2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Kunal Datt, CEIBS

Kunal Datt

China Europe International Business School (CEIBS)

“An analytical guy who loves travelling and is always seeking good food and new experiences.”

Hometown: (City and State) New Delhi, India

Fun fact about yourself: I spent 2020 in three COVID hotspots – China, India and Spain – while most of my belongings were stuck in my dorm room at CEIBS.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Pune (Undergraduate) and ESSEC Business School (Masters)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? HDFC Bank – Investment Banking Associate

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? I chose to spend the summer working on a business idea and consulting start-ups that were affected by the pandemic in the UK and India.

Where will you be working after graduation? Agoda – Manager, Marketing Strategy

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President of the MBA Student Committee
  • Dean’s List
  • Academic Excellence Award
  • Editor of the Student Magazine
  • Football Team Captain
  • Represented CEIBS at the 2020 Graduate Business Forum
  • Selected to represent CEIBS at the Venture Capital Investment Competition

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

Given the year we have had, the achievement I am most proud of is helping the school successfully navigate the early months of the pandemic, especially since we were probably the first school to go online and then hybrid.

We all came to CEIBS to learn how to be leaders and we all got to learn about and experience new ways of thinking about management. Taking on the Student Committee President role was my way of gaining extra experience to learn how to lead my peers and to put what I learned into practice. Of course, no one could have predicted the pandemic. I had to help the school pivot from offline to online classes, deal with students being in China and overseas, ensure my classmates could derive value from their much-changed MBA experience, and help the school reopen its campus. I had to do all of this while being stuck outside of China, so I personally didn’t reap many of the benefits that my China-based classmates did.

Ultimately this taught me several leadership lessons I wouldn’t have learned otherwise:

  • When you have responsibility for people, you can’t fix everyone’s problems, so learning to say no and choosing the right battles to fight are integral skills for leaders.
  • It’s important to see the broader spectrum of your responsibilities and focus on collective gain for everyone. Myopically focusing on how to gain the most benefit for yourself is a trait of a bad leader, yet is an easy trap to fall into.
  • It’s difficult to prepare for leadership in a crisis and it’s rare to get first-hand experience, especially on a scale like the COVID-19 pandemic. It taught me the value of being rational and not being influenced by the confusion, the unpredictability, and the doubt.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? During my four years in investment banking, I had the opportunity to cover a full suite of services across various sectors. I’m extremely proud to have worked on a successful marquee and industry-leading M&A, as well as equity and debt capital market transactions – something very few junior investment bankers have the opportunity to do.

Why did you choose this business school? Coming from an emerging market myself, China’s incredible growth and the many success stories of Chinese companies fascinate me. I wanted to experience this first-hand. The school’s focus on digital business and entrepreneurship – major drivers of China’s economy – and its world-class faculty appealed to me. Furthermore, Shanghai is a global financial capital with an extensive personal and professional expat network. I believed these factors would help me to become a successful business leader in Asia – so CEIBS was the obvious choice.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor at CEIBS was Professor Emily David. She teaches the Business Leadership, Organizational Behavior, and Managing Across Differences classes and has been a great mentor. I believe these topics are crucial for any mid-career professional like myself who wants to grow with the right ethics and understanding of people. I think Proessor. David helped us build core knowledge within management and organizational behavior, which I’m sure will help me become a better and more effective leader in the future.

Not only does she have an insightful way of teaching that fosters long-lasting growth, she has also been available for mentoring and coaching various student clubs, initiatives, and events at the school. She has played an instrumental role in guiding students in both their professional and personal endeavors. I’m confident that if you asked the same question to my classmates, many would choose Prof. David, too.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Shanghai Night. It’s an annual event organized by the student committee that gives us an opportunity to let loose and have fun during one of the busiest times in the MBA programme. The Shanghai theme comes from the event taking place on a cruise along The Bund with the famous Shanghai skyline in the background.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have liked to have spent more time learning Mandarin. Being in China and aspiring to work there, the language isn’t just a tool for communication, it also offers greater insight into Chinese culture. The subtleties and cultural context don’t often translate well into English, and understanding Mandarin helps to build trust with Chinese clients.

I had too much on my plate to devote enough time to Mandarin. Although I don’t regret those responsibilities, CEIBS’ international students should certainly make the effort to learn Mandarin. While a daunting challenge, it can go a long way towards helping you become a successful leader in Asia.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that CEIBS only does China cases. Like most other business schools, we covered many global business cases, while also discussing the issues they dealt with in the context of China.

What surprised you the most about business school? The thing that surprised me the most about business school was the depth of knowledge I gained from my classmates. Everyone was from different backgrounds, both culturally and professionally, so the perspectives we had on a wide variety of topics when we started the programme are challenged and changed over time.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I understood that you have to consider your application from the perspective of the school. As a student, it’s easy to think that you are a customer of the school. But the school itself sees you as a product of their MBA programme and a life-long brand ambassador. I viewed the application process both in terms of what the school could do for me, and how I could be someone the school would be proud of as an MBA graduate.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Amy (Kun) Lu. Popularly known on campus as ‘Boss Amy,’ she is definitely one of the smartest and most humble people I have ever known. I had the privilege to work with her on the student committee as well as in case competitions. While pursuing her MBA, she was working as an investment manager, taking part in case competitions, taking her 7-year-old son to football practice, and deliberately choosing classes she had no experience in. It has led me to believe that she either doesn’t sleep or has more than 24 hours in her day. I admire her most for the effort she puts into always trying to learn new things.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? CEIBS went from offline to online and then to a hybrid arrangement in the space of five months, and it was one hell of a rollercoaster ride! After COVID hit, CEIBS was one of the first schools to offer online classes. Looking back, I appreciate the efforts of all involved because it wasn’t easy for anyone – not for the students  or the school – and especially not for the professors. None of us knew what to expect and how to adjust to ensure our learning experience suffered minimal disruption. The student committee played a significant role (I have my team to thank for that!) in building a feedback loop between professors, students, and the school to make changes that contributed to a more effective learning environment.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? From a very young age, my father instilled the importance of education in both me and my brother. Due to unfortunate circumstances, he was unable to continue his education beyond his bachelor’s degree and has always pushed us to study further and as much as we can.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I would like to work across different functions and geographies, expanding my skillset and learning a wide range of cultures. When the right idea comes along, I would like to start my own business with a focus on sustainability and inclusion.

What made Kunal such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“I know Kunal in two different ways, as my student and as the MBA Student Committee President during my final year as the MBA director. In both roles, Kunal has performed extraordinarily. As a student, he attended my class on Creativity and Design Thinking. He was always engaged, contributed very positively, and performed exceptionally as part of a team and an on his individual assignment. He was one of the top students in the class and got the maximum A grade. As Student Committee President, Kunal had to manage the students during the COVID-19 pandemic. All the MBA courses had to move online, and students could not return to campus. Many of our international students were outside of China and could not leave their own countries. Kunal was one of those international students. Despite the difficulties, he was always willing to help his fellow students and transmit their requests to the MBA office.

From the MBA office’s point of view, Kunal always understood the difficulties we went through and appreciated the efforts we made to help our students. He also gave us valuable suggestions. We were very fortunate to have Kunal during that challenging time.”

Professor Juan Antonio Fernandez
Professors of Management
MBA Director and Associate Dean (June 2017 – June 2020)



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