2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Arvind Rajan, HEC Paris

Arvind Rajan

HEC Paris

“Grown kid in a candy store, amazed by the diverse gifts life has to offer!”

Hometown: Tiruchirappalli (Trichy), India

Fun fact about yourself: I have two of my milk teeth intact! As a kid, whenever I had broached this subject to dentists, they either laughed or brushed it off saying the teeth will fall off sometime during my teenage years. I am well past 30 now and the unshakeable duo are as strong as ever. While at HEC Paris, I wondered if I am the only adult with milk teeth. Armed with my new-found understanding of inferential statistics, I floated a sample survey to find out. Based on the responses, I am 95% confident that less than 2% of the population has this problem – Which probably (pun intended) explains why nobody from the medical community seems to care about this. The business case is rather weak. Sigh!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) from National Institute of Technology (NIT), Trichy

Post Graduate Diploma in Industrial Management (PGDIM) from NITIE, Mumbai

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?  Commercial Operations Leader at SUEZ

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? I chose to take a break during the summer of ’21 and went back to India to fulfill my daddy duties. I sat with my daughter during her virtual schooling sessions almost every day. And I ended up learning quite a bit (giving a whole new meaning to ‘strong fundamentals’).

Where will you be working after graduation? General Manager Development Program (GMDP) at Danaher. My first role will be with Hach in the marketing function.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Academic Representative: As an Acad-Rep, I acted as a bridge between the professors and the students. It gave me a fantastic platform to understand the aspirations of my batchmates. Often, what started as an ‘academic’ conversation meandered into deep conversations on life in general. I also had a priceless opportunity to pick the brains of the professors and provide valuable feedback to them that we received from students.

President, Industry Club: The Industry Club at HEC Paris has the mission of strengthening and expanding the industry network at HEC. Among other things, we were able to arrange a tour to Le Hive, the innovation hub of Schneider Electric. This was particularly noteworthy because face-to-face tours were becoming increasingly rare during the pandemic. We also hosted the head of Startup programs at Vinci, who gave us his invaluable perspectives on the construction industry. And finally, we arranged a six-sigma workshop that members across bat benefited from.

Leadership Award for ‘Outstanding Contribution and Leadership throughout the MBA Program’: I was among the 5% of the batch to be felicitated this award by the Associate Dean of the MBA programs. This award is special to me because I was nominated and selected by my batchmates!

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As an academic representative, I championed the idea of tutoring for my cohort. Tutoring assumed a much bigger meaning than before during the pandemic, as Zoom anxiety and lockdown rules made learning seem a lot more challenging. Initially, I had adopted a framework designed by the previous cohort to create a ‘market’ for tutoring: Tutors could potentially get up to 2 leadership credits if they clocked a certain number of hours of effective tutoring and that was promoted as a benefit. The fundamental phase had some courses that were math-heavy (Statistics and Financial Markets, for instance). For such courses, many students were more comfortable learning from batchmates in smaller groups, and they signed up for these sessions. With time, I made incremental changes to the existing framework to customize it for the batch, and this was received quite well.

Towards the end of the fundamental phase, tutoring became an end-in-itself for many tutors. They derived a lot of satisfaction from the sessions that they went above and beyond: Even after earning the maximum number of credits, they continued to formally tutor. This sentiment was reflected in the demand side, as well, as a lot of students signed up for sessions for the sheer joy of learning from their batchmates. Being an advocate of lifelong learning, I felt really proud of what we were able to accomplish as a cohort!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I led a pricing turnaround for my business unit. When I took up the role of Commercial Operations Leader at SUEZ in June 2017, I came to know that, for the past 3 years, we had been increasingly giving away discounts to retain customers. The impact on the bottom line was concerning, but the bigger question plaguing us was this: ‘Are we getting commoditized?’

After poring over a lot of data and gathering anecdotal evidence, I was able to discern clearly what the issues were. I worked with the sales team on each of these issues and on a case-by-case basis, identifying a strategy for each account. More importantly, I provided the required ammunition to the sales managers to face customers and communicate price Increases. This approach started reaping benefits. Slowly but surely, we turned the tide. By the end of 2018, price erosion was almost zero and by the end of 2019, we were ‘Price Positive’ by a significant amount.

I am most proud of the fact that I was able to accomplish this without being in a position of authority. The sales managers did not report to me and could have easily dismissed my ideas as impractical if I had not taken out time to build credibility with them. Beyond the success with numbers, my biggest win was in hearing the leadership team credit me on effecting a ‘culture change’. I was also felicitated with the ‘Pinnacle award’ for my contribution – the highest for operational excellence.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose HEC Paris for its promise of career transformation. As someone who had worked in a specialized function in a niche industry for a long time, I wanted to embark on a journey that would help me explore a new career path. A lot of MBA participants from previous cohorts were able to successfully make double and triple jumps (changing geography, function, and industry) and this enhanced its appeal in my eyes. HEC Paris also has a unique 3-step career philosophy: “Know yourself, Know the market, Match yourself to the market”. As I spoke to alumni and did my own research, I realized that this was one program that I could really benefit from, given my background. And I am glad I made this choice!

