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Coffee With Ashish Agarwal – NITT Alumni & INSEAD MBA

25 September 2008 3 Comments

Hi All,

Its my pleasure to interview Ashish Agarwal, Chemical engineer turned ibanker. Ashish passed out of NIT Trichy in the year 1999. After 6 years in the industry, he went to pursue an MBA in INSEAD. Without further ado,

Coffee With Ashish Agarwal – NIT Alumni from INSEAD

AA: Ashish Agarwal
Me: Sundar Rajan G S

Me: Can you elaborate a bit about your pre MBA work ex? And was it useful for getting into B School… in B school & to get a job after B School?

AA: My pre-MBA work ex was with Perot Systems where I worked for around 6.5 years.
As Perot provides IT Consulting, you get a good international exposure, an understanding of business requirements and people management. I think pre-MBA workex helped me decide what specifically I am looking for in a B-school and that made the choice of B-School much easier. Since most of my pre-MBA experience was outside of India, it also helped me zero in on a geography where I would like to work Post-MBA.

Pre-MBA experience did help me get a job. If you are going for a radical career change, keep in mind that Post-MBA initial placement may be at par with your MBA colleagues but you rise faster based on your experience and ofcourse backed by performance.

Me: Why MBA after 7 years of work ex?
AA: Usually, at international schools, the average/median experience is around 7 years.

Me: What were your impressions about Post MBA jobs before you choose to pursue MBA? How influential was it in decision for MBA?

AA: My impression of post-MBA jobs varied according to the sector in which the professional worked. On a general level, I thought of MBAs as global professionals who were at forefront of business opportunities and who earned lots of $$. In particular, I respected their understanding of business trends and financial know how. Also, MBA provides a good platform to start something on your own. Broadly, the decision to do an MBA was based on the above reasons and also one’s own assessment of one’s present and future professional career.

On hindsight, I did under-estimate the pressure and responsibility a post-MBA job entails.

Me: Why INSEAD over other US B Schools?

AA: I wanted an institute that has a play in Asia as well as in London, and not just in India. Further, INSEAD’s focus and record in entrepreneurship was definitely a pull. The opportunity cost was favorable with the shorter duration of the course.

Me: Did u develop an interest for I Bank before joining MBA or during your course of MBA? Please elaborate how u choose I Bank as a career? What are the pros and cons? What was the thought process..

AA: Well, to be honest before I started my MBA, I wanted to be an equity research analyst because I love the capital markets. I wasn’t interested in General Management from the beginning and that’s because of personal likes/dislikes. Only after talking to people in I-Banks, equity research, consultants etc about their day to day jobs, I got more interested in I-Banking. My initial reaction was – I would have loved this job had I had the chance to do this immediately after my engineering. I was impressed by the speed of execution and energy of I-Bankers/Consultants.

I liked the fact that be it Equity research, Consulting or I-Banking, you get exposed to a lot of businesses and that’s a great learning. Even if you get bored from your current job, you can switch to industry jobs later on. You can also be on the buyside if that interests you- cause typically PE guys generally have a consulting/finance background. After talking to equity research analysts, although their knowledge was impressive, I couldn’t see myself analyzing a particular sector/company for a considerable period of time. I was more excited by the experience of deal closure that fellow I-Bankers had recounted to me. Why I chose I-Banking over Consulting was because of finance.

Although, you must note that I wasn’t as decided as its coming out to be in the above text. At times, I did consider interesting profiles other than I-Banking and also had plan-B which came in handy during times of doubt.

As far as cons are concerned- I think you can never have a work/life balance in a post-MBA job unless you want take an easy job. Most of the jobs you guys will take will demand a lot more time and will bring a lot more pressure on you. Be it consulting or I-Banking, you will have to travel a lot. But do remember that jobs in finance are highly cyclical as compared with Consulting. To give you a real life example, my classmate refused the offer from Lehman-Wall street and preferred McKinsey which I thought was a defensive decision. Going by what is happening at Lehman today, I really admire the guy for his foresight.

As far as pros are concerned, you really get to meet the movers and shakers of the Industry, do some good work, and even though you are stressed- you enjoy it. Moneywise, its good but money is good at other places too.

Me: Why IBank so late in the career? People of your work ex level typically tend to go for consulting or general management..

I guess this question comes probably because the average age/experience in IIMs is young. I agree with the General management part. As far as consulting/I-Banking is concerned, I know people who are MDs at the age of 31 because the guy started in I-Banking at 22, and my batchmate (aged 33) reports to him as a VP. If you look at international B-schools, the trend is generally people with considerable experience looking at a career change. Ultimately, you did want to do what you would enjoy doing in the productive years of your professional life.

Me: How you manage between the work environment vs family life.

AA: There’s never a balance between work and family. 🙂

Me: What ‘life experiences’ (Not the typical learnings) did u get in your 6-7 years of work ex, which u didnt get when you were a B Tech student..

AA: There were many but people management, especially managing your reporting boss is of prime importance. Often the difference between a star performer and an average performer is the backing you get from your boss. Given a choice between a good boss and a good work, I would choose a good boss! (even an average boss and good work would do but not a bad boss and good work). If you don’t have a choice initially (during campus placements), make sure you create one later on.

The other is realizing the market cycles and preparing for it. To give you an example, IT was the sunrise and the hottest sector in 1998-1999, but it’s definitely not a sunrise sector now, though it’s a great sector to be in. I was lucky to get my first job as it was in a bull cycle. 2 years later, guys better than me couldn’t get jobs.

Me: What additional learnings about life, did u get from MBA.

* The importance of networking and keeping in touch with people.
* Be confident- even if you are wrong.
* Prioritizing- Cut the noise and just focus on whats the most important. I am still learning this though.
* Lastly, things have become so volatile that you did be better off planning for next 2-3 years and see how that goes.

Me: Thanks a lot Ashish for sharing your learnings. On behalf of CWS readers, I you Wish you all the best. I am sure you are going to be a role model for many NITTians and other young undergrads!

Readers, hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee with Experts




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