In Conversation With IIM Kozhikode Gold Medallist – Avijeet Tulsiani

Around 2 Lac apply to IIMs every year. Around 370 odd students are selected by IIM Kozhikode. Only 1 Gold Medalist emerges. In conversation with us today, we have Mr. Avijeet Tulsiani, topper of one of India’s premier institutes, IIM Kozhikode for the batch 2016-18. A Chartered Accountant by profession, Avijeet not only bagged the top spot but also a coveted PPO from Colgate-Palmolive.

Let’s listen to his inspiring story –

1. Tell us a little bit about your education and professional background before entering IIM Kozhikode. What brought you to an MBA? 

The ‘Why MBA’ question has been one of the toughest questions for me to answer. Not because I don’t know the reason. But it’s tough to explain. So I completed my Chartered Accountancy in May 2014 and was working in a CA firm based in Ahmedabad wherein my role was to handle Transfer Pricing Assignments and special projects. I was involved in special projects like M&A Tax, Tax Planning through restructuring, Hedge Accounting and received good assignments. I used to interact with CEOs, CFOs and promoters who were our client. I was told by my boss that he would make Partner in his firm if I stay with him but my heart never felt satisfaction in doing some post-mortem analysis as a CA of decisions already taken. I wanted to be an insider in decision making that is where I felt an MBA was required to move away from a job of an Analyst to the role of a person driving business decisions. Initially, I had zeroed in on doing MBA from foreign universities but later felt that requirement of experience at foreign b-schools and their high cost would delay my plans. This is how I decided to give a shot at CAT. I had decided that I would give CAT only once and if it doesn’t work out, I would try for foreign b-schools later. I secured only 97.33%ile. My only hope was to convert profile based call of SPJIMR, which is one of the finest colleges. However, to my surprise, I got a call from IIM Shillong and Kozhikode as well. I decided not to give IIM Shillong interview (i.e. I will not go for MBA except for SPJIMR and IIMK). Converted both the calls and decided (with much confusion and guts) to choose IIMK against the advice of my coaching class mentor who advised me to go for SPJIMR. I truly believe that your heart somehow knows where you want to go and I based my decision on what my heart said.

2. What were your thoughts and goals when you entered the IIM Kozhikode Campus? Did you expect to top the program?

My goal was to enjoy 2 years of college life which we generally miss when we are pursuing CA. Come out of comfort zone as I had for 24 years stayed in my home in Ahmedabad. Experience working with people of versatile and diverse background and enjoy the life to fullest once the placement has been taken care of. Somewhere, I also wanted to work in a consulting company for which I tried but couldn’t make through but more than that I just wanted to live 2 best years of my life. Never was I focused on academics.

I remember just before the day of an end-term paper I had not started studying till 12 in the night and my room-mate reminded shouted at me saying that I better be studying by now. I was lucky to have sincere room-mates. Generally, people prefer single sharing rooms but in hindsight, I believe I would have missed knowing 3 good people if I were in a single room. That is why I chose to have a double-sharing hostel in 2nd year.

I always felt and believed that MBA was not for pursuing academic excellence but for holistic development of personality and tried to be active in extra-curricular be it cultural fest or organizing a hostel party or making plans to travel in Kerala with friends. As far as expectations are concerned, I thought I would do well in accounting paper given that I was a CA but never thought that I would top the class for Marketing. In fact, I expected a ‘C’ in marketing but it was a pleasant surprise I topped even in Marketing, OB and other papers.

3.  What did you do differently than others which lead to you becoming the gold medallist?

A friend of mine, who was a rank holder in CA Final used to say that ‘Secret of success is that there is no secret’. I fully agree with this. A lot of people believe that a Topper means the one who would be Ghissu, studying for 24 hours, trying to gain CP (Class Participation) and doing DCP (Desperate CP) but I am the exact opposite of that. And I truly believe that Topping a class is not worth having a goal. It was never my dream, not something that I wanted. However, if I have to pin-point at 1 thing then I would say helping others, helped me a lot.

My entire class knew that I was a CA and many would come to the room for seeking help in a paper of Accounting and Finance. I used to try and help everyone with Accounting and Finance paper even it meant sacrificing my own studies. I remember having done the same question many times to help different groups of people. So slowly it became a practice that before quiz and exams people used to come for studying in my room and in the process of helping them with their doubts, my study was done. The same set of people would network with seniors, bring past question papers and we would solve them in a group. They would help me in subjects like Operation Research. So I never intended to study hard before exams but as we were studying in a group, I became a bit sincere and it was always a fun.

