Rytis Valūnas: The EMBA and its elite alumni business network help you stay sharp

We spoke with BMI alumnus Rytis Valūnas, who is a C-level executive at regional oil and LNG leader KN (Klaipėdos Nafta), a professional board member, the president of the BMI Alumni Association and the host of The Young Executive podcast. This dynamic business leader told us about his experience before, during and after the EMBA and how the BMI alumni community works to create big value.

Tell us a bit about your professional journey.

My primary background is legal. I finished law school in Lithuania, joined a law firm, and at 25 passed the bar exam to become an attorney, one of the youngest in the country then. After getting a master’s in international public law in Lithuania and Belgium, I wanted broader context and joined the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in the US. Part of the studies took place at Harvard Law School. With a second master’s degree from those institutions, I worked for a time at the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington DC as an energy policy advisor and then in Brussels on issues of EU trade policy.

In 2012, I moved back to Lithuania and joined KN to help launch a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in Klaipeda. I was chief lawyer for that project of strategic national importance, which we successfully completed after two years of incredibly intensive work. The question then was what to do next. I was offered a general counsel position, but I realized that I am much more than a lawyer.

At present I have quite a few professional engagements. First is KN, where I am now Chief Officer for Corporate Affairs and Chief Administrative Officer. My responsibilities include corporate governance, public relations, legal, IT and innovation projects, and coordinating environmental, social and governance efforts (ESG), which is very challenging in the oil and gas industry. In addition, I sit on the boards of quite a few companies, both state-owned and private, from Lithuania to Brazil. 

What led you to choose the BMI Executive Institute and its EMBA programme?

Having studied at such institutions as Harvard, I set the bar high in terms of quality and intensity. Time is precious and I wanted to choose carefully. At first, I looked across the Atlantic again, not knowing what was available right here in this region, but ultimately, I found the EMBA at BMI was the best option for me. It combines all the benefits of global know-how brought by international faculty members with the convenience of being able to do it here in Vilnius. There are also the options to do part of the programme abroad, including at that time the famous module in Shanghai. 

Why did you need these studies for your career?

Sitting in the boardroom of a big company, I felt a perception at the time that lawyers are people who prevent managers from doing business. That they just spoil good ideas and make troubles without really understanding business. So, I guess psychologically I wanted to prove to myself and others that I do understand business, including the financial side, and to be an equal participant in any discussions.

What are the main benefits you received from the EMBA?

Looking back, I can see quite a few takeaways and benefits.

First of all, confidence. I realized that I’m able to be a manager, that I can be a top-level executive. The others in the class who were already business owners, CEOs and board members were human beings like me. That gave me a big boost of confidence for taking part in discussions and decision-making.

Second, the programme filled in my knowledge gaps regarding accounting and corporate finance, which are key elements for managing a company. Understanding how numbers are translated into business and vice versa was a completely new skill for me, thanks especially to 3 of the EMBA modules.

A third takeaway was really this joy of broadening my horizons in study trips abroad with groupmates. Meaningful and purposeful travel with the intention of studying but also discovering new cultures, meeting new people, and even gaining some friends.

But most important of all is this long-lasting effect of the BMI alumni community which I’m now part of. And I happened to be elected president of the alumni association recently.

As the president of the BMI Alumni Association, what do you see as its main ambitions?

An association is one possible governance form for an alumni community. For us, it is a convenient way to organise traditions and events and create value not only for the association’s members but for all alumni. On the other hand, running it requires a lot of volunteer work and expenses on the part of the Council. Currently the association is financed through membership fees and sponsorships. At American business schools, alumni operate on a donation basis, with strong administrative support from the institution. The BMI Alumni Association now has 20 years of solid history. This is a great time to reflect on the alumni network’s governance and to refresh the association’s identity, with a focus on creating value for all alumni members and making the organization sustainable.      

Thinking about the BMI alumni community, the question everyone raises is: Is it worth it? Why should I get involved? Should I get involved? I suppose that we have different needs at different stages of life.

I think that if we want to stay active, do business and socialise with smart people, BMI Alumni is really an elite business network. By saying “elite“ I don‘t mean “narcissistic” or “arrogant“, I mean top executives who are leaders in their own fields. Why, after you’ve invested in the EMBA degree, would you stay away from this community of more than 800 graduates who are all top executives?

BMI Alumni helps you to stay sharp. It’s a space for fresh ideas from your peers and others and for some quality fun time. Looking forward, in the spirit of alumni movements at top global business schools, I think it’s time to think about patronage and “giving back” as part of our community’s purposes and values. These aspects are among the top priorities on the agenda of newly elected BMI Alumni Council.  

What are some of the challenges people face during the EMBA studies?

Frankly, multitasking is a natural challenge for everyone. It’s part of the professional journey, because your job and other responsibilities do not disappear.

Another thing is that some areas of the programme will be more familiar to you than others. You just have to be patient and focus on helping your peers because during other modules you will be the one who needs their help.

A third challenge is choosing a good topic for your final capstone. It is important to choose one that excites you.

And a fourth is nostalgia once the classes are over, since you feel like this vivid experience, the discipline and going out after the classes, is finished. Of course, all good things come to an end. But that is why it’s important to take part in the alumni activities.

What could be the most attractive for people who are considering studying at the BMI?

I would say it is really about the faculty – BMI’s track record of globally renowned, internationally well-established executive educators with practical experience and approaches.

The second thing is the strong alumni network, which with the long-standing history of the Institute, continues growing and delivers post-degree life-time value.

What one piece of advice would you give to people who have just started the EMBA programme?

Remember that you can get as much out of the studies as you want because the possibilities are there. It’s up to you how much you’re going to take out from the EMBA. A second part is to have fun, because this is a unique period in your life when you can have fun with grownups and like-minded executives – just like in “the good old days” when you were a student for the first time.

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