2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Arundhati Sriraman, University of Toronto (Rotman)

Arundhati (Aruna) Sriraman

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

A gamer, a jokester, and an unapologetic advocate for diversity and inclusion.”

Hometown: The eternal struggle of a third-culture kid is answering this question.

Fun fact about yourself: I have done voice-overs for various marketing and instructional videos at work. I hope they are never found.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of California, Berkeley – B.A. in Political Economy

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Zynga Game Networks as an Associate Content Designer for games such as Farmville, Mafia Wars, and Draw Something.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? University Health Networks in Toronto, ON, Canada. I designed a game for training and team goal setting, specifically for front-line staff and nurses.

Where will you be working after graduation? We will soon find out!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President of The Letters @ Rotman (Rotman’s LGBTQ+ & Allies professional & social club)
  • President of the Rotman Gaming Club
  • Member of the 6Squad (volunteer student orientation committee)
  • Awarded an entrance scholarship
  • Unofficially: Represented Rotman at various events, conferences and to incoming students.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

I was asked to speak on a student panel at an undergraduate business school (Rotman Commerce) Pride in Unity Conference. During the question-and-answer part, a young student asked me how as a female minority from an extremely male-dominated industry I made my voice heard. How did I balance the benefits of being assertive with the impending negative consequences?

This moment was particularly poignant for me. I was sitting in a room full of smart, capable students, yet it was clear that many other people in that room were grappling with the same struggle.

My response was, “You are worth being a voice at the table.” I explained that I know the feeling of having to speak louder and perform better just to be recognized as an equal. I know that calling out toxic cultures and behaviors will likely come back to bite me. But I have realized that once I earn the respect of my peers, it is truly worth the negative consequences. I will never allow anyone to silence me again.

After the panel, a few people approached to tell me they were inspired by my words. The woman who asked me the question came to sit with me during lunch to discuss the topic further. We talked about imposter syndrome, the importance of valuing yourself, and the challenges of advocating for yourself in unfriendly environments. I felt humbled and lucky to be able to support her and others like her.

Despite the hurdles I have experienced in my personal and professional life, I genuinely do believe I am lucky. I have the energy and temperament to keep fighting for my due. It is my hope that my actions will help others be heard. I hope to act as an advocate for the voiceless and to be able to use my power and privilege to lift up underrepresented communities.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Getting my first job in Game Design was an incredible moment in my life. At the time, I was working in digital marketing for a startup in Bangalore. Eager to meet people in the video game industry, I helped organize a monthly meetup of local gaming enthusiasts. This meetup ended up attracting many working professionals in the video game industry. Encouraged by my newfound friends in the industry, I participated in a Global Game Jam – an annual hackathon-esque event where I was challenged to design, develop, creat, test, and make a new game in just 48 hours. Of the 40+ participants, I was the only woman. On top of that, I had never made a game before. During GGJ, I not only helped other groups brainstorm their ideas, I also formed my own team that created a game. At the same time, I made my own text-based adventure game from scratch. At the end of the 48 hours, I had my name on two playable games!

Impressed with my tenacity, a teammate that day asked me for my resume and referred me to the gaming company where he worked. Within two months, I got the job offer that changed my life: Narrative Designer at Zynga.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Anne Bowers was one of the most impactful professors I had at Rotman. Her class on Corporate Strategy managed to take a complex topic and put it into an interactive, and thought-provoking format that beautifully cemented the underlying ideas in each case. I thought I would be out of my depth in that class, but her thoughtfully designed classes made it easy for me to follow, analyze, and contribute in class. Anne Bowers made me realize the value of strategy in business.

Why did you choose this business school? At the time of my interview with Rotman, I was living in India. Because I hadn’t grown up there, I felt a little disconnected with the culture. I tried to fit in; I grew my hair long and wore unassuming clothing to blend in.

After three years of covering, I began to slowly express my personality through my appearance. I felt relieved to put on a suit and to color my hair with vibrant colors despite receiving odd looks and side glances from strangers.

On the day of my Rotman interview, I had bright blue hair. I hadn’t had time to dye it back to its natural black, and I grew nervous that this would make a bad impression upon an esteemed, traditional institution.

When the first words out of my interviewer’s mouth were, “I love your hair color!” I realized that I would be able to bring my authentic self to Rotman more than at any other business school. It was the most comfortable, relaxed interview I have ever done. I felt able to be completely honest, release all ego, and be myself. When I was accepted, I knew Rotman was the place for me. At Rotman, I don’t have to pretend to be anything other than myself.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? It really is what you make of it. I came here to learn things I wouldn’t have otherwise, and thus took a lot of classes that were not within my scope of expertise. In this way, I was able to explore a wide breadth of topics and really challenge myself.

