Don’t bother boasting about your frequent flyer miles around Tesh Rao, because you will wind up feeling grounded compared to his travels.
Then again, he has an unfair advantage as an aviator during a 20-year naval career. Rising to the rank of commander, Tesh has flown more than 4,000 hours, including 238 combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Along the way, he made 777 landings on multiple aircraft carriers all over the world.
The son of Indian immigrants, Tesh and his older sister grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and as a boy, he dreamed of playing second base for the Detroit Tigers. Though that never materialized, a stellar college education did, as he earned an engineering degree from Georgia Institute of Technology. After that, he earned a master’s degree from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.
“I had never planned on a military career, but I was recruited by the ROTC while attending Georgia Tech,” he said. “There is nothing more fulfilling than service to your country and others. It’s all about sacrifice and service.”
In addition to serving in flying squadrons, Tesh had the unique privilege of being selected as a special assistant and senior aide to former Supreme Allied Commander Europe Jim Stavridis at the NATO military headquarters in Casteau, Belgium.
“I learned a lot from Admiral Stavridis as he was like a second father,” Tesh said. “He was all about restoring order from chaos, and he taught us well.”
Tesh received more than just military and leadership training from the Navy. He also gained a wife. His wife’s brother was in the same squadron with Tesh and played matchmaker, and introduced him to Lisa. She also comes from a big Navy family. They have been married for 15 years and have a son and a daughter, Sammy (9) and Davie (7).
After retiring from the Navy, Tesh became a partner at Starbucks, where he worked on government affairs and the public policy team, helping to advance social impact initiatives throughout the world. He has traveled extensively, living in Saudi Arabia, Japan and Belgium. He’s fluent in French and Kannada.
“Working for Starbucks and around senior corporate leaders, I learned so much about business and social responsibility. Howard Schultz always said that people came to Starbucks because of the values that we held as a company and the emphasis we place on taking care of our people.”
During his time with Starbucks, Tesh began working with ASU as the two entities became partners in creating various online educational opportunities. One thing led to another, and soon Tesh was introduced to the university’s athletic director, Ray Anderson.
“It was serendipitous but came at the right time as we were ready to get out of the rainy northwest, and I was always interested in working in sports,” he said. In 2017, their family packed up and moved to the Valley, settling in Arcadia.
Tesh is a senior associate athletic director and part of Anderson’s executive team, directing ASU’s athletic department’s strategic planning efforts, veterans/student-athlete initiatives and various other responsibilities.
Asked what his autobiography should appropriately be titled, he suggested, Lucky.
“I really am a pretty lucky guy,” he said with sincerity.