Unless you hit it big like Today's Al Roker, the career of a weather forecaster is often only fair and partly cloudy. Which is why Matt Rogers, MBA '01, decided to make his own sunshine: He went into business for himself.
"It's not very lucrative for meteorologists; a lot of weather service jobs and smaller TV markets don't pay a whole lot," he says. "This is a niche where there's actually a chance to earn more as a [non-TV] meteorologist, so we want to keep our overhead low so we can reward our team and reinvest in ourselves."
Rogers and co-founder David Streit, both of whom are forecasters for the popular "Capital Weather Gang" column in the Washington Post, started Commodity Weather Group (CWG) in 2009. The company makes long- and short-term forecasts for companies that have "pricing associated at risk with anything in the commodities sector," Rogers says, sounding more like a company president than a weatherman. Power traders, gas companies, banks, agriculture concerns, and others receive daily reports from CWG's headquarters in suite of offices in Bethesda, Md., assembled by a small team of meteorologists.
Rogers received his meteorology degree from Penn State in 1994 but after a few years working for others he decided to combine his passions—the weather and business—with a master's in business administration (MBA) from Mason. It wasn't always easy, but Mason's nighttime hours suited his unusual schedule.
"I get up at three in the morning and I'm at the office by four, so it was a challenge those few years, but it was worth it," he says. "It really worked out well. The MBA program helped me with just thinking in terms of business; it was almost an immersion type of situation. And a lot of folks in the evening program were from a real-world business environment so we were able to learn the [instructional] content but also discuss real issues."
Launching a tech business in the middle of a severe recession was brave, but Rogers says his studies at Mason gave him confidence he was doing the right thing.
"One of the big things at the business school is they taught the importance of a business plan," he says. "I've seen so many companies start up without one and wing it, and you really have to have it all written down; you have to have every contingency thought out. It's a process everyone has to do and that was ingrained pretty well with me in the school."
He and his partners were cautious about investors, so they did without, securing government-assisted bank loans. "There's no venture capital," he says proudly. "We did it ourselves."
In April 2009, the first client signed on. And then another and another, to Rogers' great relief. "It's like having a party, and you don't know who is going to come," he says with what is still a nervous laugh. Now there are some 240 client companies—but don't look for CWG to overreach. That's another lesson Rogers learned in the Mason MBA program.
"We want to stay lean and mean," he says. "One of the things they really drilled into us at Mason was to stick with our core competencies; we didn't want to do some 'octopus strategy' where we're dipping into all over. There are so many ways to apply weather—we get calls from people who want to partner on apps and things like that—and one of our biggest challenges is to just stay focused on what we want to do and what we do best. And grow only when we can."
Having a voice in the "Capital Weather Gang"—he's the Tuesday contributor—gives Rogers and Streit, the Thursday columnist, "street credibility" in the small world of local meteorologists. The forecasts are popular beyond the immediate weather region, and for good reason: The Gang covers weather with a snarky bent, but never so technical as to lose the general reader. Here's a snip from a recent Rogers prediction: "A ridge of high pressure is pumping heat and humidity into our area. This particular ridge is a 'dirty' one, which does not mean it is embroiled in any sort of typical D.C.-style scandal (no 'weathergate' jokes please). Rather, dirty ridges are not strong enough to fend off pop-up thunderstorms and showers."
"That's also what we do with our forecasts for the company," Rogers says. "some want to go for the most declarative description—the worst storm, the biggest snow—but we're being honest about things.
"Weather's not an exact science; you can't be boastful or bragging, you've got to be very humble because it will humble you. For our clients, we tell them 'here's what we think is going to happen and here are the risks if something goes wrong. And if we're wrong, this is more likely to happen than this.'"