Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Chaitanya Pawan, University of Texas (McCombs)

Chaitanya Pawan

The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business

“I strive to be humble, drive impact and be the hardest worker in the room.”

Hometown: Bangalore, India

Fun Fact About Yourself:  I moonlighted as a “Swiss army pocket knife” at Uns Chocolaterie, a Bangalore based craft couverture chocolate maker. As a kitchen hand, copywriter, business development executive, delivery guy, social media strategist and accountant at Uns Chocolaterie, I experienced the incomparable thrill of scaling a small business.

Undergraduate School and Major: Bachelor of Technology in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, Calicut, India and Masters in Finance from the University of Delhi, India

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Senior Lead, Real Estate Deal Underwriting & Analytics for India, WeWork India Management Private Limited

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? For an international student, the MBA experience is akin to a roller coaster ride – dealing with uncertainty in the business world, acclimating to a very unique MBA recruiting process, assimilating the cultural nuances of a place, and contending with the “imposter syndrome” that can be hard to shake-off when interacting with a cohort of highly accomplished individuals.  It was important to me that the business school that I choose would set me up for success and have my back as I navigate my MBA journey.

At McCombs, I discovered a business school that is invested in my success and one that fosters a very strong sense of community and a “pay it forward” attitude. The Strategic Career Management course, offered by McCombs, is focused on helping students discover their value proposition in a competitive job market and make informed career decisions. The Board Fellows and Venture Fellows programs are evidence of the school’s commitment to support the non-profit sector and the thriving start-up community in Austin. The Leading for Impact course focused on leadership development is an eye-opener that drives home the realization that success in business goes beyond numbers and is rooted in decision making with integrative complexity. I look forward to a transformative two years at McCombs, and I am convinced this investment will pay off, literally and figuratively.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? The number of clubs and activities at McCombs is so large and diverse that it’s hard to single out a club or activity without feeling a sense of FOMO. The MBA Investment Fund, a student managed private investment company offers an exciting opportunity to obtain real world investing experience and explore investment themes that resonate with me.

The Texas McCombs MBA case competitions spanning the finance, marketing, operations and consulting domains offer invaluable experience in solving cross-functional business problems in a competitive setting and an opportunity to test my mettle as an aspiring consultant.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: During my stint at SBI Capital Markets, I had the opportunity to lead a team that successfully closed one of India’s largest refinancing deals in the renewable energy space for a leading Indian wind energy company. The $400 million deal pioneered a first-of-its-kind financing structure that served as a precursor to similar deals in the Indian renewable energy landscape. The lack of precedent led to significant challenges in bringing all stakeholders on board and required multiple rounds of negotiations before arriving at an equitable solution. I had no previous exposure to the renewable energy sector, and I had to quickly grasp the technical nuances of the business. It was a steep learning curve but it was a memorable experience.

The deal was awarded the Renewable Energy Deal of the Year at the ‘The Asset AAA Asia Infrastructure Awards,’ a reputable forum that honors top financing deals in the Infrastructure sector in Asia.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career?  In my career, as I navigated from the realm of big ticket infrastructure project financing to cross cultural boutique investment banking, I realized that the impact of my work relied on solving cross-functional business problems and the implementation capabilities of client teams. I was keen on upskilling myself in the implementation of business decisions in a global marketplace. I eventually segued to a role supporting heads of finance and strategy implementation at WeWork India.

At this point in my career, I am keen on transitioning to the role of a strategy consultant focused on building sustainable business models, crafting winning strategies and implementing them across a wide array of industries. I am hopeful that the immersive McCombs MBA will help facilitate this career pivot.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to the Darden School of Business, University of Virginia and Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? The McCombs video essay question “Please introduce yourself” was by far the most challenging question I encountered during the admissions process. At the surface level, answering this question should have been a walk in park. On deep introspection, I realized that encapsulating who I am and who I aspire to be in 60 seconds was an interesting challenge. The answer to this question will evolve at different stages in my career and will serve as the North Star to my personal and professional goals.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? The appeal of the MBA experience to me lies in the opportunity to engage with a highly-driven and accomplished set of individuals who are willing to share their experiences and work collaboratively. This can be facilitated effectively by the culture of the business school and the size of the class. I aspire to refer to my classmates using the statement “I know him/her well” rather than “I know of him/her”. So the batch size at the business school is a key parameter.

Information sessions, coffee chats, and alumni interactions offer a glimpse of the culture of the business school. However, the final validation of whether I will fit in at a business school is the interview experience with the alumni or adcom. My interview experience at McCombs is one of my fondest memories. It reinforced my admiration for McCombs and convinced me that the basis for any successful partnership is mutual respect and genuine investment of time and effort.

Employment statistics at the target schools offer insight on whether the school fits my post-MBA career aspirations. The reviews of the career management team are important to me as it helps me to gauge the commitment of the business school to offering career support.

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? The two-year MBA journey, in my opinion, is an exercise in optimization of time and resources at your disposal to upskill in industry relevant skills, indulge in value creating networking experiences, and forge a path to a successful post MBA career. I have actively engaged with recent alumni to hear about their experiences and glean any information that can help maximize my own McCombs experience.

I have invested my time in reading books such as Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (I highly recommend this book) to ensure that I enter the MBA program with a clarity in purpose, and with an eye on the ball.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? I joined the WeWork Team in India in March 2018. The company had just launched its operations in India and was in hyper-growth mode. Over the next two years, I had the opportunity to witness growth on a scale that I had never witnessed before. The company’s operations and assets grew by 15 times, and there were no signs of slowing down. I had the opportunity to don many hats across the finance, corporate strategy, and real estate functions.

Then it all came to a grinding halt. The reasons are well-known and extensively covered by the media. The experience was humbling and opened my eyes to the fact that in the pursuit of growth one should be mindful of business fundamentals, obligations to all stakeholders, and responsible leadership. The leadership crisis that the company faced drives home the point that there is more to business than just the exit multiple, top line and bottom line. I am invested in leveraging the resources at business school to discover and enhance my capabilities as a leader.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? The answer to this question is ever changing but one company that I am currently intrigued by is Meesho. Meesho is an India based social commerce platform that gives small and medium businesses an online channel to sell their merchandise. Many of Meesho’s users are homemakers in India who use the platform to achieve financial freedom at home. This start-up is the classic case of disruptive innovation as they have targeted a segment of the ecosystem that is not higher in the pecking order of established e-commerce giants.




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