2019 MBAs To Watch: Avni Sabhani, University of Illinois (Gies)

Hard-working problem solver, with a sprinkle of humor, determined to impact everyone’s lives.”

Gies College of Business, University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign

Hard-working problem solver, with a sprinkle of humor, determined to impact everyone’s lives.”

Hometown: Delhi, India

Fun fact about yourself: I love lipsticks and currently own more than 50 lipsticks.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Undergraduate School: ITM University, India

Degree: Bachelor of Technology, Civil Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?

Chicago Bridge & Iron (CB&I), India.

I worked in the civil engineering department in the oil and gas industry, where I not only worked on engineering calculations but also was one of the founders of the innovation and leadership program.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018?

Company: Express Scripts, St. Louis, Missouri

Role: Operations (Technology & Change management). I created an agile process to effectively transition users from a legacy to new technology and working toward better efficiency and improving the user experience.

Where will you be working after graduation?

Company: Express Scripts, St. Louis, Missouri

Role: Sr. Business System Analyst (Pharmacy Benefit Operations)

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  1. Vice-Chair, Case Competition Committee: I encourage and guide students to participate in various case competitions to enhance their careers. I also coordinate the coaching and organizing process of case competitions.
  2. Dean’s Fellow: This program acknowledges leaders as the ambassadors of the school. I am taking the lead in hosting prospective students and sharing our culture with them so we can recruit the best possible talent.
  3. VP of Programs, MBA Association: I was responsible for managing and supporting the operations of all the MBA clubs.
  4. Campus Visit Coordinator: I work with the admissions and recruitment team to host prospective students for all business graduate programs, understand their background and ambitions, and share the wonderful opportunities available to them in the Gies Graduate Programs.
  5. Graduate Director, Supply Chain Management Association: I work with this undergraduate club to share my knowledge about the supply chain and the business world as well as helping develop their personal and professional skills.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am organizing a case competition for undergraduate students. It will be the first time an MBA program has ever recruited students through a case competition.

My extracurricular involvement inspired me to bridge three associations and organize a case competition through the Supply Chain Management Association. The winners receive admission interviews and scholarships for the MBA program. This provides undergraduate students exposure to case competitions and a network of MBA students provides the MBA department the ability to identify potential recruits and offer them interviews and scholarships and provides me an opportunity to write a case and organize a case competition bringing multiple departments together.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? During my summer internship at Express Scripts, I worked on a project in a completely green space and created a new process which could be transferred to any technology development and rolled out throughout the company. My work led the company to create a full-time position for me.

The project involved developing and rolling out a new technology platform without hampering the daily work of thousands of users. I incorporated design thinking to create an agile process where the end users were involved from the start of development, instead of getting involved later. This continuous iterative process was so well received that the VP decided to transfer it to all the technology development projects.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor has been Andrew Allen. I have taken two courses with him, the first being Action Learning, where I did a consulting project for Uber; and second being Project Management, where I was a Senior Manager for three consulting projects.

His leadership style inspired me a lot. He always guided me, and, at the same time, provided a lot of flexibility and freedom to solve problems on my own and tackle various situations as per my own understanding and working style. His trust in me to make the right decisions was very encouraging. While being a senior manager on the three consulting projects, I could discover my leadership style and make a significant impact on the projects. His classes have truly been very impactful in my journey.

What was your favorite MBA Course

One of my favorite MBA courses has been Global Strategy. This class really challenged me to think about the big picture and long-term growth while breaking it down into smaller steps for immediate action items. Various cases in this class inspired me to think globally, creatively, and relate so many action items to a long-term strategy. This course also inspired my career path. I’ll start in operations to understand everyday functioning and problems faced, and then I’ll eventually move to business strategy, where I can take this understanding and expand it to the big picture.  

