The essence of business is building. When you find a gap, you fill it. When you identify an opportunity, you seize it. After you explore the possibilities, you expand them. You create a solution to address the need, a system to bring it to the masses, and an operation to sustain your momentum.
That’s what builders do. That’s what MBAs do too. Few MBAs do it better than MBA candidates from India. Take Anurag Dusanapudi, a first-year at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. In his formative years, he watched his father, a social activist, fight for impoverished laborers. After spending a year in the corporate world, he decided to pick up his father’s mantle – but took an entirely different path. He entered the social sector, where he spent nearly six years working with non-profits and the Indian government – even launching a startup himself. It was in these roles – traveling to remote and impoverished villages – where Dusanapudi discovered the power of entrepreneurship to even the playing field.
BUILDERS WHO POSSESS THE RIGHT TOOLS
“When I started in the social impact space, I had no formal education or experience,” he explains. “In two years’ time, I built and streamlined a model that was selected by the Ministry of Rural Development (Indian Government) as a national best-practice. I supported the Ministry in designing and implementing a national policy across 16 states in India to impact 370,000 direct beneficiaries. When I quit my corporate job to explore social impact, I never imagined that I could accomplish anything on this scale.”
The social sector is hardly the only place where you’ll find the Indian-born builders from the Class of 2020. Some, like INSEAD’s Natasha Saini, put on her hard hat and became a sales savant. As a trader, she built a world class book of business in two disparate regions: Singapore and the Middle East. Before entering the Yale School of Management, Siddharth Rao expressed his creative spirit by spearheading the development of 30 new products – even building his product development team from scratch. Rao wasn’t the only intrapreneur of the group. During his time at OYO, Columbia Business School’s Shrey Gupta was a key player in helping the hospitality startup rocket from 100 hotels in five cities to 2,000 sites in over 100 cities – in just one year’s time!
Think that’s fast? Meet Sankalp Damani, who is honing his skills as a management consultant as a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. At BCG, he helped an Indian banking client achieve a $70 million dollar turnaround…in two months! That number was 80% for Akshay A. Baliga – as in the labor savings this Toronto Rotman MBA delivered in helping to re-locate a manufacturing operation. When it comes to real numbers, it’d be hard to top the building job by Krishna Patel. This Rochester Simon first-year headed a $10 billion dollar divestment projects by the Indian government – one of the largest of its kind.
LEARNING FROM SUCCESS…AND FAILURE
Many 2020 class members pursued the ultimate building project: They started their own ventures. Shobhit Gupta launched Poetalks, a social venture that ultimately employed 15 people and reached over 100,000 people, before enrolling at the University of Washington. It isn’t an easy process. Just ask INSEAD’s Siddharth Handa, who co-founded a manufacturer and retailer of artisan bread. His firm’s success led to a tipping point worthy of an MBA case study: Meeting demand by tripling their workforce and quintupling their capacity in three months! Indeed, entrepreneurship served as a leap of faith that ultimately led to a moment of truth for MBAs like Ishan Saran, who grew quickly after taking on roles that previously made him uncomfortable.
“An introvert by nature, I surprised myself by taking the lead in negotiations and event pitches,” admits the Vanderbilt Owen first-year. “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.”
That doesn’t mean every venture leads to renown and riches. Saran’s classmate, Deepa Tudavekar, points to closing her business as one of her defining moments – one that served as perfect training for future roles in product management and strategy.
“The experience was particularly important because it made me stop and self-reflect,” she explains. “It is very important to be self-aware, and it is often difficult to acknowledge your shortcomings when you achieve continuous success. It’s only when you face failure that you learn so much about yourself. Failure gave me a chance to understand my strengths and weaknesses. Since then, self-awareness has empowered me to make better decisions, and it is because of that awareness that I am pursuing my MBA today.”
THE HIGH POTENTIALS OF THEIR CLASSES
Of course, the MBA represents a risk – no different than accepting a stretch assignment or launching a new venture. Of course, Sudhanshu Kehemka is sharing that risk by bringing his brother, Shailendra, along with him to Dartmouth Tuck. He isn’t the only one who has channeled that urge to build and take chances outside work. The University of Chicago’s Ankita Panwar, for example, is game for any kind of adventure. “From surfing, sky-diving, scuba-diving to canyoning, tried it all and am looking forward to trying new things with my classmates,” she says.
Not only were these students taking risks, but they were also often underdogs as well. That label certainly applies to Siddharth Handa. In college, he started a team to compete in the SAE Baja, a global automotive competition where 100 teams are responsible for building their own car – and recruiting financial sponsors to boot.
“We were up against teams from universities better funded and more experienced,” he admits. “Making the final presentation to the audience and winning 1st prize in India and outperforming many better-equipped teams at a global level was a defining moment for me. It instilled in me the confidence that I can achieve anything I set my mind to.”
These students are just a few examples of the India-born MBAs who’ll soon be leaving a mark on campus…and far beyond. Each year, P&Q profiles over a dozen first-years from over 40 of the top MBA programs worldwide. These are the high potential MBA candidates, the culture builders expected to emerge as class leaders – the ones who spark class discussions, run events and clubs, organize trips, and serve as role models for their peers.
Wondering where some of the top Indian MBA students are earning their MBAs? Want to know what strategies they used to get into their target schools? Check out our in-depth profiles of over 30 students on the next page.