2017 MBAs To Watch: Ajaay Ravi. Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Ajaay Ravi

Georgia Tech, Scheller College of Business

“An avid traveler, car aficionado and technology enthusiast who’s comfortable with ambiguity and relishes challenges.”

Age: 31

Hometown: Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India (San Jose, CA since 2010)

Fun fact about yourself: Change has been the only constant in my life this far. I’ve visited 12 countries, lived in 9 different cities across 3 countries, studied in 9 different schools and I’ve never lived in any city for more than 4 years.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  1. B.Tech (Electronics & Telecommunication Engineering) – SRM University, Chennai, India
  2. M.S. (Computer Engineering) – University of Cincinnati, OH

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Senior R&D Engineer / Team Lead at Broadcom Technologies Ltd. in San Jose, CA.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? Sr. Product Manager at Amazon, Inc. in their Kindle division at Seattle, WA.

Where will you be working after graduation? Amazon, Inc. – Senior Product Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • I’m the VP of Finance for the Graduate Business Council (GBC). I’m responsible for overseeing and approving the annual budgets for all the committees – Alumni, Athletic, International, Peer Leadership, Philanthropy, Social and Strategic Partnerships. We launched the Peer Leadership committee this year, in which we partner a 2nd year MBA student with two or three 1st year MBA students to mentor them as their Peer Coach. I had the opportunity to be the voice for this new student–led initiative this year, pitched for and successfully received extra funding from Dean Maryam Alavi.
  • As a Peer Coach, I mentor two 1st year MBA students. In addition to this, I also took the initiative to work with the 1st year MBA students who were interested in pursuing a career in product management to help them write and tweak their resumes and conducted mock interviews to help them with their actual interviews.
  • I worked with the MBA career center to conduct informal information sessions for international students to share advice about how to search for internships.
  • I was instrumental in forming study groups during my first semester to collaborate with other students and facilitate collectively learning from each other.
  • I consulted for Zoo Atlanta for my Service Operations class, conducting a walk–through audit during which I evaluated their service offerings to the visitors and suggested improvements.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my participation in the TI:GER (Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results) program and the achievements of our TI:GER team. TI:GER is a very unique and one–of–its–kind program at the Scheller College of Business in which a team of five interdisciplinary students (two MBA students, two Emory law students and one PhD student from Georgia Tech College of Engineering) work on commercializing the PhD student’s research and try to potentially start a company. The Scheller College of Business sits right at the intersection of technology and business and is located within arm’s reach of many Angel investors and venture capitalists.

Our team, BanyanTech, is working on commercializing a polymer-based thermal interface material invention targeted at cooling electronic devices and improving battery life. I’m involved in developing the business model, conducting customer research and overseeing product market analysis. We competed in the 2016 VentureLab Startup Competition organized by Georgia Tech VentureLab and we placed 1st. We also competed against many top teams from the Southeast in the 2016 TYE University Business Plan Competition organized by TiE Atlanta and placed 1st. We used the money raised through our winnings to hire undergrads to work on ramping up our Research & Development and manufacturing prototypes. I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with eminent coaches who are successful entrepreneurs. I have learned quite a lot through my involvement with the TI:GER program and truly cherish the friendships with my teammates and everyone associated with this program as.

As part of the TI:GER curriculum, I was also selected to represent the Scheller College of Business in order to work with an international team comprising of students from Scheller, Emory Law and the Flanders School of Business (Belgium) on a project for JBC (a clothing retailer in the Belgium–Netherlands–Luxembourg region). I’m thrilled to have had an opportunity to collaborate and work with the best minds from around the world to solve a real problem for an international client with businesses in Europe. This project is a year-long engagement during which we are involved with trying to find innovative ways of utilizing existing technology in order to acquire new customers and increase customer engagement in the retail sector.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The day I started my professional career at Broadcom Technologies Ltd., our CEO spoke to all the new hires during orientation. During Q&A, I asked our CEO how he planned his career in order to become a CEO. He told me that he was fascinated with the business and worked in every single business unit to learn everything he could. He had 28 different business cards before becoming CEO and they were all from within the same company. He told me that it was very important to stay hungry, be curious, and invest in people if I ever wanted to make it to the top. I walked out with a new found sense of determination. The very next day, I had the opportunity to meet the VP of my business unit. He told me that it takes at least two years before new recruits start contributing directly to the company profits and, until fully trained and ramped up on live projects, he only considers us expenses. I did not want this to be true in my case and I took it up as a challenge to change this trend. My manager supported me when I told him this and he assigned me to a critical high value project straight away. He said there is no better training than actually fighting fire live while on a project. I enjoyed my first eight months and learnt a great deal during that time. The high responsibility and stress of the job brought out the best in me.