For subjects like Social Transformation of India and Macro-Economic wherein you have to study 7-8 published articles before an exam, it is not possible for a single person to complete all the readings in a day. So we would divide readings in the group and later each one of us would explain the reading allotted to the entire group. Thus, try and help your colleagues be it studies, placements, anything. That goodwill would go a long way.

4. For the benefit of our readers, tell us about some of the perks of topping the course. 

There are no perquisites (except that you are invited to write for InsideIIM 😀). So at IIMs summer placements are concluded before the result of the 1st Term is out i.e. based on your pre-MBA performance and generally, people try to convert a PPO. Even in finals, college doesn’t allow to reveal grades. So as far as placement is concerned there is only a little benefit in final placements that you would get a short-list easily, rest depends on the interview.

Apart from this, the selection of a university for pursuing Forex term is based on grades. Hence you get to choose the best one. I went to HHL Leipzig, Germany on scholarship from DAAD (German Govt.). Also, I got a chance to represent college and country as part of India’s Youth Delegation to China in 2017. Although academics was only one of the factors among many, considered for selection in Delegation. Well, some people may say that there is a benefit to Toppers in Elective Course bidding, but I disagree. Generally, students manage to get courses of their choice and if one doesn’t get, one can always Audit the course which I did in 4th Term.

5. B-School life is always buzzing with all kinds of activities and distractions. What did you do to keep focus?

More than buzzing activities, it is peer pressure that distracts people. People start comparing themselves with their classmates and they start judging themselves and others which can take a toll and stress out a person. The comparison is not only for academics but extends much beyond, be it B-School competition or even personal life. I remember of having posted a pic of travelling at a certain place in Forex and some people even developed peer pressure for going to that place. I know some people would disagree with this example but this is the inherent instinct when people on forex ask each other ‘Kitne country Ghuma?’. They want to keep a score in that as well. In this scenario, my only strategy much before joining MBA has been to never compare myself with anyone.

At the end of first-term, I never knew, neither did I expect, that I would be the topper of my batch but people came and said to me ‘you know, you are the topper’. This is because Grades at IIMK is never disclosed in the public domain. Every individual can see his own performance. But people, after every single release of Grade, ask each other and keep a track as to who is having the highest CGPA. I never asked a single person ‘What is your CGPA?’ But people kept on asking me and they compared everyone’s grade and informed me that you are the topper.

At the end of 2nd Term, I came to know that my roommate’s is Rank 2nd. You can assume how the atmosphere would have been when room-mates are Rank 1 and 2. However, the reality is in stark contrast to your assumption. To my roommate also, I never asked his grade. We remained in the same cartel even in 2nd year and we chose to be in the same study group for several subjects throughout the college and even travelled a lot together in Europe.

Thus, my sincere advice to all is to never compare yourself on any front with anybody. All people have their Strengths and Weaknesses but should be treated fairly and with respect. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how successful you are but how happy you are. I don’t say that I have achieved all happiness and success but comparing myself, is never acceptable.

6. Tell us about your summer internship.

I interned with Colgate-Palmolive on their internal consulting project in supply-chain wherein my project was on Funding the Growth (FTG) Strategy at 2 Plants of Colgate. I had to understand the process of Packing tooth-pastes and tooth-brushes and find opportunities for reducing the cost of the activity. I succeeded in reducing cost by 30% saving INR 23 million p.a. by driving efficiency, capacity planning, compensation structure and pricing terms of vendors. I had suggested automation of manual processes that have cost reduction potential of INR 54+million p.a. The project was appreciated by the Leadership Team of the company and I was offered PPO for Business Leadership Program.

7. What was your reaction upon knowing that you had topped the college? How did you celebrate it?

No reaction. No celebration.

8. How has life been post-IIM? 

It has been good. I am enjoying my job, working closely on strategic aspects of Colgate’s business. It’s a rotational program wherein I am required to undergo stints in various functions including Supply-chain, sales, marketing and finance.

9. What are your other interests? 

Music is my biggest interest. After that, it’s reading specifically Economics, Management, Psychology and philosophy. I like taking long walks and miss the strolls in the beautiful campus of IIMK.

10. Since CAT is just 2 months away, what will be your advice to the b-school aspirants?

Well, 2 months before my CAT I had decided to give it up. But a person called and persuaded me not to do so. It is only because I didn’t give up I have made through it. People may get demotivated with a few mock tests but I advise stick to your routine, stay sincere, persevere and persist.

Akshaykumar Sirsalewala

Akshaykumar Sirsalewala is a Chartered Accountant and has cleared all levels of CFA and FRM. He is currently a student of IIM Kozhikode 2018-2020 batch, where he is pursuing MBA finance. When he is not studying, he is either guiding young minds or writing on Quora for CA aspirants.