2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Ashmita Dutta, IE Business School

Ashmita Dutta

IE Business School

“Marketing professional, with a passion for dogs, fantasy fiction, cubism, and feminism.”

Hometown: New Delhi, India

Fun fact about yourself: I can make the most believable excuses to leave any party early, without making the situation awkward.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  1. Institute of Chartered Accountants of India; Degree – Chartered Accountant
  2. Indira Gandhi National Open University; Degree – Bachelor of Commerce with Accountancy and Finance

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Accenture Inc., Internal Communications (Sr. Analyst)

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? NA

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  1. Founder-President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee – Founded the umbrella committee of DE&I initiatives across the school, with the action-driven mission of equipping future leaders in creating and effectively managing diverse teams at the workspace. My aim is to not only spark conversations on the need of DE&I, but also to develop the sensibility and skill of creating diverse and inclusive spaces.
  2. Speaker at MBA World Summit 2022, Milan – Selected as one of the 100 MBA delegates from business schools across the globe, and as one of 25 speakers at the summit.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? IE Business School has provided the platform to bring my authentic self to the table, and at the same time, learn from the brightest minds of the most diverse backgrounds. My proudest moment was representing my school at the MBA World Summit 2022, amongst 100 chosen delegates from over 40 global top business schools. As a speaker at the summit, I conducted a session on diversity in career, and the unconventional paths taken towards success. While the quants have formed the overwhelming majority at business schools, I spoke on behalf of the poets. I hope that it was one step towards broadening the table of the future leaders.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While gratifying work is a significant incentive, creating an impact on people’s lives is what drives me. One of my most impactful projects has been the communications of Swachh Survekshan, the largest urban cleanliness survey in the world, conducted by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, India. This survey falls under the Swachh Bharat Mission, which targets creating a safe and hygienic environment for residents in India.

Until 2019, much of the work was top-down, and despite various initiatives, there was little behavioural change in people. Through the survey, the Mission was speaking to more than 50 million people. However, the communication focused on gathering information rather than affecting behavioural change. One of the challenges was that people in remote towns were reluctant to construct toilets in their homes, and open defecation was rampant. It created massive sanitation and safety issues, especially for women who had to go out at night and put themselves at risk.

In 2020, to affect this behavioural change across 4500 towns, I proposed a nationwide communication campaign. I extended the means of communication beyond digital in more than 25 languages and engaged local official bodies, influencers, grass-root level organisations, and environmental activists and workers.

The campaign reached more than 731 million people in 4 months. With over 6 million toilets constructed in homes, open defecation dropped to zero in more than 4300 towns.

I remember a message the Mission received from a woman in a remote town of north India – “I don’t have to go out at night and fear for my life”. Beyond numbers, I am most proud of the impact of the campaign on people’s lives.

Why did you choose this business school? Freeman Dyson, a theoretical physicist and mathematician, had put forth the brilliant analogy of frogs and birds. He said that in complex environments, we need frogs with the specialised and focused knowledge of solving complex problems. But we also need birds that fly up in the air, integrating the knowledge of the wide landscape. In his analogy, frogs are specialists and birds are generalists, and Dyson claimed that we need both to successfully solve problems in complex situations.

I believe IE Business School lives this analogy to its truth in everything it does. While most business schools have a large number of candidates from consulting or finance backgrounds, we have them along with filmmakers, opera singers, military veterans, entrepreneurs, social workers – people from all kinds of backgrounds, careers, and experiences. We have frogs, we have birds, and we have them teaching each other. I chose IE Business School because it gave me the opportunity to ignore the box, and be a part of the most heterogenous group in business.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Before pursuing my MBA, I had spent almost a decade working in various different roles and industries, taking a hands-on approach to choosing my career path. While I enjoyed working in different roles, I knew for a fact that despite being good with numbers, I did not want to work in finance. I graduated in finance and auditing, but found the subject not suited to my interests.

Prof. Susana Martinez Meyers changed that for me. She ensured that I went from a begrudging student who simply knew financial concepts, to one that enjoyed understanding and analysing the stories told by financial statements. She provided a solid foundation of concepts and ensured we discovered the practical applications through doing instead of listening.

I have had the fortune of meeting brilliant professors at IE, but Susana stands out because she taught me a subject I had never liked and in 16 sessions, made sure I was equipped to integrate my knowledge, apply it in the real world, and enjoy the process.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? My favourite course in the core periods has been Strategy, because of the way it has facilitated my learnings towards my choice of career. I seek to continue my career in marketing strategy, and the Strategy course has enabled me to think of a business from different perspectives, and not merely marketing or finance. Prof. Enrique Peña Perez provided conceptual knowledge to us and, at the same time, allowed us to discover and understand various successful and unsuccessful strategies from a practical standpoint. Being exposed to the historical case studies of different industries and discussing the same with classmates of varied viewpoints enabled me in not only learning from others’ experience, but gaining the ability to step back and look at different perspectives of a business before forming a strategic decision. I believe this will be a crucial skill in my career.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? IE Business School has an active and engaged Women in Business Vlub, which undertakes a number of initiatives to ensure that women occupy spaces and break glass ceilings. One of my favourite events has been the herculean task undertaken by the club and the administration: Women in Business Mentorship Programme. Under this programme. Here, a few selected women students are paired up with leaders and mentors from different industries, wherein they obtain guidance and mentorship from the who’s who of business.

