Meet Robert Zatta
An Interview with FDU’s New Board Chair
Robert J. Zatta, MBA’77 (Metro), joined FDU’s Board of Trustees in 2019 and served as vice chair until he became board chair effective July 1, 2021.
Zatta has extensive experience in business and financial management, corporate development and strategic planning. He is currently on the board of directors of the Socieded Quimica y Minera de Chile, S.A., in Santiago, Chile, and the advisory board of a private equity firm.
Previously, he served as the CFO of Rockwood Holdings, Inc., a publicly-traded specialty chemicals company, from 2001 until 2015, when Rockwood Holdings, Inc. was acquired by Albemarle Corp. From 2014 until 2015, he served as the acting CEO of Rockwood Holdings, Inc.
Zatta is a 2018 recipient of FDU’s The PINNACLE Award and former chair of the Silberman College of Business Advisory Board.
Congratulations on becoming chair of FDU’s Board of Trustees!
Zatta: Thank you!
What are you most proud of?
Zatta: I believe that my greatest achievement in life is the long and happy marriage that my wife Kathy and I share and the family we raised including our three children and now their life partners and our three grandchildren. I have had an enjoyable and reasonably successful business career, but family is really what makes it all special.
Is there anything in particular that you did in your career that you feel helped you achieve your success?
Zatta: Early in my business career, I worked in the consumer products industry, and in that industry marketing and advertising play a really important role in getting whatever product you are selling noticed by potential consumers. The marketing folks always talked about the need to differentiate a product from all the competing products. I was reasonably ambitious, and it seemed to me that the same concept of differentiation could be applied to my career so that I could stand out from the crowd and have the kind of experiences that would help me be properly prepared when career opportunities came along.
Over the years, I took two international assignments, first in Toronto, Canada, and then in Brussels, Belgium. There were a lot of challenges associated with taking assignments like that, from a personal and family perspective as well as professionally. But, I knew those challenges would build my experience and resiliency and would enhance my résumé for future career opportunities, particularly because doing business on an international level was really becoming critical to any successful business model. In the end, I think those experiences prepared me well for the business leadership roles of my later career.
Why did you decide to become involved with higher education and to join FDU’s Board of Trustees?
Zatta: I think that being involved in the community, doing your best to try and help other people reach their potential, and using the knowledge and experience you have gained along the way for the betterment of society is a very positive way to contribute to building a better world. As I transitioned my career away from a traditional 9-to-5 job to one that gives me more independence and control over my schedule, I decided to make time
to get involved with higher education. I did this first at my undergraduate college in Massachusetts [Merrimack College where he served as a trustee] and then, as a lifelong New Jersey resident, at FDU where I earned my MBA.
I think being on the FDU Board of Trustees has put me in the position to help young people. Our students represent the future, and I believe education is one of the most important factors in realizing a successful future. The better prepared our students are to deal with the many challenges they are likely to face in that future, the better the world will be as a whole.
What is your role as chair of the Board of Trustees?
Zatta: As chair, my role is first as a board member and, incrementally, to serve as the meeting leader to ensure the thoughts, concerns, points of view and other considerations of all board members are taken into account in a coordinated and respectful manner, so the board can make the best possible decisions on behalf of the University and the entire University community.
I am still in the early learning stages of the role, however, my years as a senior-level business executive, my experience on public company boards, the few years I spent on my undergraduate college board, plus my time as chair of the Silberman College of Business Advisory Board have provided me with a combination of experiences that I believe will serve me well.
The goals of the FDU Board of Trustees are not achieved through the efforts of one or two, or even a handful of people. Rather, to achieve its mandate, the board relies on the talents, the experiences and the judgement of each and every member of the board. And to achieve that, board diversity, representing the diversity of the entire University community, is essential.
What are the key challenges ahead and the strategic priorities for the University?
Zatta: At this point it is quite obvious that post-pandemic life will be different in many ways from what we took as a given before the pandemic. Many traditional institutions will need to adjust how they operate to reflect changes in people’s behavior and to address the many needs of our society. Higher education in general and FDU in particular need to reflect on this emerging awareness and determine how best to respond to the educational needs of our community. That is both the challenge and the opportunity in the strategic planning process.
From the very beginning, the mission and role of FDU has been to provide for the educational needs of the people of New Jersey and the surrounding region. From the early days of returning soldiers studying under the GI Bill to my baby boom generation and now to today’s marvelously diverse society, FDU has kept pace with the educational needs of our community, and we must continue to provide that needed service to students for generations to come.
What is most special to you about serving on the board?
Zatta: Probably the single most important thing that attracted me to the FDU Board of Trustees was the people on the board. What I observed as I came onto the board was a group of people who are not only gracious and welcoming, highly accomplished and dedicated to the mission and well-being of FDU, but also who are a living example of a diverse group of individuals bringing their perspectives, experiences and ideas in common purpose to advance FDU and its community.
How will you know that you have made FDU a better place than when you joined the board?
Zatta: Great question. I have a picture on my iPad that was taken in early March 2020, a few days before COVID-19 closed down the country and the world. The Office of Advancement hosted a “gratitude” dinner, bringing together a large number of FDU student scholarship recipients, and those who had funded scholarships. It was like the older generation meets the younger generation to celebrate the future.
At the end of the evening, we took a large group photo, and the most delightful, happy, energized group of students imaginable surrounded me. It was a wonderful moment, and I still look at that picture whenever I need to once again believe in the magic of the future.
If, when my time comes to step back from my role as FDU board chair, I still see the bright, enthusiastic and happy faces of FDU students, I will know that, in some very small way, I have added my footsteps to the great idea that Fairleigh Dickinson University represents.