Accepted: First off, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? What other degrees do you hold?
Anand: I’m from the state of Kerala in India. Spent 14 years (kindergarten through 12th grade) at a school run by Jesuits in Thiruvananthapuram – Loyola School. I did my undergraduate degree in Electrical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, and a Masters in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Started in the Ph.D. program at University of California, Berkeley, but dropped out to join a startup.
Accepted: Can you tell us about your experience at Wharton’s EMBA program in San Francisco so far and why you decided to go back to school?
Anand: I had spent several years in engineering roles in startups and bigger companies and wanted to go back to school to do an MBA to learn more about starting and running businesses. It has been a wonderful experience so far at the Exec MBA program at Wharton San Francisco. Having spent some time at startups and also helping grow a few different non-profit organizations, I had informally learnt a few things about how businesses are run, but I wanted a more formal exposure to that. For personal reasons I had postponed the plans for a few years and when the time was right I decided to apply to the Wharton EMBA program. It has definitely met my expectations so far. I’ll be graduating from the program in May and probably bidding goodbye to classrooms and advanced degree programs for good :-).
Accepted: Which other programs did you consider? Why did you feel you’d be a good fit with Wharton?
Anand: I had looked at the Berkeley-Columbia EMBA and the Stanford Sloan Fellows program in addition to the Wharton EMBA program. I liked the Wharton story because of the fact that it was not a diluted degree but the full MBA experience in terms of course materials and depth of treatment. I also liked the fact that the opportunity cost was not as high as going to a full time program such as the Sloan Fellows program, which was also not an MBA degree. I loved the interactions with students when I visited Wharton and also through personal conversations with alumni. Coupled with the Wharton brand and an array of great professors who taught in the San Francisco campus, it was not a difficult decision to make, so I did not end up applying anywhere else. I had a few weeks to prepare and take my GMAT and then a few more to polish up by resume and essays and submit to Wharton before the deadline. I was also changing jobs at that time to join a startup as an early employee, so I had to pick what I thought was my best choice and make my case.
Accepted: I see you have a lot of volunteer experience. Can you talk about why volunteering is important to you?
Anand: I don’t see volunteering as fundamentally a different aspect of my existence outside of a “typical” existence of work, family and friends. I have seen my parents come from modest backgrounds and help educate their children well and set us up with a great foundation for success in our lives. I also had the good fortune to learn about empowerment and development from a few amazing professors during my undergraduate years who continue to inspire me to this day to do what I can to help people with access to fewer resources than most of us. I spent several years volunteering with and learning from an amazing network of volunteers at Asha for Education. Currently I help a few other groups – Mindful Schools, Energize the Chain, Milaap and One Million Lights. I’ve been lucky to have been associated with great individuals in each of these organizations and it has been a wonderful learning experience.
Accepted: So you’re a “start-up junkie.” Can you tell us more about that?
Anand: Startups are strange beasts, whether they are for-profit or non-profits. They are an amazing adrenaline rush, cauldrons of creative chaos where change is the norm. I find the challenge of being thrown into an uncertain future fascinating. Also the people you encounter at early-stage organizations are passionate, creative minds that do not settle for status quo. This makes for a wonderful environment to get inspired and learn from these individuals. They also provide you opportunities to wear multiple hats, contribute at several levels as they grow, so you are always going from a familiar setting to an unfamiliar one and learning the ropes there. In the for-profit world, I learnt the hard way what it means to be in small startups with ill-defined business models through the dot-com bust, and am seeing the other side of the coin today at a growing, successful startup.
Accepted: Was it difficult to go back to school after being in the working world for so long?
Anand: Yes and no. I used to do a fair bit of reading even in the years I was not in school, so getting back into reading was not that difficult. What made it more challenging was to have to do it as a parent of young children. The combination of a startup job, young children and a full MBA experience is definitely not for the faint hearted. And we have more than a few of those in my class, so I certainly am not an exception on that front. Within the first term you figure out what your priorities are between these three and learn to balance them and walk the tight rope. Also a program such as this requires an amazing support network, starting with your partner and family, so I’ve been blessed on that front as well, which made it easier.
Accepted: Do you have any tips you can share with our MBA/EMBA applicants?
Anand: One line that’s not mine but I’ve heard often over the years is: “pain is temporary, glory eternal.” Don’t optimize for the short-term and choose a program that is “easy” or “manageable” or “not bad.” Big changes in life happen when you set ambitious goals for yourself that you are thrilled to accomplish, not just moderately satisfied. It also helps to understand what your reasons are for doing an MBA, and reminding yourself of those goals through the course of the program so you can align your priorities better. Your successes and accomplishments are predicated on your support system – partner, family and children – and it is imperative to have them on board if you plan to pursue an MBA while having a day job. Finally, choose a program where you believe that you will have a network of classmates that you will learn a lot from – both in terms of work and leadership experiences, as well as life experiences. I’ve definitely learnt a lot from my classmates at Wharton.
Accepted: Finally, why did you decide to blog about your experience and what have you gained from doing so?
Anand: I love to write and have always wanted to blog. The idea of a Wharton focused blog was not mine, but a few classmates had wanted to do it and I joined forces with them. As the term progressed, I ended up enjoying it and doing it more often, and writing about Wharton got me into the discipline of blogging more often on other topics as well. I migrated the blog to my personal blog on WordPress and also started contributing to the Wharton magazine blog. Blogging has helped me formulate my thoughts better on topics that I found interesting – specifically around several books that I read over the course of the 2-3 years that I’ve been writing. I don’t think I have anything profound to say that brings a lot of wisdom to the world but it has been a fun and enjoyable experience and I would highly recommend it to people that love to write.
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