Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Akbar Arsiwala, University of Michigan (Ross)

Akbar Arsiwala

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

“I’m the product of many families, including by birth and those selected by choice.”

Hometown: Northville, Michigan

Fun Fact About Yourself: I once lost a bet and had to run a full marathon in a “Scooby Doo” costume – never again!

Undergraduate School and Major: United States Naval Academy | International Relations & Arabic

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Product Manager – Duo Security

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of Michigan Ross’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school, and why was it so important to you? When looking at MBA programs, I prioritized three factors: Academic, professional, and personal development. Ross won me over in all aspects. Whether it’s the action-based learning model, niche professional clubs like FitX, or the incredible comradery in the Armed Forces Association, I know that Ross will push me out of my comfort zone and help me become the leader I aspire to be. Also, incredible memories with my brother (a 2020 Michigan grad) during football seasons convinced me that I couldn’t pass up on joining the Wolverine family!

What has been your first impression of the Ross MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far? Tell us your best Ross story so far. A phrase that best describes the Ross MBAs I’ve met is “us before me.” While their backgrounds and aspirations are unique, they all share a passion for serving the larger community. A great example happened the first time I came to campus as an admitted student. I missed Ross’s “Go Blue Rendezvous” (the admitted student’s weekend) and wanted to explore Ann Arbor for myself. Not only did an MBA2 make time in their busy schedule for a full campus tour, but they also took me out to breakfast beforehand and refused to let me pay. That small gesture speaks to a larger culture of family, one that I can’t wait to give back to.

What course, club, or activity excites you the most at Michigan Ross (and why)? It’s hard to choose just one! But if I have to, it has to be Open Road at Ross. This program allows MBAs to spend a month helping social entrepreneurs across the United States solve pressing business challenges. Last year, teams traveled across the country helping over 22 organizations, ranging from inclusive fitness studios to innovative nonprofits. Open Road exemplifies everything fantastic at Ross, applying knowledge gained to real-world challenges!

When you think of the Michigan Ross MBA program, what is the first word that comes to mind? Why?  Action. Michigan Ross prides itself in providing ample opportunities to practice everything you learn in the classroom. Whether during a MAP project, serving as a Nonprofit Board Fellow, or participating in a CEO “Crisis Challenge,” Rossers have the chance to experiment and grow in a supportive environment. It truly embodies the concept of a “leadership laboratory.”

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Due to COVID-19, food pantries across the city of Chicago had to close their doors, causing a sharp increase in food insecurity. At the time, I was leading the Midwest expansion for one of the nation’s largest veteran nonprofits. To respond to this crisis, I organized a coalition of 19 nonprofits and built a mobile food pantry from the ground up. The operation distributed thousands of pounds of groceries each month while keeping everyone safe. With tenacity, resourcefulness, and a tight-knit team, the pantry distributed 100 tons of fresh food to over 4,600 families during the height of the pandemic. After leaving the military, I searched for ways to continue serving others. This experience demonstrated that there are so many ways to make a difference and opened my eyes to broader social impact.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? I recently read a book called “When Breath Becomes Air.” It’s the memoir of Paul Kalanithi, a Stanford neurosurgeon diagnosed with terminal cancer early in his career. While it’s not business-specific, it speaks to the value of community and the definition of “purposeful living.” Specifically, Paul writes, “Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still, it is never complete.”

I think it’s a great analogy to the MBA experience. Business school provides almost unlimited optionality, so it’s vital that you’re clear on what you’d like to get out of your career and, more broadly, your life.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point, and what do you hope to do after graduation? After my time in the military, I struggled with finding a clear direction and identity. I chose the nonprofit space because I wanted to redefine my definition of service. Looking back, it was the perfect decision. The two years I spent working for the Travis Manion Foundation provided transformative and positive learning experiences.

In 2021, I found myself looking for the next growth opportunity and reached out to mentors to figure it out. Through many discussions, I decided that an MBA would round out my professional education and provide a springboard to a more significant impact.

After graduation, I want to dive into how technology helps people be their best selves. Specifically, I’m excited to explore the health and fitness tech space. Companies like Headspace and Strava have changed the game regarding tracking personal development. I’d love to work at the forefront of this innovation.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? I applied to a selection of programs across the Midwest and East Coast. I was fortunate to be admitted to Chicago Booth and Michigan Ross and chose the school where I knew I’d thrive.

 What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Michigan Ross’s MBA program? Bring your authentic self to the application, especially in your essays. Michigan Ross doesn’t want you to be anyone except yourself, so let that shine through in everything you submit.


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