I wanted to push myself further by working on high visibility projects and started talking to other managers within the company. When my second year started, I was already simultaneously working on three critical projects under different managers. In my performance review meeting, my director told me that the work I was doing had already started contributing directly to our top line and was very pleased with my growth. I was promoted two levels up to senior engineer within 27 months and that’s an achievement of which I’m most proud. This experience taught me the importance of staying focused on my goals and at the same time also being wary of burning out quickly.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Professor Peter Thompson. He teaches Behavioral Economics and is also the Senior Associate Dean of Faculty and Research. Not every day does a student get to meet a professor who tells him or her – “Even if you disagree with me and your answers in exams are totally different from mine, I will still give you the full points if I see strong logic behind your reasoning and am able to follow your train of thought.”

Peter Thompson is not only an excellent professor, he is also a fantastic individual. Professor Thompson made us relate the concepts covered in class with our own lives and the real world examples made me appreciate what I learnt even further and understand its importance. He has a great sense of humor and makes learning fun. He is also very receptive to feedback and carefully listens to what his students have to share. There were many instances when he also took the time to talk with me outside of class. I’ve had frequent meetings with him during which we spoke about his interest in motorcycles and the fascinating places he has visited in the US driving his bike.

When I got my internship offer with Amazon at Seattle, I had decided to drive cross country from Atlanta to Seattle and back. I sat down with Professor Thompson to get his input and we mapped out the routes I would be driving and all the places to visit en route. Thanks to his suggestions, it turned out to be best road trip I’ve ever experienced. The Scheller College of Business undoubtedly has some of the best professors in the world. Being a smaller sized program, we have access to the eminent faculty and through the course of our two years we get to form 1-on-1 relationships with our professors as well. They serve as mentors whom you can reach out to whenever needed. I really respect Professor Thompson, value his opinions and look up to him as one of my mentors. I had trouble making some tough decisions and he was of valuable help when I reached out to him for assistance.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? Behavioral Economics has been my favorite MBA course. It is an elective class and when I signed up for the class I had no idea about what I was getting into. I read Professor Thompson’s syllabus and instantly liked it. I’m very passionate about human psychology and when I found out that this class combines psychology with economics I decided to enroll in it.

Having an amazing professor teach the class just made everything so much better. Be it his teaching style, exam questions (and yes, he does have three written exams), or the final project, I enjoyed everything about this class. Maybe having absolutely no expectations about the class made things even better. The final project was the best part and my team enjoyed working on trying to determine if males or females were more generous when it came to tipping at restaurants. It was an amazing experience working on this project and I don’t think I’ve been more involved and had more fun on any other academic project as this one. The biggest insight I gained from this class for business is that even though we like to think we are rational, we are all irrational and fall prey to certain biases. As decision makers and business leaders, we should be aware of this and identify and correct the common errors we make. Also, we should be able to identify the biases in our consumers and use that information wisely to generate value for our business.

Why did you choose this business school? There are 3 primary reasons why I chose to attend the Scheller College of Business:

