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Meet Vanderbilt Owen’s MBA Class Of 2020

Ishan Saran

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

“A fun-loving guy, an amateur professional chef, a soccer devotee, and a nocturnal gamer.”

Hometown:Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India

Fun Fact About Yourself: I am a proud winner of the ‘Eating Champion’ contest at “Chacha Paranthe,” an Indian cuisine establishment – gorging on 3.3 pounds of stuffed flatbread in 30 minutes. The prize – free food for life!

Undergraduate School and Major: Thapar University, majoring in Mechanical Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Lending Hands Foundation, Head of Strategy – Those In Need

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: The social sector in India is unstructured. Most non-profits have inadequate funds to raise awareness about their work or attract skilled volunteers. Companies are struggling to meaningfully utilize their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds. At the same time, people find good volunteering opportunities hard to come by. Each group – the non-profits, the companies and the volunteers – is struggling to establish synergies with the other. I am proud to have created a unique platform (Those In Need), which brings together these three groups so they can interact seamlessly with one another. Since 2015, we have been able to provide financial and operational support to more than 200 non-profits, channel corporate social funds more innovatively, and efficiently, and help 6,500+ people to find skill-based volunteering opportunities.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? One quality in my classmates that stands out is the willingness to share and grow. Before coming to Owen, I had this notion that there would be an intense, cutthroat environment. I couldn’t be more wrong. In less than a month, I have seen that learning and collaboration takes precedence over everything else. My peers are willing to learn from my experiences and embrace my ideas while sharing their own. My class is very forthcoming and welcoming.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? Given my work in the social sector, and my inclination to continue my career in the same field, I was drawn towards the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures. The idea that social wellness and profits can go hand-in-hand has always excited me. Being the only such student-run organization in the US gives you a lot of exposure and ownership. The idea to solve unique problems in the social sector and to be a part of real innovation is what drove me to apply to Owen’s MBA program.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I’ve always been a part of a technology-based start-ups and have thus developed an entrepreneurial mindset. I am really looking forward to the Vanderbilt Entrepreneurship Association and Owen Technology Club. I am especially eager to participate in Owen Venture Challenge and have started working on my venture idea!

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Through my experiences at Mogae Media and Lending Hands Foundation, I have learned how to turn ideas into products, anticipate the market’s requirements and build a business blueprint around products. However, I felt a need to renew my approach to business, cultivate a global outlook, and learn to plan more strategically, to realize my full potential. Before taking on bigger responsibilities and leading larger teams, I realized that it would be a good idea to prepare myself for it.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? I believe that an MBA degree is a long-term investment. Most of us have about three decades of professional life in front of us, and an MBA education equips us with tools that are necessary to navigate professional life and rise to the very top in our careers. Two years spent among world-renowned professors and excellent peers who are future leaders will allow us to undergo a significant personal and professional transformation that will pay off on many levels.

What other MBA programs did you apply to?

UT Austin – McCombs School of Business

University of Washington-Michael G. Foster School of Business

USC-Marshall School of Business

How did you determine your fit at various schools? While researching schools, there were two criteria for me: (1) The resources and opportunities available to help me further my career and prepare me for my desired post-MBA roles; and (2) the community and feeling of belonging that I felt when I interacted with current students. I interacted with many current students and alumni from each program to take their feedback on career development resources and the culture of the schools. After weighing every aspect of my professional and personal aspirations, I decided that Owen is the best fit for me.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? The decision that has shaped the last year of my life and will shape many more years to come is when I decided to take the plunge and begin my entrepreneurial journey. Building Those In Need from the ground-up has been an intense experience, both personally and professionally. An introvert by nature, I surprised myself by taking the lead in negotiations and event pitches. I found myself juggling between roles – be it a marketer, a designer, or an accountant. I discovered different facets of my personality – an expectation manager, a conflict resolver and a non-conformist – that I never thought I had in me. The journey has allowed me a great opportunity at self-reflection and development.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I plan to continue my career in the social sector. I intend to leverage my previous experiences and business education to build more socially responsible, sustainable yet profitable businesses.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I see myself managing my own CSR consulting firm, advising organisations on meaningful utilization of funds for social development and creating a larger impact for good!