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Anne-Sophie Chaxel. She taught us marketing in the first term and I took away so much from her sessions that I chose to enroll in the strategic marketing specialization in my customized phase! In true marketing style, her 4Ps were on point: Her course content was best-in-class and she offered content in more than one medium, which I believe is imperative to making a connection with students (because different segments respond differently). Due to the pandemic, some classes were virtual and some in-person, but she ensured we all received a seamless experience irrespective.

In fact, it was one course which offered such high value that the students were more than willing to pay the price of rising early! And because of her crystal-clear communication, we knew exactly what to be prepared with and what to look forward to! One of the most powerful aspects of her course is the exercise on ‘personal branding’ – I was quite apprehensive initially about thinking of myself as a brand or reflecting seriously about my customers and competitors, but this reflection turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it helped me position myself realistically for my job interviews.

As one of my batchmates put it, her classes were a ‘fantastic mix of the creative and the analytical, the poetic and the practical’ and this turned out to be true for the entire marketing specialization too. I feel privileged to say I learnt from the best!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The Outdoor Leadership Seminar (OLS) is a fabulous event that HEC conducts every year. This usually happens off-campus, but for the batch of 2022, it was conducted on campus owing to the pandemic. The team and the professors from HEC took great care to ensure the experience was seamless, safe, and enjoyable! The very fact that HEC ensured this was conducted, despite a myriad of challenges, speaks very highly about the work ethic and commitment of the school.

The OLS is a series of exercises with increasing complexity. These exercises were great windows on team dynamics. As with any organizational time-bound project, we had to chart out a strategy and improve upon it as we went along. Just as in the real world, some people knew each other, and some people were just getting to know each other. Some had heard of similar missions and therefore had an idea about execution; However, they had to get crucial ‘buy-in’ from the team to proceed with that plan. In one sense, the mission itself was not as important as ensuring that despite information asymmetry, lack of trust, and team politics, we delivered as a team. This has been my biggest takeaway from OLS, and I shall be eternally grateful to HEC for this!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have taken out more time to call my parents! Quite often in a B-school, we tend to get too involved in the lives of people immediately around us and become isolated from the rest of the world. While I do not have any value judgments to offer, I have always considered communication with my folks among my top priorities. But unfortunately, I got too caught up with activities on campus that I did not talk to them as often as I should have.

When the second wave of COVID-19 struck in India, my father had to be admitted in a hospital. Thanks to timely intervention from my close family members, he did not face much harm. However, this experience made me realize my priorities and I have, since, made it a point to talk to my folks regularly.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One of the biggest myths about HEC Paris is that it favors or is inclined towards a certain kind of profile. While going through my application process, in quite a few forums I have heard people say ‘HEC Paris prefers people from the luxury industry’ or ‘To get into HEC Paris, one needs to have either consulting, finance, or B2C industry experience’. Some people made these claims with so much conviction that it got me slightly worried. I did not tick any of these boxes. But when I did my research, I realized that a lot of these statements were not grounded in reality at all.

I, and many others from my batch, are living testimonies to the fact that HEC truly seeks diverse profiles. Yes, HEC does look for people who are ambitious, motivated, and want to make lasting contributions in their chosen fields. But one does not need to come from a specific background to be any of this! My humble submission to the applicants is this: Do not get carried away by what is written in a lot of forums. If you have doubts about your fit, get your profile evaluated and doubts clarified through the official channel.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer beauty of the HEC Paris campus! Owing to the pandemic, I could not visit the school in person and virtual tours, as fantastic as they are, still do not do complete justice when it comes to capturing the beauty of the campus in all its entirety. One of the biggest campuses in Europe, HEC Paris is also a home to some magnificent creatures – One gets to see quite a few stags and rabbits freely roaming near the woods and it is also common to see swans and ducks paddling in the lake! I take my runs around the lake and the 110-hectare park near HEC’s very own chateau. Some of the sights I get treated to are magical! I vividly remember this one instance when, after an exhilarating 10K run. I let out a happy howl and heard a similar-sounding howl in less than a couple of seconds. I have to admit I was freaked out for a moment but when I saw this giant puppy run in the opposite direction with her human friend, I was quite relieved!

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? It was writing my own application from the heart, instead of trying to second-guess what the ideal application would look like for the school. I strongly believe HEC Paris wants to understand the applicant better as a person and does not award brownie points for a certain kind of profile. This kind of goes back to the question on ‘myths’ about the school. While it is important to put one’s best foot forward, it is imperative that an applicant does not get carried away in the process and portray a persona that (s)he is not, just so that it will seem great on paper. I did speak to quite a few alumni and students of HEC to understand more about campus life and how I could possibly contribute to discussions in and outside classrooms. I felt this was necessary to understand if I would be a cultural fit. But once I was convinced that I was, I wrote my essays with the sole intention of representing who I really was. I strongly believe this gave me an edge!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Mariana Arnaut. I worked with Mariana as a fellow academic representative and in a couple of meetings, it became immensely clear to me how sorted she was, both as a professional and as a person. Her no-nonsense approach kept the rest of us accountable, and it helped push boundaries in our roles. Coming from a consulting background, Mariana has impressive time-management skills that everyone who worked with her witnessed. She has this knack of quickly getting to the core of an issue and ideating around it, rather than brainstorming for hours without progressing. I was particularly in awe of how vocal she was when it came to pointing out issues we should tackle as a school; Without creating unnecessary fuss and by focusing on the tasks at hand, she made sure the highest of stakeholders took notice. She is also a trained yogi and she offered free lessons regularly to members of the cohort.