Why did you choose this business school? I had four major reasons for choosing University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign:

  • Brand Name: University of Illinois has a very prestigious brand name.
  • Experiential Learning: Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois has an immense focus on experiential learning through various consulting projects. I wanted to get involved in as many projects as possible to challenge myself in teamwork, problem-solving and client interaction.
  • Culture & Values: Gies College of Business at the Univesity of Illinois has a very family-like and supportive culture, where everyone is ready to help and encourage each other. These values are very close to my heart and drew me towards Illinois.
  • Affordability: Compared to other competitive programs, the Univesity of Illinois MBA has an affordable fee structure.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Take advantage of various extra-curricular activities available throughout the campus. They not only helped me explore my strengths, weaknesses, and new career paths, but they also provided me with opportunities to try new things and turn my weaknesses into strengths. They also are a great metric of improvement.

What is the biggest myth about your school? From what I had heard about UIUC, its curriculum seemed inclined toward the traditional side, which was providing fixed concentrations. However, from my experience, it was nothing like the traditional stereotypical MBA program. The curriculum involves a lot of flexibility to choose a variety of courses and extracurricular activities both within and outside the Gies College of Business. This flexibility allowed me to discover new opportunities that I ended up loving immensely. The program is truly what you make of it, and I got the opportunity to customize my experience and make my own story.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I had known the importance and power of networking. Coming from a different country, I was very new to networking and cold calling. It took some time to get comfortable. It would have been very helpful if I had known its importance beforehand and had started working on developing my networking skills before starting the program.

However, the support from the program and my peers helped me develop my skills so well that I was specifically acknowledged for my networking skills during my summer internship.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Gies College of Business MBA has truly transformed my life. Coming from an engineering background, I was used to being analytical and solving smaller problems. However, with the MBA, I got to challenge myself to evaluate every decision and every strategy from a business point of view. Dealing with spontaneous problems every day, interacting with company professionals, and discussing challenging issues in the class have grown my confidence, creativity, and leadership skills.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Agnes Strojewska the most in my class. She has inspired me to openly express my opinions, even if they are against the majority, and never be afraid to choose a career as a priority.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My uncle, Rajesh Dewani, who owns his business in India, has been my inspiration to pursue business. He built his business from scratch and has recently partnered with leading lifestyle companies to build the world’s first experiential lifestyle home.

His passion to innovate, drive to continuously challenge the traditions, and dedication to read and learn motivated me to take the leap of faith and pursue business and explore my capabilities and passion.

What is your favorite movie about business? The Pursuit of Happiness – This movie is very close to my heart, and it reflects my take on life. It encouraged me to never give up, and always keep fighting to continuously improve personally and professionally. It also touches upon a very important concept of appreciation. In my experience, I have come to realize that appreciating people earns life-long loyalty and compassion and makes working together a joyous experience.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…I would be on the path to becoming a professor. In my life, multiple teachers have had an immense impact on my thinking, life choices, and values. I am always motivated to make an impact on other peoples’ lives. If not business, I would be a professor so I could have an opportunity to impact numerous students and make positive changes in their lives.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? The program was worth much more than the tuition fee. However, the value you receive is directly proportional to the effort and dedication you put in.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Write a micro-book series, to use my story-telling and encourage people to never give up.
  2. Collaborate with my younger sister, who is pursuing leather designing, to launch her own brand.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Avni, who was a girl on a mission to spread happiness, helped solve all her peers’ and programs’ problems and will one day solve the world problems.

Hobbies?

  • Writing stories, poems, and cheesy jokes
  • Dancing like no one is watching
  • Cooking and sharing my love for food with everyone

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

“We are lucky to have Avni Sabhani here at Gies College of Business. She is as busy and involved as any of our students, but she somehow always manages to have a smile on her face and takes all the ups-and-downs of life in stride. Her positive attitude is contagious! She has an impressive background and intellectual capacity, yet she is still hungry to learn more and is eager to soak in the classroom learning and then put it into practice. In the classroom, she asked questions, contributed to the discussion and helped raised the bar for her fellow students.

Anvi also contributed in a significant way to our action learning program – she managed client relationships, led teams and coached team leaders. In feedback, her peers describe her as “so helpful and insightful…and always there to help.” They called her an “amazing leader,” “very dedicated to her projects,” and “great at problem-solving and building relationships.” We’re grateful that we have had an impact on Avni during her time at Gies. But we’re even more grateful for the impact she has made on all of us – staff and students included.”

Andrew Allen

Director of Experiential Learning

Gies College of Business, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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