I am confident that upon graduation, I will walk proudly with my cap and gown knowing how much I have learned and grown in just two years.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Rotman is often considered a “finance and consulting school.” While it does have a stellar history in these fields, Rotman offers much more.

Students are able to customize their Rotman experience to match their interests and meet their needs. From study tours to independent study projects to fellowships at institutes such as the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE), Rotman students are able to choose their own adventure.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? Don’t let networking take over the way you make regular friends. Friends don’t ask friends for business cards. Stop.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Moving to Toronto to go to Rotman was the first big decision that I had made purely on my own. Although I had lived in multiple countries and switched careers, choosing to pursue an MBA was a risky decision that I did not make lightly. I chose to leave a job, friends, and family that I loved, uproot my life, and move to a country where I knew no one. But with the support of new-found friends, I was able to manage the demands of the MBA program, adjust to a new environment, and ultimately carve out a place for myself in Toronto. Making a new home for myself was not easy, but in doing so I rediscovered how resilient and tenacious I can truly be. I am truly grateful for the community I have found at Rotman.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The day I met Ophir Wainer, we almost immediately launched into a heated debate over politics. Because she is from Israel and I grew up in Bahrain, it was clear from the start that we had very different perspectives on world events.

Afterward, I was worried that I had lost a potential new friend. You can imagine my surprise when she greeted me enthusiastically as we crossed paths again the next day. I realized that I had met someone who considers the ability to disagree and debate as a mark of respect and even acceptance. This is something I truly admire about my friend Ophir. Her direct demeanor and pure-heartedness have inspired me. She’s an invaluable member of the Rotman community; she even organized Rotman’s first ever student-run trek to Israel – a trip that challenged and reshaped much of my world perspective.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My father is on a continuous quest for knowledge. I remember a time during my undergraduate studies when my brother, my father, and I were all coincidentally studying for exams at the same time. While my brother and I were pursuing our undergraduate degrees, my father was working on a second master’s degree, many years after his first. As we all discussed our exams and projects with each other, I realized that his passion for life-long learning had inspired me to do the same.

Business touches upon almost every field of study in some way, and thus for me is a great lens through which I can continue to understand the world we live in.

What is your favorite movie about business? Though more about law than business, Intolerable Cruelty taught me about contracts and how complicated it may be to truly make an “ironclad” document.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? Honestly, the funniest acronyms I can think of are the ones I have tried to make myself. During late nights studying for exams, I’ve tried in vain to memorize lists of terms as they were given. Eventually, my friends and I began to invent strange acronyms and mnemonics that would sound like bizarre incantations when repeated out loud. When they got too ridiculous, we knew we needed to go to bed.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…sneakily putting complex narratives into simple games.”

What dollar value would you have placed on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? Insert Present Value joke here.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Travel to Taiwan with an old friend
  2. Learn to surf! When I moved to Berkeley to pursue my undergraduate degree, I had big dreams of becoming a surfing goddess. Little did I realize that the best waves on the west coast are in San Diego.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a curious, strong, and funny human who embraces life with compassion and terrible puns. 

Hobbies? I don’t have a hobby that I don’t wear on my sleeve. I love videogames (of course), singing, dancing, and trying new cuisines, particularly fusion foods.

What made Aruna such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

Business Schools are often known for being a competitive and stress-inducing place. Having community animators like Aruna who use laughter and gaming as vehicles to promote a healthier student community have been a gift to us at Rotman. In her role as President of the Gaming Club and The Letters (Rotman’s LGBTQ+ Student Club), she has supported her classmates in so many creative ways. Aruna has used her talents as a game designer and vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community to spark conversations and opportunities that simply didn’t exist before she arrived.

This year, under her leadership, The Letters launched the school’s first Diversity & Inclusion Case Competition in partnership with Bain & Company and Bank of Montreal where 18 teams participated in a challenge to explore how BMO could become the best employer in the world by empowering employees and leadership to champion the needs and professional development of LGBTQ2+ people. Some of her most dynamic contributions though have been behind the screen of a laptop, on a private phone call and/or in-person coffee chat with an incoming or current student who might be struggling with their identity. Aruna has also been an advocate for mental health and been a positive and empathetic supporter for those in need. In her role as President of The Letters, she has created safe spaces for people to bring their full selves to the classroom. As a woman of color, an international student and someone that classmates would describe as a jokester (yes she could literally do stand-up), she has used her voice to promote a more inclusive Rotman, all while smiling, making others laugh and always rocking an amazing bow-tie with her beautiful blue hair.”

Neel Joshi

Director of Student & International Experience



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