Sarthak Ahuja realized that being a Chartered Accountant is not only about number crunching but the profession often demands taking instant decisions while working for his family owned CA firm. He applied to ISB owing to the diverse student pool and exposure it offers.
In this interview of Careers360, Sarthak Ahuja, PGP 2017 student of ISB Mohali campus shares his objective behind pursuing MBA, expectations and about his life at the campus. After completing the programme he plans to utilize the Strategy and Organizational Behaviour Knowledge in the expansion of his business.
Read the full interview below:
Careers360: Why did you decide to go for MBA at this stage of career?
Sarthak: As a practicing CA, I found myself in the decision making process for many clients. Over the years, I have realized that though my knowledge of accounting and taxation is helpful from a functional perspective, it is not the only basis for decision making. Globally, each company is ‘valued’ through its Financial Statements. Yet, most often, the real decisions are taken much before the numbers are presented. Therefore, I now aspire to understand aspects beyond the facts and numbers.
Careers360: Briefly share your erstwhile professional role.
Sarthak: As Partner at my family owned CA firm, I was handling internal audits for various organizations in the manufacturing and services sector, as well as providing consultancy to a few international NGOs. Direct tax litigation was another vertical where I was actively involved.
However, from a management perspective, business development and knowledge advancement were major areas of my responsibilities.
Careers360: Which other B-schools did you apply for and why did you select ISB?
Sarthak: With an objective of going back to my business immediately after and continue working in India, ISB seemed like the only place that catered best to my needs. ISB’s PGP in Management came as a key step to pursue my objectives. The opportunities the B-School offers in terms of getting some of the best from the country to discuss business ideas and share industry experiences are immense.
Careers360: Please share in detail the application and final selection procedure at your B-School.
Sarthak: While most applicants place great importance to the GMAT score, it is more of a pre-requisite to applying than a determining factor for one’s admission. ISB places immense weightage on maintaining diversity in the incoming pool and applicants who have consistently shown leadership in various aspects of their lives. Thus, bringing out your academic achievements, initiatives in the minimum two years of work experience as well as outperformance in some extra-curricular activities is important while writing your essays.
Another big factor is your clarity on why you need an MBA and how ISB specifically fits into your career goals. The interview procedure, in my opinion, is focused on gauging the genuineness in your application and identifying your conviction for pursuing an MBA.
Thus, the GMAT, the application form requiring one to write a few essays and fill in other details that normally form part of your resume, a letter of recommendation from someone who has worked closely with you, and then an interview are the various steps in the application process.
Careers360: The programme at your B-School is one of the most expensive programmes. How have you financed the course?
Sarthak: My organization has sponsored my education as I intend to go back to the same firm.
Careers360: How do you spend a typical day at the ISB Mohali campus?
Sarthak: ISB is packed with activities and opportunities. The week has only 16 hours of classes, 4 hours each day from Monday to Thursday. However, the pre-reads for all lectures as well as the assignments constitute a huge chunk of each student’s personal academic time table.
In addition, ISB offers its students unimaginable autonomy and responsibility to manage various administrative duties in the school either through the elected positions in the student body’s core council or through the various professional and social clubs.
As Director – Finance, Governance and Special Initiatives of the Graduate Student Board, a large portion of my time at ISB is allocated to carrying out responsibilities such as managing finances for the student body as well as overseeing the governance of various clubs, so as to ensure smooth functioning of these clubs for professional skill development of the member students.
Similarly, a number of other students are involved with organizing leadership conclaves, inter-school competitions, and managing the varied activities at ISB.
Given the number of activities, there is always a talk, a peer-to-peer session or any other skill development activity going on at all times on all days.
Between this entire rigour, the students find the time to unwind at the squash courts, the recreation centre or the swimming pool.
Careers360: How did you adjust with the student life after a hiatus of so many years?
Sarthak: I would like to believe, as many of my peers at ISB would also agree, ISB is not like any other Indian MBA college. A number of exams are open notes or open books. Thus, the focus of the course curriculum is not as much on learning formulae and concepts by heart as much it is to know how to apply your learnings from the course in practical scenarios.
However, given the brilliant profiles in the batch, the competition is undoubtedly unimaginable. Thus, regardless of the nature of the curriculum, academic rigor is something which is expected of all.
The academic routine takes some amount of getting used to in Term 1, but considering the pace of the course, the peer pressure pulls one to cope up with the class as soon as possible lest one gets left behind.
Careers360: What are the non-academic activities you are involved in?
Sarthak: I hold the position of the Director – Finance in the student body. In addition to that, I have had the good opportunity to try my hand at stand-up comedy and spoken word poetry while on campus. I also continue to write on my humor blog, My Life is a Jalebi (sarthakahuja.com).
Careers360: How much industrial and international exposure does your programme provide you?
Sarthak: Most of the faculty members at ISB are affiliated to and visiting faculties from global B-schools like Wharton and Kellogg among others. Their methodology of teaching and course material is at par with the best in the world.
The case studies discussed in class are from the Harvard Business School, thus the business problems studied and evaluated are mostly global in nature.
Further, the admissions process gives adequate weightage to international work experience, ensuring there are enough people in the class who have worked all over the world and can get varying perspectives on industrial as well as geographical diversification in business.
Careers360: How much is the rigour at the PGP programme at ISB, whose duration is 1 year in comparison to the 2 year regular MBA offered at other top B-schools?
Sarthak: It’s a blink and miss lifestyle, where the curriculum, social interaction and the almost inexistent leisure time. There are 8 terms with almost 4 courses in each term. To pack all of this and more in just one year speaks for itself.
Careers360: According to you, what is the best aspect of your programme and campus?
Sarthak: A place is what the inhabitants make of it. In my opinion, the best aspect has to be the student pool.
Careers360: What are your expectations from the programme? How would you like to implicate the learning after completing the programme?
Sarthak: I plan on specializing in Strategy and Organizational Behavior. I hope to take back learning from these courses back to my business and utilize the knowledge to plan business expansion. With plans to expand my audit advisory business beyond its current geographical limits, I also wish to network with other professionals and consultants to develop collaborative opportunities for growth.
Careers360: What is your advice to the aspirants of ISB opting for PGP?
Sarthak: Speak to as many alums, current students and professors as you can before applying. It is extremely important to understand what this place has to offer and if it fits into your overall career plan. The monetary investment is undoubtedly substantial, and it would be best to take this decision with all facts in hand rather than as a pursuit for what society collectively labels as the next big achievement.
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