2021 MBAs To Watch: Tarun Bhatia, National University of Singapore

Tarun Bhatia

National University of Singapore, NUS Business School

“Witty with a light touch of sarcasm and a love for beer and bubble tea in equal measure.”

Hometown: Mumbai, India

Fun fact about yourself: Well, I have a sweet tooth and I travelled all the way to South Africa only to miss a flight to Kruger National Park because I was too busy at the airport café eating waffles.

Undergraduate School and Degree:
Brandeis University
BA Economics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Management Consultant, UC Strategy (a boutique management consulting firm)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Engie Factory APAC, Singapore

Where will you be working after graduation? Garena (Sea Group), Singapore

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Academic Affairs Liaison (Student Council Executive Committee): In my role, I served as the bridge between the Graduate Studies Office and my peers on all matters related to academic life at business school with the goal of improving the quality of the programme. I worked to ensure my peers made the most out of their MBA experience through creating a platform to seek feedback on the curriculum, introducing new modules, and participation in regional and global case competitions.

Taskforce on Masters Grading Policy: I was nominated by the Graduate Studies Office to represent both MBA and Masters students on a taskforce with the Dean and senior leadership at the university, to reevaluate our grading system at the school to ensure students had the right incentives to drive their MBA experiences.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My role as Academic Affairs Liaison often put me in situations where I would come under a fair deal of pressure from my peers to make changes to certain aspects of the programme. I had to stay calm, see the bigger picture and filter out the noise and manage expectations to ensure my peers were satisfied — all while doing my best to ensure that I effected change in a lasting way.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At one of India’s largest tech unicorns, I was part of a three-member team of consultants tasked with designing the one-year roadmap for the CEO to double revenue and profitability for its India and international businesses. The exercise was a milestone for the company, a significant step towards its transition from start-up to corporate, and a departure from past planning exercises. Imagine a company worth billions that operated year-on-year with financial targets set in silo, that were allocated top-down by leadership without any discussions around how to achieve them. And it was my mandate to implement a system that would provide transparency and accountability, and function as a baseline for future planning exercises.

Through liaising with different parties and adapting to their needs, I learned to appreciate the cultural nuances at play in implementing operational change in a complex organization. I also learned that I needed to revamp key elements of my personal leadership style. Specifically, I learned that empathy and humility go a long way in engaging people and earning trust. As a leader, I understood that there exists a fine balance between displaying credibility and constant learning. Not always having the solution is acceptable, but a dedicated effort to solving problems is non-negotiable. The process wasn’t only about my vision of the end goal but also about two-way communication and sharing of responsibility. Understanding the root causes of problems and encouraging managers to contribute ideas to overhaul the planning process brought about greater engagement and stakeholder buy-in.

The end result was a clear operating plan for the company’s global business, spanning divisions ranging from Product and Technology to Marketing, Finance, and Operations. There now existed clarity on what markets the company would target, what resources were needed, how manpower and capital resources would be allocated across the organization, and (most importantly) who would be responsible for driving each strategic initiative. The company now had an annual plan, down to a week-on-week level on activities planned across its divisions, with clear interdependencies (from both local and foreign stakeholders) highlighted, and sign-off from all stakeholders.

Why did you choose this business school? I knew that I wanted to transition to Asia after my graduate degree. For me, The NUS MBA is globally recognized, consistently ranked highly amongst its peers, has an unparalleled Asian focus, and offered a unique blend of East and West through its double-degree programme with the Yale School of Management (of which I am currently a part).

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite tradition at school would have to be our Sandbox series. Think of Sandbox as a sort of TED Talks event. We would meet about once or twice a month (over beer, of course!) and in groups of 2 to 4 my peers would volunteer to share or present about any topic of their respective interests. It could be their favorite sport, hobby, or something deeply personal that they probably hadn’t told a soul until that moment. The idea was to be fierce and unapologetically authentic. It was a safe space where we could be ourselves and be free from judgement. It brought us closer as a cohort and really cultivated a strong sense of unity.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I don’t usually have regrets but if there’s one thing I’d choose to do differently, it would be to manage my time more efficiently. B-school blesses you with a plethora of opportunities. With the excitement that comes with it, it’s easy to lose sight of events/opportunities that are higher up on your agenda that deserve a greater weight of your attention or time. But then again, you learn from experience and I’d choose to learn rather than indulge regret.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Looking outside in, NUS Business School is marketed as an institution that delivers a transformative business school education with an Asian lens, blending the best of East and West. Through our case discussions, experiential engagement activities, and the passionate researchers and faculty at the school, NUS meets and surpasses these expectations.

What surprised you the most about business school? It was refreshing to meet and engage with a number of high achieving and incredibly smart peers who still maintained a strong sense of humility and willingness to better themselves.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I spoke to alumni and visited the school.  

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I would have to say I most admire my classmate, Douglas Tan. Without revealing too much, Douglas has faced challenges that probably would have crushed the spirits of most people I know. To see him achieve what he has since is truly inspirational and a lesson in grit, perseverance, faith, and taking advantage of opportunities. I am proud of him and I hope he gets to read this.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? NUS did a great job of transitioning to a hybrid learning environment. While you tend to miss the in-person dynamics that are key to a business school education, as future business leaders it is important to make the best of a given situation. Hybrid learning can offer its fair share of value additions too, through helping students stranded abroad attend classes, facilitating break-out rooms for deeper engagement, and even creating a sense of appreciation for human interaction and how easy it is to take for granted.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My grandfather is the sole reason I pursued business education at the graduate level. He never had the opportunity to do so himself. While he successfully navigated his way to build a business of his own, he always believed in the value of education and dreamt of pursuing it. Fulfilling his dream is what drove me to business school, and my achievements here and in the future are entirely dedicated to him.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The two I would pick are:

  1. To be invited to speak at a commencement ceremony at my alma mater.
  2. To contribute to society and the bottom line of my company in equal measure.

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

“Tarun’s thoughtfulness and sincerity make him stand out. He devotes his best efforts to any task that he takes on. His enthusiasm and optimistic outlook made him a valuable member of The NUS MBA community and his balanced perspectives towards any issue, academic or otherwise, make him a well-liked team member for projects and assignments.”

Professor Nitin Pangarkar
Academic Director, The NUS MBA