But I guess the most endearing aspect about Mariana is her choice of post-MBA career. She is planning to start a venture to help cancer patients improve their quality of life during and after recovery. And she has already started walking the talk by conducting interviews with patients, caregivers, doctors, associations, and therapists. To me, this speaks volumes about the kind of person she is – Committed, driven, and humane. I keep my fingers crossed and wish her all success in this noble endeavor!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My wife, Varsha, had a great influence on my decision to pursue MBA. Between the two of us, I am much more impulsive while she is the calm one. As a thirtysomething dad, I had a lot of self-doubt during the application stage on whether I would be able to make it to this coveted program. One thing she told me back then provided a lot of reassurance. She said, ‘The fact that there are not many dads in the program makes your profile quite unique. Why don’t you make this your strength instead of thinking of it as a hurdle?’. I guess this changed perspective made me a lot more confident while facing interviews. She also realized that I truly thrive in global, international environments as I am genuinely curious about cultures, history, and people. Citing a lot of examples from her workplace, she gently nudged me into thinking seriously about the MBA program rather than putting it on the backburner (Which I had, for a long time). I am glad I took her advice! As they say, better late than never.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? My first stint as part of Danaher’s GMDP will be with Hach. Hach is a pioneer in water quality and manufactures analytical instruments. As someone who pursued Instrumentation and Control engineering during undergrad and strategic marketing specialization during my MBA, I feel my life has come a full circle in one sense.

The top two items on my bucket list are:

  • To thoroughly understand the entire range of product portfolio at Hach and enhance my technical tool kit.
  • To apply tools I learnt in my strategic marketing specialization during the MBA and complete a high impact, time-critical project at the earliest.

I have always felt learning and contribution should go hand-in-hand and I guess that is what is reflected in this bucket list.

What made Arvind such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“I had the privilege of having Arvind as one of my students in the Marketing Strategy specialization of our MBA program last fall. In this group, our faculty are fortunate to work very closely with students, exchange at length on complex business cases, and see students’ “true colours” when confronted with complex decision making.

There are these rare students that you see over the course of a trimester, and you catch yourself thinking: “This is it, this one is going to do well, it is so clear; they just rapidly stand out in terms of their ability to think about complex business decisions with a rare maturity and decisiveness, using their talent at quickly seeing the most critical aspects of a business problem.” Well, that’s Arvind. After three of four sessions of the course, every time he raised his hand to contribute to the discussion, I knew he would challenge key aspects discussed by the group until then, fundamentally. Arvind is not afraid of going against the group, with clear, logical arguments. As part of our course, we discuss difficult cases, such as what price to charge for an infertility treatment (a higher price means that some couples will not have a shot at having a kid; but you also need to remain profitable). In these discussions, not only was Arvind bringing unique and critical insights to the discussion, but he showed an ability to embark everyone with him. The mark of a natural leader. So, when Arvind received the MBA Leadership award (one of a select few in his cohort at HEC Paris) at the very end of the semester, it was everything but a surprise.

I expect Arvind to make his own mark on the business world. He is not a follower. He critically and deeply thinks about the managerial and ethical dimensions of the business situations he assesses. Not every student comes with this whole baggage, and yet this is precisely the kind of future leader the business world needs: someone uncompromisingly focused on making the right business decisions for social and sustainable impact. For all these reasons, I am eager to see where Arvind will be in 10-15 years from now. He has all it takes to become a top-executive, impactful leader in any environment he chooses.”

Anne-Laure Sellier
Cartier-Chaired Professor of Creativity and Marketing

“Arvind has been an incredible addition to the HEC Paris Community. As a student, he has performed exceptionally well. Besides his academic achievements, what is most striking about having Arvind as a student is his absolute humility and authenticity. He is extremely curious, creative, and comes to you with a genuine desire to learn. He does not take any of his past knowledge for granted, and he always brings the most positive energy to class discussions. What he says is always on-point, clear, and thoughtful, and creates a positive spill over effect for all students. As a professor, one of my greatest joys is to have the opportunity and luck to interact with students like Arvind.

His contribution to HEC Paris goes well beyond the classroom. He is naturally inclined to bring out the best in others, and that made him a natural leader among his peers. He was the President of the Industry Club, an academic representative, and ultimately was rewarded with HEC leadership award for outstanding contribution throughout the MBA program. He has always answered positively to volunteer his time and energy to support the entire community and emerged as a role model to others. His profile is truly exceptional, and I will remember him as a student for years to come.”

Anne-Sophie Chaxel
Associate Professor, Marketing


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