'From a professional perspective, much of my long-term success is tied to my classmates.'

How a LEMBA Prepared Joseph Restivo for the Path of a Servant Leader

For Joseph Restivo ’16 LEMBA, an Executive MBA was about more than obtaining a credential. “I needed a program that would provide me with the foundational knowledge across functional domains within business, but I also wanted a program that emphasized the personal side of leadership. I was asking, who am I as a leader?”

Restivo has had a long career in operations, often working at the intersection of technology and business. When he began his Leadership Executive MBA (LEMBA) at Albers, he was a senior program manager for a cybersecurity company, looking to build his understanding of business and leadership fundamentals. Today, he’s the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Jaspr Health. Restivo’s experience at Seattle University’s LEMBA provided him with the business acumen and leadership skills needed to propel his career forward and develop into a servant leader. 

What Set Albers Apart

As a manager working with a wide range of people from different backgrounds, Restivo was looking for a program with a strong reputation and a robust curriculum. “I took the same decision-making approach to choosing an MBA program as I would in any aspect of my business practices.” Weighing Seattle University’s Albers School of Business and Economics against competitors, the choice was easy. “I wanted a program that focuses on soft skills as much as the analytical. Other schools were lacking the human aspect of business leadership.”

Restivo knows firsthand how important those interpersonal skills are to success as a leader—and as a business. He previously oversaw operations for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement. Down in Louisiana, he worked to bring jobs back to communities that were negatively impacted, overseeing the hiring, training, and management of 200 data-entry and quality assurance personnel. Most business involves interacting with people from a wide range of backgrounds, and he wanted to grow his leadership skills to better serve diverse populations.

Restivo credits Albers with preparing him for just that—as well as for giving him the tools necessary to advance his career. Armed with his LEMBA, he quickly progressed from being a senior program manager to director of operations, then to head of operations, and, recently, to COO of Jaspr Health. “That trajectory wouldn’t have happened without the fundamental skills that are taught by the best professors,” he says.

Leaders Teaching Leaders

What makes Albers instructors stand out? “They teach by example,” Restivo says. “The curriculum is experience-driven. The instructors work in the industry, so they aren’t just teaching from an outdated textbook. They’re bringing in the knowledge they have from being leaders in the workforce themselves, and they’re building the curriculum around what we’ve experienced in our professions.”

Early in the program, he realized how essential interpersonal skills were to other aspects of business. “Without the fundamental leadership and negotiation skills, it doesn’t matter if you can read a balance sheet or do statistics,” he says. “The first year of the program is understanding your internal WHY. Why are you a leader? What was formative to you? Then, you can move to business fundamentals such as accounting—because those fundamentals are more useful to you if you first know why you’re in business in the first place.”

Restivo shares how much he benefited from working with his peers, too. “The cohort style? Invaluable,” he says. “We built strong bonds. They come from a wealth of different backgrounds: aerospace, health care, cybersecurity, and so on.”

Students also come from a wide range of experience levels. “It’s a great mix of professional tenure. Some had been in careers for multiple decades, while I was just at the cusp of becoming an executive leader,” he says. “The program was very well rounded in how they built their cohort.” He’s still in touch with many of his fellow Albers alumni today. “From a professional perspective, much of my long-term success is tied to my classmates.”

Outside of his coursework, Restivo emphasizes how important the executive coaching experience was to his growth as a leader. “It was one of the most cathartic experiences of my entire life,” he says. “Through coaching, you have an opportunity to talk about some real challenges you’re facing in the business world with someone who is there to listen and guide. They have the perspective and experience to 1) validate how you’re feeling and 2) give you concrete suggestions about how to approach a situation or conversation, solve a problem, and so on. It’s invaluable.”

He emphasizes how important coaching and mentorship is to professionals, no matter their experience level: “Every leader and every employee should have some level of either direct executive coaching or mentorship where there’s a safe place to have a conversation.” He also notes that meeting with someone outside of your organization—and even your field—can be particularly helpful in providing a unique perspective.

Post-EMBA Career and Commitment to Service

One of the most immediate benefits Restivo saw after earning his LEMBA was when his company was acquired by Accenture. The leadership, interpersonal, and negotiation skills he learned at Albers prepared him for managing this acquisition. “I don’t think I would have been able to position our organization as well without the lessons I learned at Albers,” he says.

His experience at Albers also informed his decision to transition to become COO of Jaspr Health. The core mission at Jaspr is to provide evidence-based solutions via technology to some of the most marginalized populations: those struggling with mental health issues, including suicidal ideation. 

Restivo suggests that every leader consider how their work can serve others. “It’s important to think about where you want to focus your efforts and what communities you want to serve,” he says.

The LEMBA provided him with space to explore these commitments. During his capstone project, he worked with others in his cohort to assist Seattle businesses in serving individuals struggling with homelessness and food insecurity—particularly single mothers. “We partnered with a number of shelters to create business incentives for surrounding food providers,” Restivo recalls. This business relationship provided shelters with access to low-cost food and supplies necessary to keep their shelves stocked despite limited donations. “We were committed to creating a bridge between these businesses and the shelters in order to reduce food insecurity for these women and their families,” he says. Many of these agreements established by him and his cohort are still in place today.

A child of immigrants, Restivo’s commitment to developing as a servant leader is informed by both his family and his experience in operations. “My work as an operator requires me to have an understanding as best as I can of the challenges faced by marginalized communities,” he says. “One of my core responsibilities is people leadership. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are part of that. I am committed to staying grounded in the lived experiences of the communities I serve.”

There’s the personal aspect, too. His wife is an immigrant from Taiwan, and they have a very young daughter. His concern about anti-Asian public sentiment furthers his commitment to serving vulnerable populations. “Each person can think about what resonates with them. Then, focus your efforts on how you can have a positive impact on communities you are committed to supporting.”

His work with Jaspr Health allows him to do just that. “Through a variety of projects, I am able to work with communities that I wouldn’t usually have exposure to,” says Restivo. More than just a professional opportunity, he transitioned to his role as COO because of the personal components of the LEMBA. “Seattle U provided me with more insight into what I value and who I am as a leader. Without that, I might not have had the discernment to know this was the right move for me.”

On Pursuing a LEMBA at the Albers School of Business and Economics

Restivo highly recommends a LEMBA at Albers for those committed to growing both personally and professionally. “This program isn’t just about the fundamentals of business. You can get the MBA letters anywhere,” he says. “You come to Seattle University if you are committed to improving yourself as a leader. If you’re interested in some of the core tenets of servant leadership, this is the right program for you.”

For those who choose to take this path, he suggests: “Get comfortable in the uncomfortable. There will be a lot of introspection, leading to many revelations that you didn’t expect.”

Today, Restivo is himself an example of the caliber of teachers at Albers: He teaches a course in enterprise risk management for the Professional MBA program. For him, teaching is another way to give back. His full-time job involves implementing risk mitigation strategies in an actual organization. Then, he brings that expertise to his students. 

Restivo is happy to connect with any readers who are interested in pursuing an EMBA at Albers. Reach out to him at joseph.restivo@jasprhealth.com. 

Albers Schools of Business and Economics

April 13, 2023