2021 MBAs To Watch: Harsha Gummagatta, University of Virginia (Darden)

Harsha Gummagatta

University of Virginia, Darden School of Business

“Perpetual optimist (work in-progress), endlessly curious about the future of technology and creativity in business.”

Hometown: Hyderabad, India

Fun fact about yourself: I filmed a documentary about Indian independent creators, while traveling on a 5-city tour with an up-and-coming singer-songwriter.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani – M.Sc. with Honors, Economics and B.E. with Honors, Mechanical Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?

Spotify – Strategy and Operations (pre-MBA intern)

Goldman Sachs – Senior Analyst, Investment Banking Division (full-time)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? eBay, San Jose

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

President – Darden Technology Club

Member – International Student Advisory Group (Section Leadership)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of hosting “A Professor and a Playlist”, a live podcast that brought the Darden community together during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each week, I was joined by a professor who shared their playlist of 10-12 songs that resonated with their life, their journey, and their current state of mind. Weaved in between the songs, was an open, honest, and fun conversation about the impact of music on the professors; how their music tastes evolved, untold stories of concert experiences, and how music shaped their personal and professional lives. “Community” is one of Darden’s biggest strengths, and I have always believed in the power of bringing people together through music. Despite the lockdown restrictions, the show provided a space for faculty, students, and members of the community to get to know each other and brought the community together at a difficult time in our lives. Hosting this podcast helped me develop my personal brand and served as a launchpad for my new podcast venture “Third Coffee” which is live now on Spotify!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? After my first year as an analyst working in the Operations division at Goldman Sachs India, I was chosen to travel to London as a subject matter expert to help build the infrastructure for a new financial regulation that was coming into effect. This was the first time someone as junior as I was in the company received such an opportunity. It wasn’t just the international work opportunity that made me proud, but what this experience taught me at an early stage in my career. Two things stood out

  1. Cross-cultural exposure – This was the first time I worked outside of India and this experience sparked my interest in working globally and seeking out experiences outside of my comfort zone
  2. Patience – Although I was early in my career, I was beginning to get impatient, looking for new challenges and growth opportunities. Through this experience, I learned to stay focused at the task at hand and gained comfort in knowledge that recognition and success is an inevitable byproduct of a focus on the process rather than the outcome.

Why did you choose this business school? If I had to pick one overarching reason for choosing Darden, it is the strength of the community. At Darden, I learn every day, not just in the classroom with our incredible faculty but also outside the classroom, from my friends, peers, and, yes, the faculty once again (they are incredibly available and giving of their time). Many students may have similar goals, but it is fascinating to learn about each person’s background and process; it always helps build perspective and generate new ideas. This exchange of ideas fuels both my personal and professional development and is possible only within a tight knight community, making me forever thankful for choosing Darden!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school My favorite tradition is Darden Cup, and specifically the Cricket and Football events. Sport unites communities and has always been a great channel of showcasing passions and cultures. I’m extremely passionate about cricket and it was overwhelming to see the support and participation of all my peers (both domestic and international), whether they played on the field or cheered from the sidelines. While cricket helped me share my culture and values with my friends, football gave me a chance to learn about a sport that is so integral to the culture in the US (there are so many rules!).

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have reserved more time for thinking and introspection early on in my MBA journey. There’s a lot thrown at you in those first months — from social activities to classwork to recruiting — and it’s easy to get distracted and lose sight of the bigger picture and your goals. I was quite reactive to begin with, but over time, I learnt a lot about prioritization, working efficiently and staying true to my processes.

What surprised you the most about business school? Coming into Darden, I knew that the faculty had an open-door policy, but honestly I didn’t fully grasp what that meant. I was surprised by how truly accessible, open, and honest the faculty are; they aren’t just our teachers, they become our friends, allies, and mentors for a lifetime. They truly care about their students’ experience, both from a personal and professional growth standpoint.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I stayed true to my goal. I come from an investment banking background, but want to pivot into a career at the intersection of music/media and technology. By MBA standards, this is a non-traditional goal, and I was advised by several people to stick to the tried-and-tested narrative of transitioning to impact investing, or private equity post IB. However, I stayed honest and wrote and spoke about what I was truly passionate about. I’m not sure if it gave me an edge, but I do know that it helped me remain genuine and persuasive during the interview process.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Eric Linde. Eric is one of my closest friends at Darden and is a brother to me. I admire his dedication, discipline, balance, and openness to new experiences. Whether inside in the class — where he is thoroughly prepared for every case — or outside — where he showed up to support our section during Darden cup despite a same day surgery — Eric is dedicated. His professional success is an indication of his discipline, and the friendships he has forged come from the balance he strikes between his professional and personal ambitions. Eric is approachable, open-minded, and most importantly someone you can trust. Darden is quite lucky to have him and I am certainly lucky to have him as my business partner for our Third Coffee podcast!

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The shift to an online/hybrid environment was disruptive, but I do want to acknowledge the incredible job Darden has done to preserve the educational experience. While we were away on Spring Break when COVID hit, the faculty and administration put in countless hours to revamp the educational experience in time for the start of our final quarter. This academic year, the school has consistently offered hybrid courses, which are quite frankly much harder to coordinate than virtual offerings. In some instances, the shift to the online format proved positively disruptive as students and faculty identified new ways to stay connected and leveraged the technological tools available to enhance the interactivity in the classroom. They’ve even offered courses on the projected impact of COVID on the business world.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My family (parents and my sister) have always believed in my abilities and supported my ambitions. Since I was a child, my family has always placed a high emphasis on education. When the time came for me to pursue higher education, they were instrumental in helping me think through my different options. My sister pursued an MBA several years before I did, and her experience and insights helped me choose the right program and career path.

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

  • Lead strategic growth in a creator centric organization – I came to business school to marry my experience in business and finance with my passion for the arts and music. I hope to one day work in a role that helps me empower creators to achieve their potential!
  • Promote Indian independent music across the globe – This is probably a very long-term bucket list item! Indian music is often synonymous with Bollywood music. However, there is a burgeoning class of incredibly talented independent musicians who don’t get recognition they are due because of a lack of resources and support. I want to strategically address this issue and plant the seeds to develop a thriving music ecosystem in the country

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

“Harsha Gummagatta is an exceptional talent who not only has the ability to envision extraordinary ideas. but has the collaborative leadership skills, tenacity, and attention to detail to bring those ideas to fruition. A feature of Harsha’s creative initiatives is that they involve making a remarkable difference for his peers and the local community more generally. As an example, Harsha’s love of music led him to build an online program, “A Professor and A Playlist,” where he reached out to Darden Professors, asked them to share a playlist of their favorite music, and then separately interviewed each professor to learn about the reasons for their music choices, in front of a live online audience. The original programming — which Harsha created, produced, and hosted — was a welcome joy for the Darden community during the socially-restricted pandemic Spring of 2020.”

Professor Shane Dikolli




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