2018 MBAs To Watch: Vivek Kukkapalli, U.C.-Irvine (Merage)

Vivek Kukkapalli         

University of California-Irvine, Merage School of Business

“I am a highly motivated individual with a passion to find innovative solutions to challenges.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Hyderabad, India

Fun fact about yourself: I am an outdoor adventurer and love to hike. I have completed the 14 hours grueling hike through the rainforest in Agumbe Ghats, India. This forest trail pushed me to my physical limits and tested my mental stamina to persevere through exhaustion.

Undergraduate School and Degree: SASTRA University, Bachelor of Technology – Computer Science Engineering

Where did you work before enrolling in business school?

Microsoft – Dynamics CRM Support Engineer, India Escalation Team

I worked with multi-cultural teams across the world to provide consulting and technical solutions in a highly political scenario to large-scale premium enterprises using Dynamics CRM.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017?

Amazon – Senior Product Manager Technical Products Intern

Identified and evaluated new data sources to quickly discover new products in the retail world. This has improved the product discovery by 30%.

Where will you be working after graduation?

Amazon – Senior Product Manager Technical Products

I will work on scaling the new generation of product discovery tools to improve the speed of discovering new products in the retail world.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: During my 2 years in MBA, I have served on boards of the Marketing and Technology clubs, where I was instrumental in improving the digital presence of the clubs and improve the attendance by 15%. I am especially proud to serve as Executive Vice President Business Technology Association, wherein I had the opportunity to lead Product Management Case interview prep session instrumental for interview readiness of first-year MBAs.

During my MBA I was awarded faculty fellowship for my academic excellence and commitment to improving the overall class experience.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am extremely proud of the Product Management Case Interview prep session that was targeted towards first-year MBA students. This acted as the gateway for most of them to learn about the case interviews.

We were able to help first-year MBAs discover their unique style of answering case questions by mentoring them on strategies to obtain relevant information during the interview, make valid assumptions and take charge of the overall interview. As a result, many students were successful in converting interview invitation to internship offers.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of my work as a Microsoft Engineer with a government organization in India wherein I persevered through extreme political pressure to avert an international security incident. This technical issue, if not solved quickly, would lead to a complete halt of immigration from some international embassies and thus would be an embarrassment to the government.

I was able to solve this problem quickly by bringing the 10 vendor teams together and discover the root cause of the problem. As all teams worked together, we were able to complement each other’s work and fix the problem before it escalated.

This experience helped me realize the importance of a leader in a crisis. I am very proud of my work in bringing the teams together and pushing on even in the face of extreme political pressure.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Professor David Gamboa. He was instrumental in teaching us the fundamentals of entrepreneurship. His teaching style of complementing textbook material with his real-life entrepreneurial experiences helped the class internalize the startup thought process.

His class provided us opportunities to explore innovative business ideas and then pitch them to potential investors. This by far is the best in class experience I had during my MBA at The Paul Merage School of Business, UCI.

What was your favorite MBA Course? My favorite MBA course is the Consulting Projects, where my team and I got the opportunity to consult on developing the future strategy for the connected car for Kia America.

Through this course, I understood how to evaluate a new business opportunity by piecing together discrete information from multiple sources. I believe this skill is extremely important for a business leader, who needs to find relevant data to make the right decisions.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose the Paul Merage School of Business for my MBA as this program embodied my passion for solving challenges by leveraging technology.

I had the opportunity to talk with multiple students and every one of them showcased the passion to solve problems and create a positive impact on the world. The program course structure is flexible enough for me to explore new areas of interest and obtain practical knowledge in those fields. To top it all, the school believes strongly in digital transformation and is committed to empowering its student to lead the digital change in organizations.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The Paul Merage School of Business looks for technical leadership in all its candidates. An ideal candidate would be one who has taken steps to push one’s organization forward digitally.

If you are applying to an MBA at UCI, please showcase your efforts to take your organization or team ahead to a digitally transformed future.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth I had about the b-school was that most of the learning happens inside the classroom. However, after working on multiple projects at school, I have realized that classroom learning is a gateways to knowledge but the true learning occurs in team meetings and competitions.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret in the business school is not participating in enough new venture competitions and not pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I believe that these competitions are great forums for the students to test their entrepreneurial ideas. Every new venture competition is different and the opportunity to pitch in front of a varied audience pushes the students to examine an idea from multiple points of views. This in-depth analysis helps streamline the entrepreneurial thought process.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Arturo San Vicente, my classmate and a good friend. He is gusty and an extremely driven individual who is a two-time entrepreneur. He has an uncanny ability to look through the noise and identify the right data points to locate the root cause of any business problem.

Every time, I interact with him, I learn something new and he inspires me to be a better leader and problem solver.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My parents have inspired me to pursue a business education. As they did not have financial flexibility to pursue their passions, they made sure I had every opportunity to explore my interests and pursue my passions. As time progressed, my interests aligned with entrepreneurship, but they did not have experience in this area thus encouraged me to look for new avenues to gain the skills to excel in entrepreneurship. That search led me to the business school.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…hiking in Himalayan mountain ranges.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would make sure there is free coffee throughout the day.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? The top two items are:

  1. Skydiving over Dubai
  2. Scuba diving in The Great Barrier Reef.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a passionate, fun and trustworthy person who will always be ready to help them.

What is your favorite movie about business? I love The Pursuit of Happyness. The biggest lesson for me is this: however bad the current situation is, there is always a way to persevere and come back to the top.

What would your theme song be? “Highway to the Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins

Favorite vacation spot: Munich, Germany

Hobbies? Hiking, Surfing & Reading

What made Vivek Kukkapalli such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“I am an adjunct lecturer of Entrepreneurship at the University of California, Irvine Paul Merage School of Business. I came to know Vivek when I was his Instructor for MBA 214: Entrepreneurship for Management. The course required students to formulate a new business concept, organize into student teams, develop a formal business plan, and present the final plan in a “Shark Tank” type format. Vivek distinguished himself by submitting an exceptionally well researched and interesting Virtual-Reality Travel platform.

Overall, Vivek is highly intelligent and has good analytical skills. His project on VR Travel demonstrated his ability to research new and exciting opportunities in an innovative market. He gave a particularly interesting discussion of the challenges of cloud computing and how it relates to VR travel video content services. His overall intelligence is also reflected in his grades for the course, which were at the top of the class.

On a personal level, Vivek is a disciplined, industrious student with a pleasant and respectful personality. He went well beyond the course requirements in the quantity and quality of his project. Not only was he interested in and motivated to learn the material, but he also put great work into assimilating it to his own experience and into developing his own ideas about starting a new company.

Vivek He has proven himself to have the perseverance, initiative, and intellectual creativity necessary to be included in this elite group of students.”

David J. Gamboa

Lecturer, Entrepreneur

University of California, Irvine

Paul Merage School of Business





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