A tech executive’s evolution from experiential leadership to leadership excellence through Brown

Master’s in Technology Leadership alumnus, Sonny Tahiliani is fast-tracking the development of pioneering technologies by channeling venture capital into critical scientific and technological enterprises.

astronaut looking at earth from space


It was during a family road trip, ‘Griswold Family Vacation’ style, replete with the wood-paneled station wagon when ten year old Sonny Tahiliani ’22 MTL first discovered his interest in science.

“We drove all the way from northern Alberta, Canada to Southern California,” Tahiliani recalls. “Besides going to Disneyland, we caught the first-ever Space Shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base in 1981. I was hooked on technology from then on.”


Building a flight deck of varied competencies

After earning undergraduate degrees in electrical and aerospace engineering in Canada and the U.S., Tahiliani interned with the Federal Aviation Administration. He then spent four years as a machine learning product engineer at a large industrial and aerospace company.photo of Sonny tahiliani

Frustrated by the slow pace of development during that era, he left his corporate career to co-found an avionics systems & software company. “I realized the time to take risk is when you are young,” he says. 

After seven years of leading, growing and then selling his company, Tahiliani decided to plot a course towards another passion in the financial sector, taking senior investment roles in public and then private equity markets for close to a decade, plus a fascinating stint in government as Head of Capital Investment North America for the UK just after the Brexit vote. He also added a master’s in political and economic history to his academic bona fides.

Today, Tahiliani is an Executive Director of RTX Ventures, the corporate venture capital arm of RTX, the aerospace and defense giant composed of Collins Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney and Raytheon. RTX Ventures invests in small, growing companies that are developing dozens of frontier technologies to advance aviation, defense systems and space exploration. “It has been gratifying to come full circle here and combine both technology endeavors and investment considerations,” he says.

Among the innovative initiatives that RTX Ventures supports is the electrification of aviation. One project involves a hybrid-electric regional jet demonstration program where battery and electric motor technologies allow for a 30% improvement in fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions reduction — one step forward to making the world a more sustainable and connected place.  

In pursuit of new heights

Central to Tahiliani’s values is his knack for adaptability. Seeking fresh challenges and broadening his horizon, he enrolled in the Master of Science in Technology Leadership (MTL) program at Brown University.

“It’s easy to select a university and degree program based upon the structure and curriculum,” Tahiliani says. But for him, the decision to study at Brown came down to the people who would be involved. “I researched who my faculty and peers would be,” he says. “The engaging community of scholars, students and alumni is why I chose Brown, along with its reputation since 1764.”

“ The engaging community of scholars, students and alumni is why I chose Brown, along with its reputation since 1764. ”

Sonny Tahiliani '22 MTL

Two faculty members helped make Tahiliani’s degree work especially memorable. “Whether it’s Dr. Robert Allio distilling 90+ years of experience into practical wisdom that stays with you or Dr. Steven Sloman passionately challenging you to reconsider your long-held views about persuasion, the impact is lasting and made personal through relationships,” he says. He praises his insightful classmates, as well. “They are carefully selected from a broad swath of industries and experience levels, conveying their acumen and distinct philosophies, all of which make you scrutinize and improve upon your framework of the world. These are the important things.”

Tahiliani often speaks to university graduates and emphasizes that “few answers lie within your own four walls, especially if you’re remote and particularly if you’re intent on leading; engaging with your own colleagues in-person and regularly with industry and government stakeholders is among the most rewarding and informative undertakings… put yourself in uncomfortable positions if you want to grow and remain curious.”

As he reflects on the biggest takeaway from his MTL experience, Tahiliani turns to the wisdom of Plutarch: “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” He says the program “gives you what you need to ignite your own unique philosophy of leadership and strategy — ultimately to avoid merely emulating other leaders but rather to be true to yourself while you navigate through progressively higher stakes scenarios.” 

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