Why I Returned To India With My Harvard MBA

An abandoned manufacturing facility in Kerala, India. Aravind Krishnan returned to his native country after getting his MBA from Harvard Business School with hopes to reignite dreams of prosperity in economically disadvantaged areas.

Aravind Krishnan wrote recently in Poets&Quants about what he learned in earning an MBA from Harvard Business School. Here he writes about what he’ll do with the degree. 

When I informed people that I would be moving to India after my MBA from Harvard Business School, reactions varied from happiness to surprise to sympathy. A few of my well-wishers were simply disappointed that I was not taking up a high-paying job in the land of opportunity and dreams, the United States of America. This is my reasoning behind my decision to forego the American dream to build my career in India. I will limit this story to professional reasons, even though several personal reasons strongly influenced the decision.

I believe this is the most opportune time to launch a career in India and I believe I possess the most agency to make a difference in India than any other place in the world.

I recently paid a brief visit to the dilapidated manufacturing facility in the picture above. The facility, overgrown with shrubbery and resembling a metallic graveyard, was once the toast of the town. Within these ruins lie the reasons for my decision to make a difference in India.

Though Kerala, India is known for it natural beauty, it has also known poverty and socioeconomic upheaval. When factories close, families suffer.

I hail from Kerala, the southernmost state in India. Apart from its pristine natural beauty, coconut trees, and beautiful beaches, Kerala is known as one of the last standing bastions of socialism.

I grew up in a family dedicated to safeguarding the environment. My parents built a company, Travancore Sulphates Limited (TSL), which was a pioneer in pollution abatement technology. Unfortunately, TSL failed within a decade, crippling my family financially, impoverishing a hundred employees and their families, and leaving many customers bereft of cost-effective effluent treatment. A diagnosis of TSL’s failure reveals the usual suspects: a hostile government, a corrupt bureaucracy, and lack of growth capital. This was an era when any form of equity funding, like venture capital or private equity, were alien concepts, businesses instead relying solely on debt as a source of external funding.

The image of a company being smothered out of life by an antagonistic political system and inefficient labor and financial markets left an indelible mark in my childhood, and, over time, shaped the purpose of my life.

PURPOSE NO. 1: I WANT TO HELP BUSINESS FLOURISH IN INDIA

My early initiation to the harsh realities of doing business in India could have had two effects on me: get tired of the system and escape to a better market, or stay home and try to change the system from the ground up. I chose the latter. While it is improbable that a few individuals can transform the political system or reform labor markets in such a huge and diverse country, it is possible for individuals like me to help build robust financial markets. And that is where I have decided to focus my efforts, at least during the initial years of my career.

I will be a private equity investor doing growth equity and buyout deals across industries in India. I hope to be a facilitator for infusing much-needed equity capital to fund prudent growth, while helping businesses establish more robust management systems and processes and improving corporate governance, thereby providing Indian companies the same resources that TSL didn’t have access to 25 years ago.

What Indian businesses need is not dumb money, but active investors who can not only provide capital but also be agents of transformation across key functions. Private equity as a business model relies on improving the underlying health of the business, and this can be leveraged to create world-class companies in India. An investor’s role doesn’t end with building better-run companies, but often creating entire industries, supply chains, and markets.

PURPOSE NO. 2: I WANT TO LEVERAGE BUSINESS TO SOLVE INDIA’S GRAVEST PROBLEMS

One of my biggest takeaways from Harvard Business School is the capacity of private enterprise to solve the most serious problems faced by the world today — poverty, malnutrition, disease. NGOs and charities can bring to light many of these issues, but only companies that seek profits can have sustained impact at scale. I believe being an investor endows me with the agency to help build companies and create industries that can focus on solving many of the problems India faces today, especially in agriculture, food security, healthcare, and financial inclusion. My personal dream is to influence the creation of agriculture supply chains and technology-enabled healthcare delivery with the power of smart capital.

On the other end of the spectrum, private equity can also help revive struggling companies hurt by challenging macroeconomic conditions. Interestingly, the non-performing assets/loans problem that has afflicted the banking sector in India today can only be solved through fresh capital infusion, where the PE industry can play a leading role.

While I don’t have grandiose visions of being able to solve any of these problems on my own, I hope to be a catalyst in bringing about necessary changes.

  • Sad

    Wow, very self promotional. What is he trying to say? Think he’s going for a media publicity sprint judging by his other articles

  • Lol

    I really dint get why

    1) He wrote this
    2) Why P&Q published this

    Can someone summarize in one line what Aravind wants to say?

  • Prerit

    I was Aravind’s section mate at HBS and to be honest, I was amazed by how harsh some of the comments above are.

    Firstly, I know his decision to work in Mumbai was driven by a combination of personal (compensation, family, friends et cetera) and professional reasons. Professional careers are marathons and to remain driven for a long period of time and to work as hard as he will in the future, one needs to find meaning in his / her work that is bigger than oneself. I don’t think he’s trying to say, “I am holier than thou” but he’s trying to find meaning in the professional path he has chosen. If this is how he finds that meaning, so be it. I know for sure that he will be working harder and creating more impact than most of us. On a side note, I do recommend Viktor Frankl’s influential book – Man’s Search for Meaning.

    Secondly, knowing his personally, I am sure that he did not write this blog seeking adulation or acclaim. What he says above speaks to a lot of recent graduates (or to-be graduates) who take up jobs in the US. I know of so many of our classmates (international students) who feel inspired by Aravind and his decision, and think of, one day, returning to their home regions and contributing in whatever small way they can. That was probably his intention anyway.

