission. And they point out that the fuels needed for fusion—deuterium and tritium— are both abundant in nature, thus available at a fraction of the price of fossil fuels.

While Rothrock sees value in alternative energy sources like wind and solar, he is concerned by the amount of planetary surface area these sources require. Nuclear energy is very dense, requiring far less surface area to produce. “The notion of generating abundant power density in a small space could change the world,” he said. It’s an idea that has intrigued scientists, engineers and even filmmakers for decades: Think of the fusion reactor powering the “Back to the Future” DeLorean.

Proof of Rothrock’s conviction is in the time and energy he has spent serving on the board and raising funds for TAE Technologies (formerly Tri Alpha Energy), which has set its sights on demonstrating fusion-reactor technology within the next five years and commercialization shortly thereafter.

Like he’s done with so many other world-changing phenomena, soothsayer Rothrock can foresee the promise of a planet powered by nuclear fusion.

“Stay tuned,” he said. “It’s going to be a big one.”

Texas A&M Advocates

As two of Texas A&M University’s most stalwart supporters, Meredith and Ray Rothrock ’77 have made a practice of giving today to ensure a bright future for the university tomorrow. While Ray graduated with a nuclear engineering degree, the couple’s gifts have spanned far beyond the College of Engineering to support a vast array of facilities, programs, faculty and students.

In 2000, a $500,000 gift by the Rothrocks to the Texas A&M Foundation (and matched by the Bright Chair Program) established a chair for the Department of Performance Studies’ music program. Other gifts in support of the College of Liberal Arts include an unrestricted endowment for instruction and research programs, as well as a faculty research fellowship endowment for recently tenured associate professors, the Rothrock Fellows.

While serving as a Texas A&M Foundation trustee, Rothrock gave the lead gift toward the Kay ’02 and Jerry ’72 Cox Foundation Excellence Award to support Texas A&M students from underrepresented groups. The Rothrocks also provided significant gifts to support the Memorial Student Center renovation and the construction of both the Liberal Arts and Humanities Building and the Jon L. Hagler Center.

In 2016, Rothrock created the Ray Rothrock Lecture Series, which brings in prominent speakers from the nuclear industry. He and Meredith also support the Memorial Student Center’s Stark Northeast Tour, which enables students to visit top law and MBA programs in the Northeast.

Along with financial gifts, Rothrock unselfishly lends his time and expertise to bolster both the education of students and the institutions that support them. He serves as vice chairman of the board of directors of The University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Company (UTIMCO), and he has also served on The Association of Former Students’ board.

Rothrock was named a Distinguished Alumnus of Texas A&M in 2016—a title he also holds in the MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering Department and with Tau Beta Pi.

A music lover, Rothrock plays in a rock band with his son, Nathaniel (left), and works in his California home (right).

A music lover, Rothrock plays in a rock band with his son, Nathaniel (top), and works in his California home (bottom).

Texas A&M Advocates

As two of Texas A&M University’s most stalwart supporters, Meredith and Ray Rothrock ’77 have made a practice of giving today to ensure a bright future for the university tomorrow. While Ray graduated with a nuclear engineering degree, the couple’s gifts have spanned far beyond the College of Engineering to support a vast array of facilities, programs, faculty and students.

In 2000, a $500,000 gift by the Rothrocks to the Texas A&M Foundation (and matched by the Bright Chair Program) established a chair for the Department of Performance Studies’ music program. Other gifts in support of the College of Liberal Arts include an unrestricted endowment for instruction and research programs, as well as a faculty research fellowship endowment for recently tenured associate professors, the Rothrock Fellows.

While serving as a Texas A&M Foundation trustee, Rothrock gave the lead gift toward the Kay ’02 and Jerry ’72 Cox Foundation Excellence Award to support Texas A&M students from underrepresented groups. The Rothrocks also provided significant gifts to support the Memorial Student Center renovation and the construction of both the Liberal Arts and Humanities Building and the Jon L. Hagler Center.

In 2016, Rothrock created the Ray Rothrock Lecture Series, which brings in prominent speakers from the nuclear industry. He and Meredith also support the Memorial Student Center’s Stark Northeast Tour, which enables students to visit top law and MBA programs in the Northeast.

Along with financial gifts, Rothrock unselfishly lends his time and expertise to bolster both the education of students and the institutions that support them. He serves as vice chairman of the board of directors of The University of Texas/Texas A&M Investment Management Company (UTIMCO), and he has also served on The Association of Former Students’ board.

Rothrock was named a Distinguished Alumnus of Texas A&M in 2016—a title he also holds in the MIT Nuclear Science and Engineering Department and with Tau Beta Pi.

Contact:

Dunae Reader '15

Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications/Spirit Editor