2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Ajey Kaushal, UCLA (Anderson)

Ajey Kaushal

UCLA, Anderson School of Management

“A golfer moonlighting as a business student while developing my own menu of Indian-fusion delicacies.”

Hometown: Pleasanton, CA

Fun fact about yourself: When I was younger (but honestly not that much younger), I wanted to be Ash Ketchum from Pokemon.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; BSE in Industrial Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? HealthScape Advisors – Management Consultant

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? PLG Ventures – Santa Monica, CA

Where will you be working after graduation? I am hoping to return to PLG Ventures in an Associate/Principal role.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community Work: Business Plan Mentor for Project Echo; Instructor for Junior Achievement; Cleanup Volunteer for Heal the Bay

Leadership and Awards: UCLA Anderson ASA (Student Body) President; VP of Partnerships for the John Anderson Golf Club; VP of Partnerships for the South Asian Business Association; Dean’s List; Anderson Exceptional Student Fellowship; Hannah and Thormund Miller Scholar; MBA of the Month (October 2020)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In my role as student body President, I am extremely proud to have undertaken and accomplished several amazing things along with my team (the Anderson Student Association Cabinet). However, if I had to pick one, it would be the now strengthened and reinforced relationship student leaders have with school administration. As soon as I entered the role, our school announced that we would be going through our second Dean search process of the academic year (after an inconclusive first search). I was committed to ensuring that students had the opportunity for our voice to be heard and worked with both Anderson and broader UCLA administration to understand the process and how we could carve out space for the student voice.

We scheduled student-focused town halls where we could hear from and ask questions to each of the candidates. We worked with Anderson and UCLA to open an email account where students could send emails, voicing their support for any one candidate. And throughout the four-week process, our full-time student body of 700 students submitted over 400 emails of support for either candidate, which was a powerful statement to the UCLA administration iterating that we care and we want our voices heard.

When our newly-appointed Dean came into office, we, as student leaders, took this momentum and worked with the Dean to identify pathways for students to be involved across Anderson’s operations. Since that time, we have partnered with the Dean and his office to do the following: 1. Strategically review Anderson’s market position and help redefine our core identity; 2. Adjust, modify, and renovate our core curriculum; 3. Advance and fund high-impact diversity initiatives in the Anderson community; and 4. Identify opportunities for the Anderson community to better leverage and learn from the strengths of each of our individual programs as well as between classes.

Looking back at the past year, it’s amazing how far we’ve come –- we now have a seat at the table for discussions we didn’t even know were happening. It makes me extremely proud that my team and I were able to lead this charge and forge this partnership between administration and student leadership that can be taken forward by subsequent classes.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of one specific consulting engagement where my client was the Department of Veteran Affairs’ health benefits administrator, responsible for administering healthcare to Veterans on the Western half of the United States. Our client’s government contract was close to reaching its end and the VA had announced it was issuing an RFP for a new and more encompassing contract. To this point, our client had been performing well, but was not meeting the desired KPIs outlined in their contract and was concerned their bid for the new contract would be unsuccessful.

I was a team of one and was charged with the daunting task of implementing a project management office and overseeing the completion of 30 short-term projects geared towards improving their contractual KPIs. It was a massive task – 30 projects that I had to simultaneously lead and move forward, and this company’s future depended on my success. In my first week, I spent 80 hours at the office, with 70 the subsequent week and no end in sight. But what kept me going was the company’s employees and their dedication to the company’s mission of “Serving those who make extraordinary sacrifices for our freedom and supporting the military and Veterans’ health care system in meeting their medical and customer service needs.” I saw how much it meant to them to serve our nation’s Veterans and how vital it was for them that they were going above and beyond for our Vets. Their sheer commitment to their mission motivated me in doing everything I could to set them up for success. I knew no one else could or would care as much as those lovely folks.

I continued putting in long hours, which progressively became shorter-and-shorter as we established project management infrastructure and were able to streamline internal processes. After three long, rewarding months, we were happy to report that all key KPIs were in the green.

Over the following six months, I also helped our client prepare, draft, and submit their bid to the VA, and I’m ecstatic to report that they won the bid and are continuing to serve those who served for us.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA tradition at UCLA Anderson is what we call ‘Anderson Afternoons,’ which takes place every Thursday. The student government, with support from administration, hosts a happy hour with heavy appetizers for the entire Anderson community, and it’s hosted directly on campus. It’s a fantastic opportunity for students to unwind from a busy week over some delicious food and a glass of wine with some of their closest friends. As Anderson also has thriving non-MBA programs, Anderson Afternoons also serves as a great tool to meet students from the Masters of Financial Engineering, Ph.D., or Masters of Science in Business Analytics Programs.

Why did you choose this business school? I visited every business school I received an offer from and made it a point to meet current and prospective students during my visit. Every school had its positives and negatives, and I could see myself being a student at all of them. But when I visited Anderson during our “A-Days” (which is an on-campus weekend for admitted students), it immediately felt like home. Something about the paradise-like weather combined by the student body’s work hard, play hard ethos struck a chord with me. And when I met all of the prospective students who were visiting the school with me, I was sold. Not only were they success-driven, but you got the sense everyone checked their ego at the door and was actively investing themselves in helping others.