  1. The TI:GER (Technological Innovation: Generating Economic Results) program. This is a unique program that is not offered in any of the other top MBA Programs in the country. Incoming students can apply for the program and a select few are hand-picked by the program director. The selected students work in cross-functional teams consisting of two MBA students, 2 Emory law students and one PhD student from Georgia Tech College of Engineering. The program prepares students for the challenges of commercializing new technologies invented by the PhDs and delivering innovative products to the marketplace. To me, this was a dream program that was an amalgamation of my passion for entrepreneurship and technology. As I noted previously, the Scheller College of Business sits right at the intersection of business and technology and the TI:GER program is proof of that. I have plans of starting my own business in the future and this program gave me the chance to try it out within a protected school environment without the fear of failure. And there is no better way to put the theoretical concepts that we learn in classes to practice than trying to start a company and commercializing a product.
  2. The close knit community. The Scheller College of Business is a smaller sized program and everyone from staff to faculty to the students are all like family. I got a taste of that the day I had my admission interview at Scheller. As I was nervously waiting to be called in for an interview, a second year student came up to me to wish me luck with my interview and also chatted a bit about my background to ease my nerves. I had interviewed at a couple of other schools prior to that as well and this kind of a warm and welcoming culture was something that I observed only at the Scheller College of Business. Today, as I get ready to graduate with my MBA, one of things that I am really proud of is the camaraderie and the relationships that I have formed with people all over the program.
  3. Finally, being a top ranked program, the tuition for an MBA from the Scheller College of Business is affordable. Adding to that, I was also given a scholarship to pursue my MBA which has helped me stay debt free the whole time as an out of state student. Nothing can beat the feeling of graduating with a top class MBA with zero loan.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I don’t think I would be doing justice if I picked just one particular aspect and said that was what I enjoyed most about business school in general. I have thoroughly enjoyed the complete journey. An MBA is not just about academics or the opportunities. It is about the holistic experience and being engaged: The amazing friends I made here at Scheller; all the classes I enrolled in; the competitions I attended; the TI:GER program; being a peer coach; serving as the VP of Finance on the GBC; mentoring first years, all the intramurals sports that I participated in; and the amazing socials such as Painted Pin and Top Golf. I have enjoyed every bit of all of them. I know for certain that I am not the same person today that enrolled in the program two years ago. My time here at Scheller has been phenomenal, transformative and something that I will cherish fondly for years to come.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? The most surprising and thrilling thing about business school for me has been the myriad of opportunities available. During my admissions interview, I remember Paula Wilson, the director of admissions, telling me that I would have the opportunity to shape my MBA experience the way I want. Frankly, I did not understand truly what that statement even meant. I remember thinking to myself: ‘Other than choosing a few elective classes, what else can be there that helps me make my MBA experience here unique?’ From the first day of orientation, I have just been amazed at the many different opportunities that are available. I’m in my last semester now and I still feel like an excited nine year-old in Disneyland.

One particular aspect that I found most surprising was the number of opportunities available at Scheller to work with an actual company on solving a real world problem. There is only so much theory that one can learn. Practical applications and experience help one truly understand all that he or she learns. For my core Strategy class, I worked on a capstone project for the software company Autodesk (located in San Francisco, CA) on strategies to effectively transition from perpetual license sales through resellers to cloud based subscription sales for software. For my international practicum class, I worked with an online advertising startup company in Israel, TextLab, which had only four employees. Being a team of five, we had more members than the total number of employees in the company. We worked on their North American market entry strategy to establish a business presence in the US. For my Service Operations class, I did a walk through audit of Zoo Atlanta to evaluate their service offerings. For my sustainable business consulting class, I worked for Points of Light, a non-profit organization, on making their member organizations more aware of product and service offerings. As a part of the TI:GER program, I am on an international team, working for JBC (the GAP equivalent in the BENELUX region of Europe) on improving customer engagement and satisfaction through the use of technology. The work experience that I have gained through working on such exceptional projects for these top-notch companies while at Scheller and the relationships I have made with people have all been absolutely amazing.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The best piece of advice I would give an applicant hoping to get into the MBA program at the Scheller College of Business is to be genuine, be willing to support and learn from peers around you, get involved, and most of all be passionate about trying new things. The MBA experience is a life-changing one for everyone in the program and it just opens up a whole new bunch of doors when one is more willing to experiment and adapt. I truly believe that curiosity is what leads people to their passions and there is no better opportunity to be curious than in Scheller’s MBA program. Students have the opportunity to shape their MBA experience the way they want it and the more engaged they are with the program, the more they learn and develop both as individuals and leaders. As new students in the MBA program at Scheller, we had a team building event at a ropes course during our orientation. One of my classmates had a fear of heights and we were tasked with getting through a free fall rope swing exercise. Another classmate of mine did a great job of calming his nerves and all of us supported him, both physically and emotionally, to help him get through the obstacle. We never gave up and were successful together as a team. At Scheller, we are like family and we take pride in being a close-knit community.