    PS – I will be working for a wall street bank after my “Harvard MBA” so what does my “endorsement” mean anyway.

  • elite

    agree.. CBS people are humbled i cause they went to school in NYC where you can see billionaire college drop outs .. and fashion designers who can’t add but make millions ! NYC Humbles everyone !
    BTW in Manhattan.. no one and I repeat no one cares if u went to HBS.. plenty of HBS alums end as admission consultants and SUNY alums become fashion moguls

  • JohnnyM

    Lots of I’s in this article…interesting how shocking he assumes it is to leave the US to go back to India. Incredible sacrifice!

  • LMFAO

    LMAO. Cracking UP

  • CBS Alum 2016

    Ha! You must be joking.

  • CBS Alum

    I appreciate you being reflective about your school, and being humble. Keep it up

  • Columbia Biz School Alumni

    Fellow MBA´s great to see that i´m not the only one being over and over shocked to read from those HBS Alums that claim to save the world, but act differently.

    Just to be clear: I´m not jealous at all. HBS is a fantastic school, and their alums have impressive CVs. But i prefer other Bschool Communities, which create genuinely humble people. I loved the low profile Columbia Business School spirit, which was about being Authentic. Balanced. Inclusive.

  • Deepak Ramamurthy

    Good luck Aravind! There are several young exceptionally talented youngsters such as yourself who are putting the nation’s interest ahead of their chance to make top dollar. Socialcops is one such start-up that a couple of engineers from NTU have started and they’ve put together a crack unit of engineers to leverage widely available data to solve various pressing social issues in India. Companies such as Socialcops will need to be funded by PE in order for their business to scale and have a wider impact on society.

  • HBS Alum

    Agree, the tone is a little embarrassing. I am an HBS alum and was rolling my eyes at this. Baker Scholars usually have better grounding so was surprised. I don’t think folks should be ashamed for going into PE, just thus made it come off as a save-the-world endeavor.

  • WhtTheyDntTeachYouAtHBS

    Purpose No. 1: I want to help business flourish in India.
    – they don’t need your help, they are doing very well (especially if they are in cahoots with the current dispensation), thank you.

    Purpose No. 2: I want to leverage business to solve India’s gravest problems.
    – You said it yourself, you can’t solve them on your own. There are 1.25 billion catalysts here already, and the reaction hasn’t been catalyzed yet.

    India is a beacon blah blah blah
    – You have failed the litmus test to check if you can make a difference already, when you say that the single biggest drag on our growth is abysmally low investment levels. You see, investments need solid, practical business plans in the first place. Instead we are investigating cow urine and dung as shields against radio-activity and cures for cancer, claiming that Indians invented in-vitro fertilization and explored planets 5000 (or maybe 30000, who is counting?) years ago, lynching people on any pretext, etc. You want your company to put their money into such ideas, or maybe you want them to invest in copy-cat web startups (there’s one in every street)?

    The Current Dispensation inspires confidence
    – You have to be kidding. What inspires confidence is the low cost of oil and other commodities, and 2 near-normal monsoons. Everything else is (again, you said it) snazzy marketing campaigns. Swacch Bharat is marketing. The Ganga is still as dirty as it was 3 years ago. People still defecate in the open. People still spit Paan juice anywhere they happen to be. Make in India is marketing. Industrial Output growth just fell last month, yet again. National Pride is marketing. Another Indian was brutally lynched, last week, by Nationalists.

    You speak about the “positive” stuff you write about the Indian government and call it gratitude and love of the nation. Patriotism, as HBS might have taught you, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Besides, if you really love your country, shed those rose-tinted glasses.

  • justmy2cs

    I can’t agree more. PE investors have to prioritize investment ROI over the wellbeing of an entire nation – this is a reality and I really don’t see how laying out such a elaborate plan/analysis is going to help India – it’s reads like a self-promotional piece.

    P&Q, if you really want to un-earth great stories and inspirational MBA graduates, go beyond sharing articles people wrote about themselves…go dig deeper into people’s LinkedIn and see what they have already done, spoke with students from various MBA programs and find out who are really leaving an impact in their communities.

    True change agents are most likely busy making their dreams a reality, not flaunting the name of the institution from which they earned their degrees. One thing I recently learned from watching Tyra Bank’s video on her personal branding class at the GSB is that – personal brand is not what we say about ourselves, it’s what others say about us. So P&Q, stop sharing superficial write-ups and embrace the nature of authentic journalism – go and find these leaders of the future – some of them are probably indeed HBS graduates, but many more will not be.

  • elite

    P&Q authors.. worship HBS !! period even look at the FT startup ranking ( which actually makes sense ) .. HBS is ranked pretty low cause most of the their startups fail.. but if u look at P&Q startup ranking HBS is ranked 1 ( cause P&Q uses total capital raised irrespective of equity dissolved and failure rate which is ridiculous and makes no business sense ! ) P&Q favor certain schools and will use data to show that !

  • Douchey

    HBS = Capitalist Central

    Let me change the world (but only after I make $5000000000000000 million)

  • Columbia Biz Alum

    It´s pathetic to see how self-absorbed HBS people are and always get promoted on P&Q on how philantrophic they are when indeed they end up going in PE. I´m always shocked to see the storytelling of HBS people. Super hypocritical: claiming to change the world, indeed being ruthless capitalists.

  • Thank you!

    Thanks for taking the HBS path less traveled and making the world a better place by going into private equity!!!