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Overcoming The Male Indian Engineer Hurdle

Hormazd Patel is an assistant manager at Bajaj, the world’s sixth-largest manufacturer of motorcycles and the second-largest in India. Courtesy photo

A NEW WORK ASSIGNMENT PROBABLY HELPED HIS CANDIDACY

Patel didn’t buckle down and refocus his energies on getting into B-school. He refocused on his work. And for good reason. With not much more than two years behind him as a trainee engineer and then a senior engineer, he knew that he didn’t have the optimal amount of post-undergraduate work experience. But he also suddenly had a great opportunity at work: Bajaj was about to unveil a new line of motorcycles, and Patel was tapped be a key member of the team working on it.

The bottom line for Patel was this: He started enjoying his work a lot more, so B-school went on the back burner. But not forever. “I was getting more challenging assignments,” he says, “and I was getting to do some really cool things which I had wanted to do for a long time in the company. So at that point I decided to focus a lot more on my work — and I am glad I did that, because the six months from June of 2015 to January of 2016 were my most fruitful six months at Bajaj.

“I was on the project management team looking after the motorcycle products, the two-wheelers, and 2016 was the year when we actually came out with a new segment in motorcycles, led by the new Bajaj V, which we successfully launched in February 2016. India is a massive market for motorcycles, most of any country in the world, and the timeline for this project was pretty stringent — normally it would be 18 months from conceptualization to production, but this was six months, a third of the time and double the work. The fact that I had not even worked in the firm for two full years and my boss allowed me to take on a lot of responsibility gave me a real confidence boost … And I worked pretty passionately on that project.”

Two months after the product’s launch, in April of 2016, after a year and nine months as a senior engineer, Patel won his second promotion to assistant manager in project management. “But in the back of my mind at the same time, the GMAT performance was also there. I never stopped thinking about it.”

‘A GUT THING TO DO’

Hormazd Patel. Courtesy photo

Immediately after the Bajaj V was launched, Patel “realized that time was right” to start prepping for the GMAT again. He was energized and his determination to tackle the test was renewed. And this time his preparation would have more structure: more mock tests, more research, a smarter approach. He knew, he says, what he’d done wrong the first time around.

“In India we engineers have this thing where we try to tackle the most complex things and then we miss out on the basics,” Patel says. “I feel I made a lot of silly mistakes the first time, and I was preparing for a lot of difficult questions which I probably wouldn’t see that many of on the GMAT. So that was a mistake. This time I took it step by step, I practiced a lot more, and finally in July I took it again.”

He saw big-time improvement, scoring a 740. It was enough, he told himself, to get into a top program. It was enough, others agreed. But something rankled. So 15 days later, in secret — without telling his parents or his partner or anyone — Patel took the GMAT again.

And scored a 770–in the 99th percentile of all test takers worldwide. Of the nearly 262,000 GMAT tests taken in 2016, Patel was one of only some 2,600 people in the world to score that high. In fact, his score was almost 200 points above the average test taker in India where the mean score was 577 last year.

“It was a gut thing to do, and I did it,” he says.

HIS BIGGEST RISK OF ALL? NO HELP FROM THE PROS

Patel had his great GMAT score. But the application process was ahead. And it was already August, and round-one deadlines were approaching in September. And here’s where Patel followed his gut again, in a big way: He decided to do all his applications without the help of a professional admissions consultant.

Why? Purely from a determination to tell his own story.

“I’m not against consultants, per se,” Patel says. “Personally I felt I could do it without the consultant, and that this is my journey to go on. I have spoken with classmates who have hired consultants and they do a great job, there’s no denying it … I felt a consultant would help me craft my story, but in my case I was working on that story for two, two and a half years, and I felt like I pretty much had to tell it by myself. I didn’t feel the need to seek external advice from a consultant.

“The second thing was a little bit of stubbornness from my side. I felt like if I did hire a consultant and they gave me feedback or in some way help my candidacy, that would in some way take away the authenticity of my voice. That was something which was not acceptable to me. I wanted it to be my story put down on paper. It’s not that I was super confident or arrogant about it — not at all. I did seek counsel from some of my closest friends and advice from current students of the schools, and I did allow them to review my essays as well, so I did get help, but it was non-professional help.”

KELLOGG: ‘THE SPARK THAT IGNITED THIS FIRE’

Patel was right — he didn’t need a consultant’s help. He applied to four schools and was accepted at all four. Of his choices, he found Yale SOM and Kellogg the most appealing, even though Michigan Ross offered him a $40,000 scholarship. And in the end, making yet another gut call, Patel chose the school that first piqued his interest in getting an MBA: Kellogg in Evanston, Ill.

Kellogg was “the spark that ignited this fire,” Patel says. “It was my absolute dream to make it here from the start, and I am beyond excited to live the dream starting this fall. The $40,000 on the table did make the equation a bit more complicated, but I went with my heart at the end of the day.

“At the end of the day, it was Kellogg’s community and the fact that ‘collaboration’ is woven into every strand of the Kellogg DNA that really won me over. More so than the academics, career prospects, etc. — it was definitely the fact that Kellogg would, in my opinion, allow me to grow the most as an individual.”

MESSAGE: THE PROCESS CAN BE CONQUERED

If Patel has advice for would-be B-school applicants — especially those facing disadvantages at the offset like being part of a huge, over-represented group — it’s this: Stand tall, and trust your own judgment.

“In hindsight, I’d say that not hiring an admissions consultant was one of the wisest decisions I made,” Patel believes. “Not only does it make the success that much sweeter — and greatly boost my morale heading into B-school — it also gives me hope for the hundreds of other dreamers such as myself. To all those looking to make it big, I’d say: It’s not going to be easy. But if you’re willing to invest the time, money, and basically your all into getting to understand the MBA world better, I assure you, you can make it, too. And that feeling when you do is one of the best things you’ll ever experience.

“The entire process has been one of self-belief. It started off with doubt, and the doubt became more prominent when I didn’t do too well on the GMAT. Things picked up professionally, which automatically led to me being happier and giving the GMAT another shot. And after the second GMAT I might as well have stopped — nobody would have questioned that decision if I had decided to stick with the 740. But it was that tiny voice in my head which said, ‘You have to do it.’ So I did it a third time. And everything with the whole application process and the essays — all of it, there is a huge amount of grit involved in it. And I feel like I’m really proud of it even more today because of that.

“I truly was my own support system throughout this grueling period,” Patel continues. “And today, I want to let others know that no matter how impossible the entire process may seem — it can be conquered.”

DON’T MISS HOW AN INDIAN ENGINEER BEAT THE ODDS TO GET INTO HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL and DINGED BY HBS, STANFORD & WHARTON. A YEAR LATER, ADMITTED TO ALL THREE