2017 Best MBAs: Vedant Tomer, Duke University (Fuqua)

Vedant Tomer

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

“A happy-go-lucky individual who constantly strives to improve each and every day.” 

Age: 34

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Fun fact about yourself: I love Yoga. However, despite growing up in India, I hardly paid attention to it. I learnt Yoga from a Polish instructor in Canada.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Undergraduate School: University of Toronto

Degree: Bachelor of Business Administration

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

Company: Sears Canada Inc.

Role: Director, Merchandise Planning

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016?

Company: Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Location: New York, NY

Where will you be working after graduation?

Company: Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Role: Associate, Investment Banking

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  1. Curriculum Representative, Class of 2017 (Elected Position) – serve as an active listener to my peers and work with our administration to develop a dynamic and effective class experience for Fuqua Daytime MBA students.
  2. First Year Cabinet Member, Finance Club – Worked with the leadership of the Finance Club to help students with finance industry recruitment initiatives.
  3. First Year Admissions Ambassador for Fuqua – Interacted with prospective students by organizing information sessions, class visits and campus tours.
  4. Duke Interdisciplinary Social Innovators – Served as the Project Manager for a nonprofit school in Colorado.
  5. Organizing Committee Member, Blue Cup (Sporting rivalry between Duke’s Fuqua and UNC’s Kenan Flagler).
  6. Captain of Fuqua’s Table Tennis Team.
  7. Member of Fuqua’s Cricket Team – Got an MVP award at Fuqua Ashes, an internal cricket tournament at Fuqua.
  8. VP Academic Affairs, MBA Association (Fuqua’s Student Government).
  9. Career Fellow – Responsible for the career related needs of FY students.
  10. Admissions Fellow – Conducted 28 admissions interviews till date.
  11. Teaching Assistant – Core Accounting, Economics and Strategy Courses.
  12. Dean’s List (Top 20% GPA after First Year).
  13. Class of 1988 Merit Based Scholarship – Awarded in Fall 2016.

 Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I started my Fuqua journey in 2014. However, after a few weeks into the program, I had to make an extremely difficult choice. My father was not well at home and being the oldest son of my family, I decided to discontinue my Fuqua journey to take care of him. I had completed my summer term in 2014. Due to the situation at my home, I was unable to focus on my studies. I fared poorly by my own standards, scoring a GPA of 3.0 in my summer courses. Before coming back to Fuqua in 2015, I promised my parents that I would do exceedingly well in my studies. Starting with a GPA of 3.0 was a tremendous challenge. However, I always put my academics above everything. I must admit that my C-Lead team was an important source of support in my academic endeavors. I leaned on my teammates to learn the new material. As a team we had devised a great strategy to ensure that each one of us understood every assignment that we completed. On our team charter, we had mentioned that if any one member did not understand the material then we would consider it a collective failure as a team.

On the individual front, I worked extremely hard making sure that I understood each of the practice problems. Even though some courses were easier than others, I studied each one with equal sincerity and rigor. I am proud to say that in the courses that I took after coming back, I scored a GPA of 3.94 which raised my CGPA from 3.0 to 3.84. I fully understood that academic excellence is as much a part of my Fuqua journey as anything else. I was placed on the Dean’s List for 2016.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At the age of 27, I was appointed as the Director of Merchandise Planning for Women’s Apparel at Sears Canada. I was the youngest Director in the Merchandise Planning team. Moreover, Women’s Apparel was the second largest category, in terms of sales, at Sears Canada. Women’s Apparel team was in the midst of executing many new growth strategies including the launch of five new brands. There was no room for error. The fact that I had to manage a team of nine planning managers with a combined experience of well over hundred years, made it extremely daunting for me. I had a total work experience of four years with only two years in merchandise planning. My first biggest challenge was to establish credibility as a leader without having the luxury of time to settle in. I worked extremely hard to stay on top of everything. I ensured open and honest communication by encouraging my team to provide feedback on how I was doing. I was honest with my team in terms of how much I knew. My honesty, hard work, and willingness to learn quickly helped me establish rapport with my team.

Since this was a highly visible position, I had to directly communicate our results to the executives of Sears Canada. My level of accountability had increased manifolds. Although I missed being shielded by my managers in my previous roles, I started to enjoy the rigor of this new position. It helped me grow as a professional. In my first assignment, I managed Sears’ “Refresh Concept” store transformation by partnering with merchant, marketing and store operations teams to create optimal inventory and brand plans. Although it was challenging, the hard work paid off. Sales in the first eight months of refresh stores outperformed national average by over 25%, generating incremental $1.5M in revenues at 45% gross margin. I owe my professional success to my team.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Following from the previous question, my favorite MBA course was Ethics in Management. Before coming to Fuqua, I had a very limited definition for the purpose of business. After taking Ethics in Management, I am convinced that the purpose of the business is to create shared value and not just profit. I believe that ethical principles should guide the creation of shared values and sustainable profits will follow. Ethics is as important as any other function in business.

Why did you choose this business school? There were several reasons. Fuqua is probably one of the most diverse business schools. Everyone here appreciates and values differences inherent within our community.

Students have a big say in many of the critical functions of the school. It is reassuring to know that as an Admissions Fellow, I have the opportunity to shape future classes as my opinion is highly valued by the admissions committee.

When I visited Fuqua, every student was so friendly that even as a prospective student, I never felt out of place. The student body was not just diverse in ethnicity and but also in the experience levels of students. Even though I had more experience than the average student at Fuqua, I felt I could learn from other students.

