Aastha Pitalia is one of those people who could be anything she wants. The Bhopal native earned a degree in civil engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi, considered India’s premier engineering college. From there, she followed the traditional consulting path, climbing the ranks at the Hay Group. Like many Millennials, she wanted to ply her skills where she could make a real impact. So she ventured into the oldest and most thankless profession of them all: Politics.
In a world of byzantine bureaucracies and finger-pointing partisans, Pitalia chose to be a servant instead of a showman. Heading up policy and new initiatives for Supriya Sule, a reform-minded member of the Indian parliament, Pitalia followed her training as an engineer and began to build. “I started a social incubation center in the rural constituency to empower rural talent and encourage innovation,” she wrote to Poets&Quants in August. “Within six months of start, we incubated two business ideas, a smokeless stove built by women in a particular village, and a school bag that could be converted into a desk to overcome poor infrastructure problems in village schools. We also trained local talent empowering them with ideas, resources and basics in commercializing and launching such businesses.”
TOP INDIAN MBA CANDIDATES INCLUDE ENGINEERS, ACTORS, AND EDUCATORS
Describing herself as an “engineer-turned-political reformer,” Pitalia embarked on a new mission this fall: She joined the London Business School’s Class of 2018. While she ultimately aspires to run an advisory firm for social enterprises, she is focusing on being a servant leader who wants to bring out the best in her peers. “Apart from being resourceful, I also want them to see me as a good listener with whom they can discuss ideas and share problems.”
Pitalia is just one of the many India-born students who’ve taken the leap of faith, going from a promising pacesetter to a talent-among-talents in overseas business schools. Each year, Poets&Quants asks the top MBA programs to share a few of the students that they expect to leave a mark over the next two years. From HEC Paris and Oxford to Harvard and Wharton, Indian students are raising the bar on what should be expected — and what can be achieved.
Forget the all-work-and-no-play stereotype. The Class of 2018 brings a zest for creativity and culture that only enriches the classes they join. Before enrolling at Babson College, Mumbai’s Ashutosh Pandit spent his days as a banker and his evenings as a professional actor. The University of Maryland’s Rahul Rathore, a civil engineer from Indore, plays classical guitar. Warwick’s Ashima Goyal is a professional dance choreographer and Zumba trainer who recently sang in front of 500 people. How is this for ambition? At 22, Wharton’s Saumya Jain had already started up a K-12 school for less fortunate students in India.
MARYLAND FIRST-YEAR OVERSAW THE CONSTRUCTION OF INDIA’S LARGEST SOLAR ENERGY PLANT
The class has also made a difference, large and small, international and local. As an ECM Analyst at JP Morgan, Abhinav Chandra successfully juggled the differing values and complex structures of an unprecedented IPO of a Taiwanese Pay TV business. “I travelled incessantly between our Asia offices and our several international roadshows, managing time-sensitive deliverables across banks, regulators, lawyers and accountants — constantly reconciling competing point of views,” says the University of Texas first-year.
Think that’s rough? Try being Rathore, who spearheaded the $132 million dollar construction of India’s largest solar power plant, which covers an area bigger than 500 football fields and powers nearly 625,000 homes. No pressure, right? Turns out, the technical challenges paled in comparison to the managerial ones. Here, Rathore navigated both religious sensitivities and community skepticism. “One such issue was relocating seven temples from the project site, creating local resistance, which had potential to cause religious hostility. But by actively engaging with all the stakeholders and educating them regarding how the project could impact their lives and the community, I was able to convert resistance into support. I also negotiated with bureaucrats to speed up the diversion of a state highway that passed through the project site.” Not surprisingly, Rathore completed the project eight months ahead of schedule and received a visit from Narenda Modi, who is now India’s Prime Minister.
Others made waves in more subtle ways. The University of Toronto’s Rashi Kakkar, for example, became the first woman to work in Total Sports Asia’s India Office. Thanks to her stellar performance, the firm brought on additional women to work as consultants. In contrast, Babson College’s Sthuthi Jebaraj took the road less traveled after medical school, signing on as the medical doctor in a small rural village in India. “While this was very challenging,” she admits, “it taught me a great deal about myself and the world around me. I learnt how difficult it was for the majority of Indians to access quality healthcare and it set me on the path to getting a public health degree.”
PRACTICE TESTS PROVIDE STAMINA FOR A FOUR HOUR EXAM
What does it take to get into a top overseas MBA program? For Jain, it started with stepping back to reflect on how she got where she was, so she could authentically express what she truly wanted in her application essay. “Writing the essays is a long drawn out process,” she points out. “I started with thinking about my life events and identifying moments that ignited my passion. I thought about what mattered to me and about my life goals. One key advice – believe in yourself and your story. Everyone is different and wants different things in life. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t try to benchmark your goals against that of others.”
Success, in Naman Sanghvi’s view, also hinges on being patient and not rushing through the process, particularly with the essay. “Give yourself a focused 3-6 months at least to work on the entire application,” shares the Oxford MBA candidate. “The application asks you to convey important life experiences (and in most applications, your entire life) in a couple of hundred words. Give yourself quality time to think hard and deep. Be strategic and specific about what you convey. Nothing kills a great story more than generic clichés that can be applicable to anyone.”
When it comes to the GMAT, Harvard’s Rohit Sudheendranath has learned that studying smart sometimes trumps studying hard. “Many make the mistake of doing a lot of practice, but not doing a lot of practice tests (with the complete sitting of 4 hours),” he observes. “Not taking tests in a simulated environment does not give the temperament to sit for four continuous hours.”
REJECTION? THINK OF IT AS BEING “SPARED TWO YEARS OF FRUSTRATION”
Notre Dame’s Amita Balasundaram also credits the “mental stamina” that comes from taking mock tests to her success. She adds, however, that such tests also get students “familiar with the test pattern,” which only aids applicants with repetition. “I would recommend investing about 3-4 months wholeheartedly in GMAT prep, by focusing on the weaker areas while also sharpening skills in the stronger section. I strongly believe that the GMAT is an effort test, so one can beat the odds with reasonable effort.”
Hard as it is to hear, Jain also reminds future applicants to focus on the big picture and not take rejection too personally. “Remember that it’s a two way fit! Be yourself and if you make it, you know you’ll fit well with the school culture. If you don’t make it, you know that you’ve probably been spared two years of frustration.”
“You will study, live, eat, and breathe with your classmates for two years,” adds the University of North Carolina’s Rajat Gupta, “so might as well choose a school that complements your personality.”
Wondering where some of the top Indian MBA students are earning their MBAs? Want to know how they got into their target schools? Curious what their plans are after graduation? Check out our in-depth profiles of these students below.
Sthuthi Jebaraj / Babson College
DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE MEET THE CLASS OF 2018 SERIES