What is the biggest myth about your school? MBA applicants in general tend to get carried away with the rankings of schools. I truly believe that the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech may very well rival Chicago Booth, UCLA Anderson, MIT Sloan and Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business with respect to its focus on the application of technology to global business problems. Technology has seeped into every industry today and it is hard to come across a business that doesn’t employ the use of technology in some form. Situated right in the heart of Technology Square in Midtown Atlanta, the Scheller College of Business offers students numerous networking and innovation resources within the city’s high-tech business community, including Venture Lab, the Advanced Technology Development Center business incubator, and the Atlanta Technology Angels group.

During my internship at Amazon, Inc. last summer, I had the opportunity to work with some of the best minds from the top-ranked MBA programs in the country. Interacting with them, I found that I was well equipped for the challenging role in a fast-paced company and Scheller put me on par with every single one of the interns across the company.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret in business school has been not having the time to do everything that I wanted to like case competitions. Balancing competing interests, I was forced to prioritize. In between five or six classes every semester, the various case study preps, assignments, projects, the TI:GER program, the GBC, mentoring first years, my Graduate Research Assistant assignment with the Scheller marketing department and intramural sports, case competitions was one thing I decided not to pursue. This is probably my only regret in business school. In hindsight, it probably wouldn’t be a learning experience if everything in life happened perfectly without room for any regrets.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? One person in my class that I most admire is Kevin Boldt. That man is omnipresent and is so full of energy. Be it in socials, classes, intramurals or group work, he is one person that I see every single day on campus. There have been times I’ve wondered if he even sleeps given the amount of activities in which he is involved. At the same time, he is also a very friendly person who is easy to get along with. This past winter break, he decided to travel around India and since my brother and I were in India too at the same time, he traveled to Chennai from Delhi to visit us. He spoke to all other classmates, found out who had families in the cities he was visiting and actually went around meeting them. I was amazed when he started conversing with my dad on the state of local politics. He had hardly been in Chennai for 24 hours and he had the time to read three different newspapers, surf a whole bunch online and also buy himself a book on the history of the region. I’m just amazed at Kevin’s intellectual curiosity and the thirst for information. Kevin, as far as I’m concerned, is Superman and I do hope that someday he would go on to become the Defense Secretary of this country. I can then proudly tell people that the SecDef is a family friend and has also had lunch at my place.

 I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I saw the passion with which my Dad started his own IT company and the business challenges he faced growing the ERP business. I was drawn to it and I wanted to continue what he started and diversify it further. My dad got his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad, the best b-school in India. I consider my dad my hero and role model in life. I try to emulate him in whatever I do and getting an MBA was no exception.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…holed up in a corner office in a t–shirt and shorts, buried in between three monitors being an individual contributor designing complex computer chips, dreaming about the day when I got to join my Dad in his business, prove to him that I have all the skills required to lead his company and was staking a claim based purely on merit.

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? Georgia Tech has some of the best and brightest students in the country and the Scheller College of Business is no exception. It would be amazing to have a platform to bring together people from different disciplines with similar interests pursuing a common goal. Some of the students from other schools within Georgia Tech have wonderful ideas and not all of them are interested in pursuing an MBA. Additionally, we have MBA students in Scheller who are passionate about entrepreneurship and are on the lookout for avenues to engage and work with those looking to launch a startup. If I were the dean for the day, I would create an open platform for all Georgia Tech students with great ideas to connect with the students with the skills to commercialize their ideas. It would provide students with the opportunity to collaborate, share ideas and jointly pursue their passions. We have some of the best faculty in the Scheller College of Business; they are exemplary in their fields. This platform would give interested faculty members an opportunity to mentor students as they pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. The startups that gain momentum can then join ATDC, the technology incubator at Georgia Tech, which helps startups to learn further, launch and also scale. This could potentially foster a startup ecosystem in itself.

 What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate long term professional goal is to take over my dad’s company, diversify it, and also take it public. Once I accomplish that, my dream is to start my own school in India catering to the underprivileged children. Access to affordable and quality education I believe is the birthright of every child. That is something that is close to my heart and I would like to do my bit in giving back to the society someday.

Growing up, my mother made me and my brother celebrate our birthdays with orphan kids in a local orphanage. This made us appreciate what we had in life even more. I have been a tutor for underprivileged children during my high school and college days. I also volunteered with United Way Silicon Valley as a tutor/mentor for underprivileged kids when I was working in San Jose, CA. Something my Mother taught me that I try my best to never forget – “If we care for those below us, we will be cared for by the one above us.”

