2024 Best & Brightest MBA: Ishan Desai, Vanderbilt University (Owen)

Ishan Desai

Vanderbilt University, Owen Graduate School of Management

“Living by a relationships first ideology, passionate about leading with empathy and curiosity while paying forward at every stage in life.”

Hometown: Mumbai, India

Fun fact about yourself: I know how to solve 4 different kinds of puzzle cubes. I’m also a sports enthusiast and have played 3 sports competitively.

Undergraduate School and Degree: VIT University Vellore, India – Bachelor of Technology

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Senior Associate Consultant, Eli Lilly and Company, Bengaluru, India

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? L.E.K. Consulting, Chicago

Where will you be working after graduation? L.E.K. Consulting, Chicago

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President, South Asian Business Club
  • Trek Leader, Global Business Immersion Course to India
  • Vice President – Alumni Relations and External Affairs, Owen Strategy and Consulting Club
  • Peer Coach – Mentoring 10+ 1st year students, guiding them in their recruitment journey
  • Case Coach – Assigned as a coach to help 1st year students prepare for case interviews

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of taking the initiative to start and lead the first ever Global Business Immersion Trek to India from Owen. This immersion trek is designed to give students an opportunity to learn about the cultural and economic aspects of India, which is one of the most culturally diverse countries, and the fastest growing economy in the world. We will take international students to places of historical importance such as the Taj Mahal, Amer Fort, Jama Masjid and ISKCON Temple to learn about the rich culture and history of India. We will also be meeting leaders such as the Chief Economist of Axis Bank, the CEO of the international NGO, Pratham, the Telecom Head of Apar Industries and the Strategy & Planning Head for APAC for Uber. These meetings are set up to give the students a chance to learn about the challenges, opportunities and overall economics of doing business in a completely new geography, to develop a global understanding of business which is critical for the leaders of tomorrow. I am particularly thrilled about this because, over the course of the past few months, the trek has evolved from just a student trip into a formal 1-credit course that students can now opt to register into as an elective. This story is also testament to the immense support and encouragement provided by Owen to initiatives by its students.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I joined Eli Lilly and Company in India as one of the first members of the International Business Unit that was recently started as a unit dedicated to drive internal consulting projects for major European markets. In this early period, the unit was facing challenges in growing in capacity and capabilities. I was entrusted by my managers to lead not only the core consulting projects, but also the recruitment efforts to help grow the unit and stabilize it to be able to drive a great number and wider range of consulting projects. Over the course of ~2.5 years that I spent at the firm before moving to the US for my MBA, we were able to grow the unit from me being the only individual on the team to a unit that was positioned to drive multiple projects simultaneously and spanning across various functions. This journey earned me the ‘Demonstrating Outstanding Productivity’ award and I look back at this time as one where I learned a lot in my professional career.

Why did you choose this business school? Selecting the right business school for my MBA was a decision I made after considering numerous aspects of various schools. Choosing Owen was not only an easy choice but, in retrospect, the right one too. In the process of selecting a business school, I considered aspects such as recruitment outcomes, academic prowess, and leadership opportunities and Owen checked the box in each of these areas. While these were important factors in my business school selection decision, a key area that stood out to me across all my conversations with Owen students was the culture of the school, something that is impossible to quantify but probably plays one of the most important roles in one’s business school experience overall. Owen prides itself on being competitive, not cutthroat and, over the course of my MBA here, I have experienced it first-hand. Not only are the Career Management Center and the 2nd year students available and willing to guide you through the recruitment journey, but peers are also invested in your success – championing for your success even while competing for the same outcomes as you.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Brian McCann. What I particularly love about his teaching style is his creativity in instilling the concepts in the students, without feeling constrained to the traditional styles of teaching. In all the classes that I have taken with him, he has always incorporated innovative in-class activities through which students not only understand but truly ‘experience’ a real-world business concept. Additionally, the discussions in class are particularly interesting as he always steers them in a way that facilitates critical thinking.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? As someone who is interested in and will be pursuing strategy consulting, I was particularly keen on taking a course that allows me to experience strategy consulting as a student. Professor Jon Lehman’s class, Strategy and Operations Consulting was my favorite course in my MBA. I particularly enjoyed this class as we had the chance to work on a real-world consulting project where we helped our client develop a detailed go-to-market strategy, under the guidance of Professor Lehman. Through this course, I had the chance to think about and develop strategies taking into consideration core business functions such as finance, operations, sales, marketing, procurement, and technology.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Moving halfway across the globe to pursue an MBA can be an overwhelming experience for someone like me who loves to be involved. As a result, I tried to strike a balance between academic success, leadership roles at clubs as well as recruiting for consulting roles all at once. However, over the course of my MBA, I have learned the importance of prioritization. Stretching thin across multiple activities can be a tough ask and could lead you to missing out some experiences. Over time, I have reflected that my life as a student is one that I would cherish forever, and balancing activities better could allow me to be more conscious in making the memories that will live with me for a lifetime.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I believe that a common misconception that individuals have is that you will only be able to succeed in your recruitment efforts in the industry where you have experience working in your pre-MBA career. This could not be further from the truth as I believe Owen as a school offers you all the resources (and more!) to succeed in your recruitment efforts in the industry of your choice. I see individuals from all sorts of backgrounds – acting, music, sports or a traditional corporate role – pivoting to the industries that they are truly passionate about. The Vanderbilt MBA cohort is truly diverse, not just in terms of culture but also in terms of geography, thought, and professional background and we see all sorts of profiles achieving success at the school.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? What I love most about Nashville is its vibrant blend of culture, music, and entrepreneurial spirit. Nashville, the Music City, offers an unparalleled music scene, spanning genres beyond its country roots, making every evening out an opportunity to experience live performances. Additionally, Nashville’s booming economy lends it to numerous networking and career opportunities as well

