2021 MBAs To Watch: Aditi Bhandari, UC Berkeley (Haas)

Aditi Bhandari

University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“Optimist and sunshine-seeker, passionate about inclusion, brands, and people-focused marketing.”

Hometown: Sugar Land, TX

Fun fact about yourself: I got my literal 15 seconds of fame on a Turkish reality TV show. My friends and I were approached by a TV crew in a Macao club and were asked to pretend to be the main character’s friends for a few scenes. We got a free table out of it!

Undergraduate School and Degree: The University of Texas at Austin; Bachelor of Business Administration in marketing, minor in anthropology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was a digital operations manager at the Target Corporation (digital media, specifically AdTech)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? PepsiCo Frito-Lay

Where will you be working after graduation? PepsiCo Frito-Lay

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Haas MBA Association (Full-time MBA student government association), VP of Communications; Haas Marketing Club, VP of Careers; Berkeley Board Fellow (served on local non-profit board); Haas Career Management Group Peer Advisor; Oski (Berkeley Haas student cohort) Communications Representative

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The extracurricular achievement I am most proud of is serving as a peer advisor for Haas’ Career Management Group (CMG). It’s been amazing to coach the Class of 2022 in their internship search, which is actually more soul searching than anything! I’ve enjoyed sharing my passion for brand management and marketing, especially in the CPG/retail industries, with interested and brilliant peers. We’ve had a record number of people pursue recruitment for brand management this year, which is especially exciting given the disruption in DTC and e-commerce and the growing importance of purpose-driven, strong brands in this pandemic era and beyond.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The achievement I’m most proud of is being an advocate for inclusion at Target. I’ve worked with courageous and brilliant colleagues in official employee resource groups and organizations, and unofficially within my team and department to create and maintain a work culture that celebrates authenticity. The work culture not only shapes the employee experience, but also the output and product that consumers see from the brand.

Why did you choose this business school? Sometimes, you get to choose who your family is, and I’ve found that to be true at Haas. I chose Haas for the amazing culture, hands down. Haasies are the most consistently loving, welcoming, genuine group I have come across. I was worried b-school would be like college with distinct groups and internationals living lives separate from the American students, but Haas truly does feel like one big family. For a business school experience that was disrupted immensely with some real lemons, I feel lucky to be able to make lemonade every day with my Haas family.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Veselina Dinova. Veselina is a trusted friend and an expert in her field. Even in Zoom class, Veselina creates a classroom atmosphere that promotes asking questions without fear. She explains complicated concepts simply, and makes an effort to ensure that everyone is understanding and feeling above water. Furthermore, Veselina makes an effort to personally get to know every student in her classes by reaching out to individual students for virtual coffees or connecting with project teams. She teaches accounting-focused classes. To say that those have been some of my favorite classes as a poet (and very much not a quant) has to say something about her as a professor.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myths about Haas are that the class size is too small and the alumni network is not as robust. It’s my last semester and I am still finding new people to get to know! The benefit of the small class size is that we know everyone’s names and we truly get to know our classmates on a deeper level. Also, Haasies are everywhere! While there are definite regional and industry trends when it comes to Haas graduates, I have found and connected with Haasies in unexpected places, such as skincare/beauty, CPG, VC (where I hope to end up), and in the Texas suburbs.

What surprised you the most about business school? The academic rigor. I’ve been enjoying the personal, professional, and academic challenges as well as learning from my classmates. I am blown away by how brilliant and humble my classmates are—we’ve got a goldmine!

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I didn’t decide to apply to business school until the fall application cycle, so I had to move quickly to make round two deadlines. I turned a wall in my studio apartment into a Memento-esque board full of post-its and taped pieces of paper that included personal reflections, deadlines, and proposed timelines, and notes from calls with current students at my target schools. I think the rapid pace of my application process made me focus on tightening my personal statements and essays. I didn’t waste time writing additional essays for schools I wasn’t in love with. This approach allowed me to focus on Haas, the culture, clubs, and courses via in-depth conversations with current students. By the end, I was even more certain in my decision to apply.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire my classmate Akonkwa “Akon” Mubagwa. He is the most generous, kind-hearted, and gregarious person I know. Akon has been crucial in creating a sense of community not only within our class, but also facilitating bonds between second-year and first-year students (which is much harder given that our campus and beloved courtyard has been shuttered due to the pandemic). I admire his open-heartedness and open-mindedness; he is a deep listener and non-judgmental. On top of all that, his work ethic is impeccable. He is getting his social impact-focused startup off the ground in addition to everything else in the b-school flurry.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? VERY disruptive. Haas is not a commuter school, and a large reason the culture is so distinct is because most Haasies live within a mile or two of the school. We all hang out on and around campus. Quarantine and the sudden shift to remote instruction dramatically impacted our experience and essentially halted everything except classes for a while. As a student leader, I learned a lot about how the school operates within the public university system, the city, the county, the state, and the federal government when it comes to navigating something as unprecedented as this pandemic and how to mitigate it. Despite all the hardship, we’ve been counting our blessings, coming together as a community, and making the most of what we can for our experience.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mom influenced my decision to pursue business in college. I tell her my goals and dreams and she reminds me of them when I am feeling stuck. I couldn’t have asked for a more invested cheerleader, coach, and best friend in my personal and professional life. When my parents were moving out of my childhood home in 2018, I found a drawing I had made in 4th grade. The prompt on top of the page said, “Draw yourself at age 30.” I had drawn a woman in a suit and scrawled under it, “I am a CMO.” I have no idea how 10-year-old me knew what a CMO was, but 10-year-old me definitely didn’t understand how young 30 is. Regardless, my mom had kept that drawing and reminded me of it when I first told her I was contemplating business school because I was feeling stuck at my media job. I think often about how she moved to this country younger than I am now, with a toddler in tow, to give me the opportunities she could only dream of. I am so grateful for her keeping me on track with my own dreams.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

1) Become a consistent mentor. I am immensely grateful for all the mentorship and guidance I have received on my professional journey. Giving back and lifting up those after me is something I am looking forward to as I get more work and life experience.

2) Create an inclusive skincare/beauty brand from scratch. I’m still working on fleshing out this bucket list item. I didn’t think I had an entrepreneurial spirit before business school, but the startup bug bites hard out here in the Bay.

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

“Aditi has been fully engaged in supporting the community since joining the program.  Despite the challenges of the COVID era, she’s been a leader in student government, working as VP of Communications to improve and maintain good communication between the school and the full-time MBA student population. Her energetic and positive attitude has helped carry others through a difficult time.  In addition, she’s served as a peer advisor with our Career Management Group, helping to advise first-year students who are pursuing careers in marketing.  She has also served on the Board of Directors of a local non-profit organization through the Berkeley Board Fellows Program, supporting NIAD, a local art center and gallery for adult artists with disabilities.

Her enthusiasm for life and work, her positive attitude, and her genuine passion for serving her community have made her an invaluable member of our program.

Peter Johnson
Assistant Dean for the Full-time MBA Program

Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley


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