“I never go to a class unprepared for a lecture” – Akarsh Shrivastava, First Year MBA Topper at IIM Ahmedabad
This is a continuation of our series “The Special Ones” where we are profiling Batch Toppers at First year MBA across all Top B-Schools in the country. We have already interviewed Toppers from FMS Delhi, IIM Calcutta, IIM Bangalore, IIM Kozhikhode, XLRI Jamshedpur, IIFT and JBIMS. You can read their stories here.
We entered the hallowed grounds of IIM Ahmedabad last time round with the story of Ashima Setia. We would like to reiterate how difficult it is to top at any elite (top 10) B school, and how insanely difficult it is to do that at IIM Ahmedabad. This is the story of Akarsh Shrivastava, first year MBA topper at IIM Ahmedabad.
About Akarsh (in his own words)
I did my schooling at Campion School, Bhopal and subsequently joined IIT Delhi. I completed my B.Tech. in Civil Engineering in 2013 and then joined IIM Ahmedabad as a fresher. I interned with McKinsey & Company during the summers and have been awarded a Pre-Placement Offer. I had the privilege of being taught and mentored by some amazing teachers which probably helped me be a topper in school and a Department Topper at IIT Delhi. I am also an NTSE scholar, a Honda YES Awardee, an OPJEM Scholar and an Aditya Birla Scholar.
I like to read and am mostly into Indian political history. Off late I have started reading fiction again.
1. Tell us a bit about your educational background – were you a topper all through your undergraduate and school days? What brought you to an MBA?
As I mentioned earlier, I had the privilege of being taught and mentored by some amazing teachers which probably helped me be a topper in school and a Department Topper at IIT Delhi.
I have always admired Nandan Nilekani as an ideal. His quote about the world needing ‘versatilists’ appealed to me. MBA curriculum, given its rigor and breadth can help me get started on the journey of becoming one. For an engineer, it is even more important as it teaches us to migrate from our ‘There is one right answer’ and ‘X+Y=Z’ mentality.
2. Walk us through your academic journey in the first year – How did you pace yourself academically in the first, second and third term?
The first slot more or less flew past me. It took me an entire slot to get accustomed to the way things work here. Apart from that I do not feel that there was a very significant difference between the way I approached academics in the three terms. The third slot involved internship prep along with academics and slot 5 & 6 had numerous group assignments. I only ensured that I had no backlogs and tried to not to go to classes unprepared. I stuck to a routine and that helped me to make some time for my hobbies and also ensured 6-7 hours of sleep daily.
3. Did you encounter situations where you were in a group in which others were not as committed as you were? How did you handle this?
Well, everyone comes to IIM Ahmedabad with a different set of aspirations. Not all people are crazy about academics. However, I was lucky to have very cooperative group members. If someone was not willing to work it was mostly because they had other engagements and not because of limited commitment. In most cases, I tried to ask the person what and how much he/she wanted to do and then take it over from there.
4. What were your thoughts and goals when you entered IIM Ahmedabad? Did you expect to be a topper in the program after the first year?
I had heard stories about the academic rigor of IIM Ahmedabad from my teachers and seniors. I came to IIM Ahmedabad with a determination to do well, both academically and otherwise. I still am determined to make the most of my stay here. This probably helped a lot.
5. B school life is always buzzing with all kinds of activities and distractions. What did you do to keep focus?
The most important learning you get from a B-School is probably how to set priorities and lead a balanced life. I decided early on that in no way would I let anything interfere with my academics and would never go to a class unprepared for a lecture. If beyond this, I found time, I took part in and attended campus events. More often than not, I was able to do so.
6. Tell us about your summer internship.
I interned with McKinsey & Company during summers. I worked with a Pharmaceutical client on a project that involved making market entry strategies for a new class of drugs (first time such drugs were being launched). It was a one-of-a-kind project, probably a first for any consulting firm, globally. It involved understanding a drug and the indication associated in depth, gathering data about its epidemiology, speaking to doctors and experts and finally coming up with a product playbook of recommendations. Again, I was very lucky to be a part of a brilliant team. It was a great learning experience. The firm liked my work and I was given a PPO.
7. What was your reaction upon knowing that you were one of the toppers of the first year? How did you celebrate it?
By the end of second term, I had a fair idea that I will be able to end the first year in the top 5% bracket. Needless to say, I was happy but I still feel that given my performance in the first two terms, I could have done a lot better in the third term.
8. What is your advice to a student entering a B school, in the first term? How can they achieve their academic goals? Apart from academics, what should they focus on?
My first advice would be to not get overwhelmed in the initial days here. This is a place which does require a lot of getting used to. Try to be clear about what you want out of this place and hence prioritize your endeavors. Lastly, try to stay physically and mentally fit. First year here can take a toll on you.
9. Competition for acads at IIM Ahmedabad must have been insane. What was your secret formula?
Yes, given the fact that IIM Ahmedabad is a gathering of high-achievers, I expected it to be no less. I did not have any secret formula. I only tried to stay up to date, made sure that there were no backlogs and prepared and attended classes regularly. I also made sure to catch 6-7 hours of sleep every night (helps one stay awake in classes). Believe it or not, I did not do a single night out last year.
10. If you could go back in time and you had to live the first year differently, what would you do?
Well not a lot actually. If given a chance, I would try to pay more attention to my health.
11. What are your future career plans.
I will be joining McKinsey & Company as a Consultant and would want to do well there as well. Now that the theoretical classroom education is over, I would want to pick up more practical and field skills.
12. Apart from imbibing academic knowledge, how else has the first year of MBA enriched you? What is the greatest non-academic learning you had at IIM Ahmedabad?
Well the learning does go much beyond the academic knowledge. The first year has taught me to prioritize and balance. When you have to handle 11 subjects at a time, you do learn to that. Now that has also extended to my daily life. Secondly, it has made me more disciplined. It has also pushed my stamina and efficiency. Plus I have made some very good friends.
13. Usually toppers are regarded as nerdy types, and in the high-stakes environment of a B school, they are subjected to a lot of peer pressure in ways that range from good-natured banter to mockery and bullying. Did you face this? If yes, how did you deal with it?
Yes the good natured banter was there but there was not any mockery or bullying.
14. How was your performance in the CAT? Which institutes did you interview with, which ones did you convert, and approximately where did you lie in the final list of candidates selected for IIM Ahmedabad?
I secured 99.97 percentile in CAT. This was my first attempt. I interviewed with IIM A,B,C,L and K and was lucky enough to be selected in all of them.
Given the fact that I was selected by the Institute as a nominee for Aditya Birla Scholarship, I was somewhere among the top 20 in the final list of candidates.
15. Did your IIT background help you in any way in academics? Did it help with shortlists for summers?
No the IIT background per se did not help. But many aspects from IIT life did come in handy here. People there in every way as brilliant as people here and hence the crowd did not overwhelm me. I think outside, IIT Delhi brand does add value to one’s CV, but in a B-School setting (particularly in IIMA) it does not matter much. IIT does present you with more opportunities and how you utilize them makes the key difference.
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