What surprised you the most about business school? I was pleasantly surprised and in awe of the incredibly supportive administration at school. A lot of the learning in the Vanderbilt MBA program happens outside the classroom, through student club events and the opportunities to take initiative and lead. I had never expected such close collaboration and direct support for the immersion trek initiative that I took on. Various bodies at the school – the Leadership Development Program Office, the Academic and Student Affairs Office, the Finance Office, the Dean’s Office and the faculties – not only served as sounding boards but also lent a helping hand to take on some of the work that went into organizing the trek. I truly believe that a supportive administration can transform the MBA experience for an individual.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Out of a class full of people I admire, it is truly difficult for me to choose one classmate that I admire the most but if I had to pick one, I would say it is Mackenzie Murray. Mackenzie is truly one of the smartest and hardest-working people that I have ever come across. But what makes her an even more incredible person is her humility and kindness. She is a natural leader who puts her heart and soul into whatever she does and ensures that she carries others with her as she grows. I’ve had the pleasure of working on the board of the Owen Strategy and Consulting Club where she served as the President, under the leadership of whom the club achieved immense success. She has been an inspiration to many at school and beyond and I cannot imagine doing my MBA without her in my class.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I hope to stay in the consulting industry for the long foreseeable future and have the chance to work with a variety of clients to help them solve a diverse range of business problems. Through my time in consulting, I hope to develop a business acumen that I want to pass forward to the generations to come. I am a firm believer in the value of giving as well as receiving mentorship and I want to leverage my learnings to support those who wish to pursue a career in consulting (and possibly beyond!) by offering my mentorship in guidance to them.

Over the course of my undergraduate education as well as while working in the corporate pre-MBA, I have had the pleasure of serving multiple NGOs that worked towards supporting underprivileged children by enabling them access to education. My long-term bucket list item is to work towards improving the access to education for underprivileged children.

What made Ishan such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“Ishan exemplifies the can-do spirit. He has significantly enriched the student experience at Owen through his drive, ambition, and willingness to take bold actions that benefit others. As a leader of the student consulting club, he worked with other students to organize a symposium of exceptional scale and scope. As the president of the South Asia Business Club, he noticed that although international immersion trips were offered as part of the curriculum, India had never been the destination for these trips. So, he took it upon himself to single-handedly initiate, organize, enroll fifteen of his classmates, and implement a weeklong trip to India. All this in fewer than six months! Simply put, Ishan sees possibilities where most other don’t, starts making plans, remains unfazed by reasonable concerns expressed by others (including me) about the feasibility of his plans, and dares to make them happen. One way or another, his various initiatives have enriched the student experience at Owen. I am sure that like me many of his classmates were infected by his constructive optimism.”

Rangaraj Ramanujam
Richard M. and Betty Ruth Miller Chair, Professor of Management
Faculty Director of Health Care Programs
Professor of Health Policy Secondary Appointment


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