2016 Best MBAs: Vikram Arumilli, Wharton

Arumili Vikram Wharton

Vikram Arumilli

 
The Wharton School

“Be proactive and fearless in pursuing opportunities you are passionate about. If there’s one place where it’s completely ok to fail spectacularly, it’s business school.”

Age: 30

Hometown: Los Altos Hills, California

Education:

  • BA in International Relations, Stanford University
  • MS in Management Science & Engineering, Stanford University

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? From 2008 to 2012, I was the founder and CEO of The Brainplex, an edtech startup in India. I followed that with a stint as a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company in San Francisco from 2012 to 2014.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? I worked for CAA Ventures in Los Angeles, which is the venture capital arm of the Creative Artists Agency — one of Hollywood’s leading talent agencies.

 Where will you be working after graduation? I will be returning to McKinsey & Company as a Senior Associate in the New York office and I’m also working on starting an online charitable giving platform in India called dhana.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Dean’s Graduate Student Advisory Committee (a select group of MBA students who advise Dean Geoffrey Garrett on issues of strategic importance to The Wharton School)
  • Co-chair of 20th Wharton India Economic Forum
  • First Year Academic Honors
  • Fantasy football league commissioner!

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work I have done over the past year as a co-chair of the 20th Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF). Given that it was a landmark year for the conference, my co-chairs and I organized two incredible conferences this year — one in India in January and one in Philadelphia in March. As part of the India event, we also organized the 3rd annual Wharton India Startup Competition, and received nearly 750 applications from India-focused startups.

The process of organizing both conferences was a massive undertaking for my team and me, and often required the commitment of a full-time job. We recruited a team of nearly 50 undergraduate and graduate students across the University of Pennsylvania at the start of the school year to help us put together the events; raised and managed a budget of over $120,000; identified and invited dozens of speakers; collaborated with numerous stakeholders, including sponsors, Wharton administrators and professors, University of Pennsylvania and Wharton alumni, and the media; and hosted over 600 attendees across the two events.

Until the controversy in 2013 regarding Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s participation in WIEF, the conference was the premier India business conference in the United States. After that unfortunate event, the prestige of the conference took a bit of a hit, but the amazing feedback on this year’s conferences from attendees, speakers, Wharton administrators and alumni, and the media make me extremely proud to say that WIEF has returned to its previous stature. I am elated that my team and I have been able to help Wharton restore and deepen its ties with India, which is such an important country for the school and its students.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of founding and running a startup in India between 2008 and 2012. After graduating from Stanford in 2008, I decided to forego opportunities in investment banking in the U.S. to start an edtech company called The Brainplex. Although I had visited India frequently while growing up, I had never lived there until my move in 2008. The four years I spent running my startup in India as a solo founder were some of the toughest but also most edifying times of my life.

The Brainplex never quite experienced the success or reached the heights I had hoped for when I started the company, but the learnings I took away from my four years in India are invaluable, and I have found myself applying lessons from that experience in leadership and professional roles ever since. When I visit India and speak to friends in the entrepreneurial and investing communities, it is extremely gratifying to hear them speak of other edtech companies who have tried to build upon some of the things my startup did. The Brainplex might have been a little early to the market, but it did make an impact on the Indian education industry.

Favorite MBA Courses? Enabling Technologies, Strategy and Competitive Advantage, Experiments for Business Decision Making

Why did you choose this business school? I have a deep interest in India and the incredible opportunities the country holds for aspiring entrepreneurs like me. Of all the top business schools, Wharton has the strongest ties to India, is making the strongest commitments to furthering these ties, and many of its professors have been at the forefront of thought leadership regarding the Indian economy. This made Wharton an extremely appealing business school option for me.

What did you enjoy most about business school?

  • The opportunity to further pursue my interests in entrepreneurship and Indian business
  • Forming amazing new friendships and learning from incredible classmates
  • Taking part in an extremely unique summer internship opportunity at CAA

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? Be proactive and fearless in pursuing opportunities you are passionate about. If there’s one place where it’s completely ok to fail spectacularly, it’s business school.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? The incredibly diverse backgrounds of my classmates. I thought I would be surrounded by people from finance and consulting, but my closest group of friends worked in the tech (startup and big tech), healthcare, media and entertainment, impact investing, non-profit, oil and gas, and biotech industries before school, to name a few. The opportunity to interact with students with such diverse backgrounds has been one of the most rewarding business school experiences.

What was the hardest part of business school? Trying to understand the correct balance between breadth and depth in the three key aspects of the business school experience — academics, extracurriculars, and social life. Wharton spoils us because there are so many opportunities available to students, and this initially overwhelmed me, as I feared I wouldn’t be able to take advantage of everything I could or should be taking advantage of. I eventually realized that I needed to narrow my focus down to the 2-3 things in each bucket I truly care the most about, and this helped me enjoy my experience far more.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? The two years of business school go by really fast, so if you come into the program with a solid understanding of what you want to get out of the experience, it becomes much easier to take advantage of the countless resources available to students.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I truly understood the scope of educational, professional, and social opportunities such an experience provides.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…pursuing the entrepreneurial dream for a second time.”

What are your long-term professional goals? I would love to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities that allow me to live and work in both the United States and India. I also want to further develop the startup ecosystem in India by building the Andreessen Horowitz of India — a firm that doesn’t just make venture capital investments, but is also a full-fledged support ecosystem for entrepreneurs.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? Unlike many Indian parents, my parents have never interfered with my extracurricular, academic, or career choices and have always provided me with whatever resources and support I have needed to pursue my passions. The one piece of advice they have always provided is that anything I choose to do should be done to the best of my abilities and with the aim of being the best at it. This advice has always stuck with me and is what drives me to constantly learn, improve, and grow. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my parents’ support.

Fun fact about yourself: I skipped kindergarten since I had already mastered the art of the nap.

Favorite book: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Favorite movie: The Prestige

Favorite musical performer: Kygo

Favorite television show: Veep

Favorite vacation spot: Croatia

Hobbies? Travel, photography, and following my favorite sports teams — Stanford Football, San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers, and the Indian cricket team

What made Vikram such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“What’s it like to balance a full-time MBA while managing two international economic conferences with VIP attendees and media coverage from CNBC? Vikram Arumilli will tell you it’s a lot like running your own business.

Operating an ed-tech startup for four years in Hyderabad, India, he developed the grace under pressure that made him a successful business analyst at McKinsey in San Francisco and set him apart as an exemplary leader and organizer at Wharton. It’s no surprise he immediately gravitated toward the Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF), one of the largest and most prestigious India-focused economic and business conferences in the world.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the conference, student organizers decided to hold not one but two events this year — one in Mumbai and one in Philadelphia. As co-chair of the forum, Vikram helped to recruit and manage an impressive roster of renowned keynote speakers and panelists in both countries. His marketing efforts garnered an unprecedented response to the 3rd Annual Wharton India Startup Competition, hosted at the sold-out conference in Mumbai.

Vikram’s tremendous entrepreneurial energy, passion for India’s thriving startup ecosystem, and calm, collected composure undoubtedly played a key role in the success of both events.”

Howard Kaufold
Vice Dean of the MBA Program
The Wharton School

DON’T MISS: CLASS OF 2016: THE BEST & BRIGHTEST GRADUATING MBAS