My faith in “team Fuqua” was justified when my teammates and section mates came together to support me in my decision to go back to take care of my father. Not only that, Russ Morgan, our Senior Associate Dean, checked in with me on a regular basis even when I had left. I will not trade this experience for anything in this world.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I extremely enjoyed being in the company of highly talented, yet down-to-earth students. I firmly believe that everyone at business school is smarter than I am, one way or the other. To have the opportunity to learn from very accomplished 900 odd students has been the most enjoyable part of business school.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? Even though I had been tested in the professional roles prior to business school, I definitely discounted the rigor and pace of an MBA. I realized how little I knew about business in general even after a considerable amount of work experience. Students from different industries provided insights that were extremely relevant in my previous role.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? One of the best pieces of advice to an applicant would be to be authentic. Fuqua values authenticity the most. For us, authentic engagement is one of our pillars of consequential leadership. It is hard to be engaging without being authentic. We value the diversity that a student brings with him or her. Also, our school is extremely team oriented and collaborative. Highlighting team work in the admissions application is critical.

What is the biggest myth about your school? When one thinks of finance schools, Fuqua does not usually come to mind. I knew that I wanted to learn finance in business school. It was almost by accident that someone told me how great Fuqua’s finance faculty really is. We placed close to 50 students on the Wall Street this year. Fuqua is seen as more of a general management/ marketing school, but that is not the complete picture.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret in business school is not travelling enough. As my wife and newly-born daughter were in Canada, I always rushed back to meet them during my breaks. I recently did a ten day exchange program in France and absolutely loved the experience. It opened my horizon even further and added to my knowledge. I have made it a point to travel more frequently even after business school.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire?  I really admire our MBA Association co-president Chris Castro. He is someone I can truly call a leader of consequence. Having served on the MBA Association, I can appreciate how much work it is to cater to the diverse needs of the student body. Chris has been in many of my courses and I always find him with a friendly smile. He is always reminding students of the classroom norms that we as a community have decided to adhere to. One other thing that I admire about Chris is that he never settles for a suboptimal solution. No matter how difficult it is to do the right thing, Chris will always strive for it. I know that he has a family of his own but he has given a lot to this community that we proudly call “Team Fuqua”.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I attended a social impact conference in India and found that the one of the most impactful projects was being run by an MBA. I had the opportunity to interact with him. He mentioned that the skills and the network he had gained in the MBA program had enabled him to succeed in the social impact space. It was clear that an MBA degree is a transformational experience that molds leaders.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…helping my younger brother with his endeavor to run a coaching facility in my father’s village in India. His vision is to coach and prepare qualified students in the village for competitive entrance exams for institutions of higher education across India.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would ask the faculty to come up with practical business ideas for their research. These ideas would then be made available to students to implement during their MBA program with the help the respective faculty member.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal?  I want to establish a chain of schools in rural India which will provide quality education to underprivileged students. I have already started a $1,000 scholarship in my father’s village which takes care of the education of ten students who have demonstrated leadership in the community. I plan to grow this effort into a well-established education system.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My family. My parents moved to Canada from India for the betterment of their children. My dad was an Army Officer and mother was a teacher. They sacrificed their established careers and started afresh in Canada so that I and my siblings could get a great education. Their sacrifice gives me the motivation to keep going every day. I would also mention my wife here. My daughter was born after I started my MBA in 2015. If it was not for my wife’s commitment to my success, I am not sure how I would have managed to be where I am today.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Someone who stood for what is right and never gave up.

Favorite book: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Favorite movie or television show: Dosti, a 1964 Hindi film focusing on friendship

Favorite musical performer: A.R. Rahma 

Favorite vacation spot: Mauritius 

Hobbies? Sports and Reading

What made Vedant such an invaluable member of the Class of 2017?

“Vedant Tomer has been invaluable as a member of this class through his commitment to ensuring others have the best and most developmental experience possible. He has eagerly taken on formal roles within the student government and given freely of his time to enhance the academic experience of other students through his roles, including being curriculum representative for his class and the academic chair for the student government. Through these academically focused roles, Vedant has helped us reflect on the curriculum and positioning of our offerings. As a complement to these roles I have also seen the commitment and appreciation Vedant has for earning an MBA.

Vedant embraced the opportunity to study here from the beginning, but early in his time at Fuqua, he faced a difficult decision. His parents, brother, and wife had remained in Canada when he moved to Durham. Through a series of events, around the first month that Vedant was at Duke, the family faced a number of temporary challenges. Understanding the situation, and at great personal cost, Vedant selflessly put his family first and chose to take a leave of absence to support them while they worked through things. At the time he took the leave, Vedant gave me a big smile and confidently promised me he would be back the following year and would be even more engaged with the school on his return.  With Vedant’s support, his family thrived and he held true to his promises.

He has consistently remained positive and optimistic, and celebrated the opportunity to get his MBA at Fuqua. Through that, he has been a role model and a reminder to me (and to the class) to cherish every day and appreciate each other and the community we collectively constitute. While he certainly deserved to focus on himself when he returned, he directed his time at Fuqua to help others, which in part is captured by a comment from a classmate:

As my career buddy, Vedant has taken time out of his busy schedule to coach me and others in accounting. He just didn’t stop after one session – he did several tutoring sessions and he always followed up after every quiz to know how well I and the other people did. He seems truly invested in the success of other students and looks out for them.”

Russ Morgan

Senior Associate Dean, Full-Time Programs