Josh Rodriguez carries indelible memories—and they carry him—from combat to finance

Josh Rodriguez (MBA 2017) wears a bracelet with names inscribed: Navarro, Yllescas, Vile, Pirtle, King, Prange.

Josh Rodriguez wears the names of his fallen comrades on his wrist.

“Peter [Navarro] and I were best friends in high school,” Rodriguez says. “He died in Taji, Iraq, 13 December 2005. An IED killed his entire Humvee two weeks before he was coming home.”

He tells stories about each of them.

Getting to know you

Rodriguez earned his bachelor’s degree at the United States Military Academy in 2007 and then embarked on a series of deployments across a decade-long career in the US Army.

“I once did an interview for a documentary called When War Comes Home. One of the questions was, ‘How vast is the issue of post-traumatic stress?’ I said, ‘There’s no way anyone can come back the same if they were in a combat zone.’ ”

For instance, getting to know his classmates at the Foster School. “It’s easier for veterans to get to know our class than it is for our class to get to know us,” Rodriguez explains. “My team included a bond trader, an engineer, a coder, and an advertising guy. It’s much easier for me to ask them about their careers. Initially, every time I talked about my past someone would say, ‘Sorry. Thanks for your service.’ Then there was silence. It killed the mood [laughs] and the conversation almost immediately.”

One hell of a story

Rodriguez witnessed a lot of death in direct action, so it’s not surprising one of his proudest moments was bringing his infantry reconnaissance platoon home alive after the Taliban attacked their post in Kunar, Afghanistan.

“We had nine U.S. Soldiers, one Latvian officer, and ten Afghan National Army Soldiers in defense,” he recalls. “The enemy had approximately 80 fighters committed to ending our lives. They came within eight meters of us, but we all made it through that fight. We left the mountain with two Bronze Stars for Valor, three Army Commendation Medals for Valor, and one hell of a story.”

Soft skills

Rodriguez credits soft skills for getting him through many harrowing experiences. “What I did, if anything, was facilitate the management or the execution of things. Literally, you live and die by that in the military, especially if you’re on the front lines. You have to have soft skills to the nth degree.”

He prided himself on being able to formulate a team to accomplish anything. Anything. Like the time he was tasked with the plan to shut down southern Afghanistan—24 hours after President Obama announced it on TV.

“Like ‘Rodriguez’s job is to figure out the plan and brief his general, then everybody in the south is going to adopt it,’ ” he says.

“I didn’t know Afghan land law, or engineering, but I knew how to make the team. You, engineer guy, you’re on this team. What team? You’re about to find out. You, lawyer, you’re on this team. You, logistics guy, you’re on this team. Now, here’s what we need to get done…”

Become the expert

When Rodriguez left West Point, he was a second lieutenant in the Army, immediately overseeing 40 people.

“Then, my job was to find the experts,” says Rodriguez. “When I started the MBA program, I needed to be an expert.”

He credits his teachers and classmates for helping him find that confidence. It clicked during a finance class taught by Thomas Gilbert, the two-time PACCAR Award-winning associate professor of finance.

“We were assigned a weighted-average-cost-of-capital problem set and I was our team lead,” Rodriguez says. “I knocked hard into the night, really hard, because if you get called out by Tommy G, he’s going to stick with you. So of course, I’m called on. My whole team’s messaging me, and my friend Mike Greene texts, ‘Josh is all over it.’

“I thought, ‘The former bond trader just said I was all over finance.’ That was a turning point for me.”

Never forget

Now an associate at Goldman Sachs, Rodriguez is still regularly on campus.

“I’m not where I am solely through my hard work,” says Rodriguez. “It happened because people helped me along the way. I’m indebted to those people.”

And he’s not one to forget.