I had the fortune of being amongst the chosen few and assigned a mentor with a rich experience of 25+ years in various industries and roles. The school has ensured that we are paired with the right people, who can support us in our career trajectory and provide us with suitable resources. Their involvement and commitment towards developing women talent is most evident in such initiatives and traditions.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Because of its track record, IE Business School has developed the reputation of being a “school for and of entrepreneurs”. While this was a great myth for those looking to chart their way into building a business, it was worrisome for me. I was, and still am, looking for roles within an organisation to pursue and develop in my chosen career. Entrepreneurship isn’t the immediate step after an MBA for me.

However, my experience with IE Business School has taught me that this school provides you with what you want. It’s a valuable launchpad for those who want to start their business and become an entrepreneur. For those like me, it’s a pool of education and resources that we can tap into for charting our way. I find that one of the best things about this school is that it acts as a guide and not as horse blinds. It will show you the path to your goals, and not try to fit a round peg in a square hole.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Madrid expands to make space for everybody. There are cities that are meant for outgoing, high-strung people, there are towns meant for those who seek to party, and there are places for the ones looking for a quieter life. Madrid is meant for every one of them. My school has allowed me to meet people from the most diverse backgrounds and preferences possible, and all of us have found our own space in this city. Those who live at clubs have found a host of places that begin life at 2 AM, and for those of us who would rather read a book at the park, El Retiro welcomes you at all times.

I am a fan of spaces that have voices that sound nothing like each other, and Madrid provides me with the diversity I seek while making me feel right at home.

What surprised you the most about business school? I grew up in a system that rewarded competition, whether at school or in the workplace. I have always been uncomfortable with the concept of going up against someone to succeed, but assumed it to be the norm in most places. Business school showed me how the only way to truly succeed is to cooperate with each other.

And it was completely the opposite of what I had expected. I had assumed that business school would reflect the business environment I had witnessed – cut-throat and competitive. But I was pleasantly surprised at how much people were willing to work with and for each other, despite being judged academically on a curve. I believe that if we carry this attitude to our workplaces, we truly have the capacity to change the world, as cliched as it may sound.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? When I started preparing for my MBA and doing my research, I found that every person I spoke to had a different advice to give, oftentimes clashing with the advice of some other equally successful candidate. It was then I realised there was no one correct way. This gave me the confidence to bring my authentic self to the table.

Owing to my career choices, I believed in the importance of diversity and looking at challenges from different perspectives. I also hold feminist views, and believe that uplifting women leaders of the future is a way to assure that we move towards a more equal world. In my application, I highlighted these aspects of my values, principles, and actions. I did not seek to fit into any box, but convey that I bring valuable experiences and viewpoints to the class. I believe being authentic and honest gave me an edge during the application process.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I came to school expecting to meet interesting people with unique experiences, but I did not expect Nawid Fatahi. Born in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and moved to Canada as a refugee, Nawid’s story starts in the more dire situations. But Nawid has turned every obstacle he has faced into either a learning or a hilarious story that makes him the star of a party. His attitude itself would be inspiring enough, but the actions he chooses everyday are even more so.

Nawid is a husband to a brilliant woman, and a father to the smartest daughter, a gorgeous dog, and as of a couple months ago, a beautiful son. With all the responsibilities of taking care of a family with an aging dog and kids as young as they get, Nawid should not be able to take on the responsibilities of school as well as he does. And after all that, Nawid always has time for an evening listening to us vent about our embarrassingly small problems. He is a good leader, a great husband and father, and an absolutely golden friend.

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

  1. I want to strategise a campaign such as Lemon of Volkswagen. The campaign is one of the most famous and bold campaigns the advertising industry has seen. Nothing of the sort had been done before William Bernbach conceived of it, and very few campaigns till date match up to the risk and the success of the campaign. As a marketing professional, I want to leave behind work that inspires future professionals.
  2. I want to pave the way for women leaders in marketing, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds. It is unfortunate that even in 2023, we have a homogenous pool of professionals at the decision making level. I want to be able to make a dent and open the door for women leaders in different positions of decision making, especially in marketing.

What made Ashmita such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“I was Ashmita’s Strategy professor during her International MBA at IE Business School. Ashmita was one of those participants that always contributed in a constructive and positive way, sharing openly her ideas, knowledge and experience – all of which I found truly valuable given her diverse array of past experiences. Ashmita is really well-rounded and has a very unique balance of attributes: determined and humble, charismatic and rigorous, personable and professional. She listens actively to everyone, showing respect and passion to learn from others as well as a constant desire to immediately contribute with her views. This combination of abilities makes her one of those magnetic persons that teams and clients want to work with. I am eager to follow Ashmita’s successful accomplishments in her future endeavors.”

Enrique Peña Perez
IE Business School Professor

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