The people, coupled with Anderson’s forte in technology and entrepreneurship, really drove my decision to enroll here, and I haven’t looked back.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Anderson offers such an enriching student-led experience that we intrinsically love not just leaders but servant leaders – those individuals who take initiative and find ways for others to succeed while expecting nothing in return.

Show us how much you want to be a part of this environment. Tell us why Anderson is the ideal place for you to not only find your ideal job, but also the place where you can find and discover yourself. Do you see yourself wanting to be entrenched in Southern California’s thriving venture and startup scene? Then tell us how you will facilitate that for you and your fellow students through Anderson’s Entrepreneurship Association. Do you want to share your love and thirst for wine? Consider planning programming for your classmates by leading the Anderson Wine Club. There are so many professionally and culturally enriching facets of the Anderson experience – tell us not only how you plan to leverage those opportunities but also how you plan to lead and contribute to that experience.

And I can’t stress this enough – reach out to current students via email and LinkedIn! It’s such a great resource to learn more about our school through the lens of a current student and I promise we don’t bite 🙂

What is the biggest myth about your school? That we’re all surfers looking to work in the entertainment industry.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Wow – there are so many in our class who I look up to, but if I had to pick one it would be Emily Moore. She serves two leadership roles on campus as President of the Anderson Ambassador Corps (responsible for all student-led initiatives on the Admissions front) and the President of the Sports Business Association (a student-led organization responsible for helping students learn about and network with professionals in the Sports Industry) – and has excelled in both! Most notably, Emily has been a champion for sustaining and growing Anderson’s diverse community by pioneering Admissions events tailored towards both women and underrepresented minorities. She is also a very warm and inclusive person who makes an active effort to make sure everyone is included. She is always praising others and has something positive to say about her peers, and I strive to have this kind of positive energy.

Aside from her impressive contributions in her leadership roles, Emily is the type of person I aspire to be. She is the lifeblood of UCLA Anderson and always brings a smile and her enthusiastic, positive attitude. She treats everyone equally and with respect, she leads by example, and she is the true embodiment of Anderson’s pillars of sharing success, thinking fearlessly, and driving change.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? There are so many people who have significantly influenced my life and have enabled me to be in the position I am today, but the one person who influenced me most would be my grandfather.

My grandfather was the Chairman and CEO of India’s (then) largest public sector company, Engineers India Limited, but he was also the kindest, most caring, and smartest man I knew. And I knew I wanted my life to follow his. When he got older and had retired, I was able to spend much more time with him, and thankfully they were during my formative years. I remember when undergraduate college apps were around the corner, he sat me down and asked me what I wanted to be. Being the geek I was, I told him I liked physics and math and that engineering seemed to be a great path. And I’ll never forget what he told me that day. He said, “I’ve come across hundreds if not thousands of engineers, and each one of them was smart. Engineering builds a deep problem-solving and analytical base. But the engineer that can think pragmatically with a business lens will rise to the top.”

And I’ve never forgotten that. My grandfather got his MBA from IIM (India Institute of Management) and an executive certificate in business leadership from Harvard, and I’m nothing short of proud to be following in his footsteps.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I would love to 1. Ring the bell at the NYSE, and 2. Be on the board of an education-focused nonprofit. (And 3. Own and operate my own food truck – but that’s later).

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I’d like my peers to remember me as someone who is always here whether they need major help or just a shoulder to lean on, someone who prioritizes their success over my own, and someone who will always speak truth to power.

Hobbies? When I’m not at school or work, I love to spend my time playing golf and tennis, cooking, watching basketball, and working on massive jigsaw puzzles with my 14-year-old sister.

What made Ajey such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

Ajey Kaushal has been a force for the student voice, but always in a reasoned and constructive way. I have always been struck by Ajey’s ability to identify an issue and then cooperatively brainstorm solutions, as opposed to pointing out a problem and simply expecting change. A true leader is part of the solution—not just someone who demands a solution, and Ajey is a true leader.

One instance sums up Ajey’s leadership style. In an effort to drive student participation in the Dean search process, Ajey promised to sit in a dunk tank if a student participation goal was met. Well, the goal was smashed, and Ajey found himself in a dunk tank until every last student who wanted a shot got one! The ultimate in servant leadership.

Ajey is wise and thoughtful far beyond his years, which is why so many of his classmates and the MBA staff consult him. He has that rare ability to make others feel thoroughly listened to because he does really listen—with Ajey, it’s not just to make others feel good, but to really understand how people feel and how he can improve their situations.

Watching Ajey grow as a leader has been incredibly rewarding. Ajey came into the ASA (student government) presidency with strong ideas of what he wanted to accomplish and how he might get it done. What he might not have known was how fully he would immerse himself in this role or just how effective he would be in it. The ability to delegate, and to sift through issues to determine what is actionable and what might not be terribly productive are keys to leadership success, and Ajey came to understand that very quickly. Always thinking about how to improve, how to implement more productive policies and procedures, and how to make those around him better are hallmarks of Ajey’s style, and I am sure they will propel him to significant heights in whatever he chooses to do from here.

Rob Weiler
Associate Dean, MBA Program


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.