This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. And now for a chat with Vibhav A. Varshney, a recent graduate of the partnership program run by the University of Hong Kong and London Business School.
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?
Vibhav: Born in the city of White Tigers, I am Vibhav. As a young boy my early childhood imbibed the exuberance of Mumbai, and my teenage years were groomed in the culture of the city of Pune, also called the Oxford of the east.
Coming from a family of engineers, I pursued engineering as my undergrad, almost a default choice of most Indian guys. While pursuing Instrumentation & Controls engineering, I spent more time outside than inside the classroom, participating and leading multiple student bodies.
It was while seeking corporate funding for one such event that I was headhunted by a reputable family owned business. I joined this firm, Forbes Marshall, which specialized in energy conservation and process control solutions for manufacturing industries. My experience delivering a sales turnaround for their consultancy service, launching an award winning digital marketing campaign and groundbreaking application of social media in B2B were ones that expanded my understanding of business and marketing and prepared me to pursue my MBA.
Accepted: Can you share three fun facts about yourself?
1. Thanks to my dad, when most kids were learning electricity from textbooks I was visiting power plants. On one such visit my child-like curiosity led me to push a couple of colorful buttons which accidentally shut down the power plant. That curiosity still survives though.
2. The MBA program had us visit the breweries of Yanjing Beer Company in Beijing. Here our Chinese guide was struggling to explain the brewing process in English. Having professionally analyzed the manufacturing of almost all products first hand, including beers from Carlsberg to Budweiser, I stepped up to help him, to the utter surprise of our guide and my classmates. For the next half hour I was the new guide at Yanjing Beer Company.
3. My friends comment that in the last one year I have posted more pictures on Facebook than my cumulative total posts in the last 8 years on the network. But I guess when you travel to 8 countries in one year of study, such things are bound to happen!
Accepted: Which business school did you attend?
Vibhav: I pursued my MBA at the full time partnership program run by the University of Hong Kong and London Business School. The University of Hong Kong has a partnership with London Business School, Columbia Business School and Fudan University and students based on their choice and fit are at the onset of the program allocated to one of the partnership tracks. One thus graduates as an alum of both HKU and the partner school.
Accepted: Why did you choose that program? How were you a good fit?
Vibhav: Asia is where most of the global businesses are gravitating towards, and China has long been the factory of the world. Asia is an amalgamation of very different cultures of which I only had experience of the Indian culture. I had an opportunity to leverage my roots and build my career in this region of growth, for which I needed exposure to SE Asia and China. The University of Hong Kong offered the perfect gateway into this region. Having been consistently ranked #1 in Asia by the Economist for the past 5 consecutive years, its unique partnership structure with leading western business school gave it the perfect blend of the best of east and west.
The University of Hong Kong’s full time MBA program has a small class size of around 55. This means that if you are very picky in making friends, you are not left with many options.
Further, the program begins in Beijing, where the class spends a month learning basic Mandarin and getting exposed to the Chinese culture. You then move to Hong Kong and by the time you settle down its time to move to either London or New York. This requires the students to come with an extremely flexible mindset that is ready to be constantly on the move and absorb different cultures. Coming from a business development background, I was used to being on the move and was comfortable working with people of different mindsets. I guess this is why I fit very well within the culture of the program.
Accepted: Where are you currently working? What role did London Business School/Hong Kong have in helping you secure that position?
Vibhav: I have joined the revenue management team of UPS at their APAC headquarters in Singapore. Revenue management is a part of the marketing function at UPS, and the bulk of my work would be to increase margin and profits in UPS’s freight forwarding business across the APAC region. With Singapore being almost the logistics capital of Asia, and with the recent dynamic developments in this industry, I am very excited with the learning that comes along with this role.
My first connection with UPS was made when I was President of the Industry Club. I had the opportunity to invite a guest speaker from UPS (Hong Kong) to share insights from the supply chain industry with the club. From there, things took their own course and I landed in Singapore. I thus owe it to HKU that it gave me a platform to interact with UPS, which together with the thought leaders in supply chain management that I came across at both HKU and LBS ensured I was abreast with the latest developments in this domain.
The best part of the MBA program I believe is that it teaches you how to pursue your dreams and equips you with the tools to do so.
Accepted: Looking back at the application process, what would you say was your greatest challenge? How would you advise other applicants who may be experiencing similar challenges?
Vibhav: There is enough advice out there on how to approach the school selection, essays, interviews, etc. I believe the greatest challenge is to maintain your motivation levels and keep trying despite the dings from ‘dream’ schools. The MBA admissions process is as much an art as a science, and the sooner we accept this the better. It’s easy to get emotionally attached to the outcome of the application, but the key in my opinion is to be pragmatic and treat this as a process.
A positive aspect of this process is that the countless essays you write is only a preparation for what lies ahead. When you write those cover letters for your dream jobs after the MBA, the MBA application essays will seem like a cakewalk.
Accepted: Can you share a few more tips for international applicants?
Vibhav: International candidates – especially from ‘overrepresented’ pools – often embark on something akin to a carpet bombing strategy and apply to as many schools as they can because the odds are stacked against us. I know because I was guilty of this myself. The catch with this approach is that we often disregard soft aspects such as geography and the community which should be important decision criteria. I will elaborate on these points.
Where the school is located strongly impacts your career choices. For example Hong Kong is a definite financial center but it caters mostly to business from mainland China which makes knowledge of Mandarin essential. So if you hope to work in China you must be prepared to learn Mandarin. Further, as a general rule, it’s difficult to find opportunities in a geographical area you do not live in. So if you choose a school in Europe with final aspirations of working in the US post MBA, it will be very difficult.
Community is something that I wrote about passionately in my essays but I only realize its value after I completed the MBA. In simple words, the community is by far the bulk of what your MBA experience will be made of. If you don’t like the community you are part of, you will not contribute to it and neither will you be able to extract value out of it. We must remember an MBA is a significant investment of time and money and with it we should only get for ourselves a community we will forever be proud to be associated with. When I moved to Singapore from Hong Kong, the first people I contacted were alumni from University of Hong Kong and from London Business School. That should tell you how I value the community I now belong to.
Continue the conversation with Vibhav in the comments section below or by contacting him via LinkedIn. Thank you Vibhav for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!
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