Harvard MBA Essay Samples: How Five Applicants From India Overcame The Odds

What Would Dada Do? 

Age: 29
Country: India
Industry: Private Equity
Recent Role: Senior Associate
GMAT Score: 730
Degree: Accounting
Years of Experience: 7

Analysis: The author follows a very effective strategy in this essay: talking about their grandfather (Dada) and how “what would Dada do?” is the author’s guiding principle. It is a wonderful strategy to inspire your own essay, as it helps describe who you are and who you strive to be, but in an indirect way. Being proud of yourself by being proud of someone important in your life, someone you are, in a way, becoming. This essay also puts a big emphasis on value-oriented decision-making. The author effectively describes Dada in such a way that the reader can feel–not just read about–Dada’s (and the author’s) values which guide their actions. Given the tight word limit for the essay, conveying feelings is a very efficient way to say lots of things without actually writing them down. For example, the author finishes the essay with “being a part of the HBS community will push me towards being a leader who acts with empathy and courage, a leader my Dada would be proud of.” Since in previous paragraphs the author has managed to make us feel like we personally know Dada, we know exactly what they mean by a leader their Dada would be proud of. Several paragraphs are saved by the implicit connotation of what kind of leader they will become. There is no need to describe what kind of actions the author will take during and after HBS, because we know that they will be value-guided and result in an incredible positive impact for the world.

My parents and relatives often say that my actions remind them of my grandfather, or Dada, as I fondly called him. Dada was the glue of our family, and most known for his selflessness, bias towards action, love for catching sunrises and cherishing the little moments in life. As I reflect upon my relationship with Dada, I realize that I was lucky enough to have him around as a role model. Dada and his stories have played a critical role in shaping my values. And I’d like to share a few of those with you today.

Of all the grandchildren, I was the only one who accompanied Dada on his early morning walks. On our way home, we would stop by our neighborhood ice-cream truck (not many in our family know about this secret tradition of ours to this date!). On one such walk, we saw a young girl digging through a garbage can for food. I was seven years old then and my reflex was to hand her my ice-cream. As we continued walking home, Dada kissed me on the forehead and said, [Saying in South Asian Language] meaning, “If you hold such values,  not only will you spread happiness to everyone around you, but you will also find your own happiness.” That moment has stuck with me ever since, and continues to guide my actions.

Dada often told us – do what is right, not what is popular, and he lived this himself. At a time when most girls were married right after high school, Dada stood up to our community to encourage his sister’s education. She became the first woman in our community to secure a graduate degree and many have followed her footsteps since. I draw inspiration from this story time and again. One such instance was when I was 15. My friends and my loud cricket play was disturbing an old lady who lived adjacent to our playground. Her anger only seemed to incite my friends to be louder. I felt torn by the situation: I thoroughly loved our wild cricket play, but I felt a soft spot for the old lady. Thinking of Dada, I promised the old lady that we would play on the other side of the ground in the afternoons to keep the noise down. Not all my friends appreciated this. However, knowing that my actions would make Dada proud was sufficient to give me solace and not worry about losing friends.

Dada’s arthritis made long distance travel difficult for him. Despite his discomfort, he made 12-hour trips every month to oversee the operations of a charitable hospital in our native place. No matter the personal cost, he never backed down from lending a helping hand. I try to emulate that in my own small ways. [Friend’s Name], a friend of mine, and I were pursuing [South Asian Country]’s arduous Chartered Accountancy course. A week before the exam, [Friend] was terribly anxious and was suffering from panic attacks. I was nervous too, as a year of effort would boil down to this one examination. Despite my own anxiety and a daily 14-hour study schedule, I spent an hour each day to distract and calm [Friend] to ensure that her anxiety did not get in the way of her succeeding. Both [Friend] and I cleared the examination. Now married, [Friend] and I are each other’s strongest support systems. Dada had told me that helping others would bring me happiness, but little did I know that it would also lead me to my future wife!

One of my fondest memories of Dada is that he would always have a pack of biscuits in the car to distribute to the homeless. He always reminded us to actively address the disparities around us. A few years ago, during the monsoons, my neighborhood in [Large South Asian City] was witnessing unusual amounts of flooding. Compounding the situation, an area restaurant was dumping its untreated waste in the rainwater drain, which bred bacteria and mosquitos. Unfortunately, the security guards and domestic helpers were most affected by this. This bothered me. I first requested the building committee to file a complaint with the local authorities. When the authorities were unresponsive, I persuaded the committee to allocate part of the society’s budget to address this issue. Unfortunately, this did not receive support from all members.

Disheartened, I felt like giving up, but I knew Dada wouldn’t have. So, I led a campaign collecting photographs, signatures, and information on the cases of malaria and dengue and contacted local media outlets to highlight the issue. Eventually, the authorities took notice and resolved the issue. Every year since, I remind them to clear the drains before the monsoon to ensure the safety and health of the workers.

Dada’s values have also guided my decisions at [Private Equity Firm]. One example of this has been with my portfolio company, [Name of Portfolio Company], a manufacturer of medical devices. Given the nature of its business, [Portfolio Company] was regulatorily required to operate throughout the COVID lockdown. In these unprecedented times, [Private Equity Firm]’s global mandate was to cut costs and preserve cash. While the most apparent way to achieve this was by enforcing a pay-cut, I felt this was incorrect and myopic. Over the last few years, I have gotten to know the employees at [Portfolio Company] and I know that most of them live on a tight budget. Enforcing a pay-cut and still expecting them to risk their health to come to work was unfair and would destroy their morale. I knew it would not be easy to go against my bosses, but Dada’s value of doing what is right gave me the courage to pursue my gut. I worked with [Portfolio Company]’s CFO to carry out detailed financial analyses to prove that the company had sufficient cash buffer to tide through the lockdown. I was able to convince my team at [Private Equity Firm] to abrogate the salary cut. Five months through the lockdown, [Portfolio Company] has outperformed on all fronts, and the team remains highly motivated.

Thus far, Dada’s values have been my guiding forces, giving me the confidence to drive change in my personal and professional life. He prepared me to uphold [Private Equity Firm]’s core value of “right over easy” which has helped me secure a full MBA tuition scholarship and an offer to join the firm’s senior team. Now, I dream of a world where capitalism, empathy and service can go hand-in-hand. Through interactions with HBS alumni an mentors, I am convinced that the HBS experience will help enable me to pursue my dream and measure success in terms of the impact I could have on communities around me. It will help me recognize my biases, challenge existing status-quos and identify innovative solutions. Most importantly, I know that being a part of the HBS community will push me towards being a leader who acts with empathy and courage, a leader my Dada would be proud of.

Author’s Comment: “It was a period of deep introspection. In our daily hustle, we often forget our life goals and values. While writing the HBS essay, I took a step back to really understand what makes me tick. There were a (large) number of iterations, but eventually I believe, the essay was able to communicate who I really am.”

Extracurricular Activities: Volunteer at a humanitarian nonprofit.

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