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My mother is one person I dedicate all my successes to and thank her for them as well. She has always been my true friend, philosopher, and guide all my life. She was my first teacher and my first coach. Whenever I had to make a decision or I needed someone to talk to or I was in dire need of encouragement, she has always been there for me. She taught me the value of success and at the same time the value of humility as well. She taught me to respect people and whatever I am today is because of her. She is the source of my strength and her decision to sacrifice her career and work tirelessly to support me, my dad and my brother in pursuit of our goals helped us be successful in life.

Talking about the MBA program in particular, I am greatly indebted to my younger brother Akshay who is also in the same cohort as me. Attending the Scheller MBA program with someone who truly knows me for who I am and understands my weaknesses as well as my strengths has helped me put myself out there without any inhibitions. Knowing that he is around to watch my back has helped me express myself more confidently and take on more risks. Both of us understand each other very well and complement our weaknesses as well which has made our partnership very successful. We are both on the same team in the TI:GER program and we interned at Amazon together. We feed off each other’s energies and communicate very well with each other. It has been great to have someone at home with whom I could discuss cases, assignments, prepare for exams and also learn from. During our internship, when I was stuck with something not knowing how to proceed, I discussed it with him and he taught me a few concepts from a class that he had taken in the previous semester which gave me some new ideas and a direction to proceed. Our journey together these two years was way more entertaining and gratifying thanks to my amazing co-pilot. I thank him for keeping me sane, being there when it mattered most and supporting me through all my endeavors.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A dynamic, calm, composed, mature and democratic leader who always had a smile and a solution no matter what the problem.

Favorite book: Fiction – The Godfather (by Mario Puzo), Non-Fiction – The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (by Robin Sharma)

Favorite movie or television show: 12 Angry Men, City of God

Favorite musical performer: A. R. Rahman

Favorite vacation spot: New Zealand (South Island)

Hobbies? Kart racing, Tennis, Cricket, Gardening, Board Games, Writing short stories and poems.

What made Ajaay such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“As Ajaay’s career advisor for the past 2 years, I’ve had the chance to work closely with him throughout his job search.  I remember talking with Ajaay for the first time the summer before he started the MBA Program. I noticed that his resume mentioned youth mentoring.  Ajaay said that his interest in youth mentoring was instilled at a young age by his parents. He proceeded to tell me the story of how his parents took both he and his brother (who is also an MBA here at Scheller) to an orphanage for their birthdays each year to instill gratitude and appreciation for all that they had and an awareness that there were children in need in their community. This sense of gratitude and self-awareness has clearly become intrinsic to who is Ajaay is.  Upon first meeting Ajaay, I was immediately struck by his energy and smile; he seemed to be a gregarious individual with a desire to get involved and give back to the community he’s part of it.  That initial impression has certainly held true as he’s become a very engaged member the Georgia Tech Scheller community.

Ajaay’s contributions to Scheller are numerous. Over the past year, Ajaay has served as the VP of Finance for the MBA Graduate Business Council, a role that he was elected to by his peers. In this role, he is one of 4 council members who oversee all student government activities and initiatives for a one-year term. He has also volunteered his time over the past 2 semesters by becoming an active member of the new Peer Mentoring program; in this role, he has been a peer coach to 2 1st year students and has helped them with the stressful transition to Business School. Ajaay is also part of the prestigious technology commercialization TI:GER Fellowship Program, where he has been working with a team of MBA, PhD and JD students over the past 2 years to commercialize a new technology. His team recently won the TiE Atlanta Business plan competition while competing again top entrepreneurial teams from throughout the southeast. Additionally Ajaay took the initiative to create study groups during his first year in the program to bring the class together so that they could learn collaboratively.

Ajaay worked diligently to pursue a product management internship with Amazon last year, which resulted in an offer to work in their Kindle division in Seattle this past summer. Ajaay kept in touch with me over the summer enthusiastically sharing his Amazon experience. I remember the Friday that he messaged to say he’d received a full-time offer, and I could feel his palpable excitement. Ajaay is one of those unique students who radiates energy and joy in all he does; he is also incredibly smart and driven.  He’s been a tremendous asset to the MBA Class of 2017, and I can’t wait to see all that he accomplishes at Amazon and beyond.  It is my honor to nominate him for this award.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I can provide any additional information.”

Ann Blasick
Corporate Relations Manager, Jones MBA Career Center
Scheller College of Business, Georgia Tech

 

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