‘Having been a bright student historically, I wanted to do well here too’ – Naveen Bansal – 1st year MBA Topper at IIM Lucknow
We have covered 1st year Toppers from IIM Ahmedabad, IIM Bangalore, IIM Calcutta, IIM Kozhikhode, XLRI, JBIMS, FMS, IIFT in our series ‘The Special Ones’. You can read all the interviews of this series here
Next in line is IIM Lucknow Topper Naveen Bansal.
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?
I did my schooling in Chandigarh, and have been fortunate to have been able to maintain the first position from school years. During my engineering at PEC, Chandigarh, I maintained a more consistent academic record. I maintained a CGPA of 9.93 and was a gold medallist.
I have always loved being a student and have been able to maintain the eagerness to get the most out of my education. After my engineering, I worked at Goldman Sachs for 2 years and thoroughly loved that time. One could argue that learning continues at workplace too, but I would still say that for me, it was the eagerness to get back to the “Student Mode” that brought me here.
Walk us through your academic journey in the first year – How did you pace yourself academically in the first, second and third term?
Thankfully, I never really had to pace myself. I worked really hard in the first term, as I was sceptical about being able to cope up to academics after a 2-year gap. I managed to achieve rank one in term 1 with a CGPA of 9.32. The performance acted as a confidence booster and helped me to give my best for the subsequent terms as well to maintain my performance.
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?
(Smiles) Everyone encounters such people, it is sort of inevitable, especially in a hectic and competitive B-school environment like ours. But, I always ensure that each of my team-mates participates in some way or the other. I make sure to coordinate regularly, hold meetings, allocate work and chalk out a piece even for the really difficult ones, making them at least collate the findings if nothing else.
I have taken every project as a learning opportunity and have tried to ensure that it is the same for my team as well and the results have been evident with quite a few of our projects garnering a lot of appreciation.
What were your thoughts and goals when you entered the IIM Lucknow Campus?Did you expect to top the program in the first year?
Absolutely not! As I mentioned earlier, I had taken a gap of 2 years from academics between my undergrad degree and PGDM and the break was enough to make me apprehensive of my ability to cope up with the infamous rigour of a B-school like IIM Lucknow. Particularly in the first term, I was trying very hard to settle down and putting in extra effort to cope. Having been a bright student historically, I wanted to do well here too, but I hadn’t come expecting to top.
B school life is always buzzing with all kinds of activities and distractions. What did you do to keep focus?
Both aspects of B-School life are important in their own way-studies and extra-curricular activities. I have always kept studies as my first priority by choice. In the first term, I was trying to get back into the groove and I made a conscious decision to focus on studies over ECA. 2nd term onwards, I was used to the grilling schedule and was able to manage my time better. Hence, I was able to find time to participate in different activities. I love the buzz, the chance to be a part of 10 different things. It keeps life interesting and I have always maintained a healthy balance between the serious and the not-so-serious even when I was working at Goldman Sachs. During my tenure there, I had initiated the development of a forum where top leaders from across the industry would share their knowledge and experiences with us.
Tell us about your summer internship. How was the experience?
I interned with A T Kearney over the summer. I worked for a telecom operator working on their retail and service delivery strategy. It was a very good experience which actually helped me develop an interest in consulting. I could see the impact of my work right in front of my eyes and it was a very enriching experience.
What was your reaction upon knowing that you had topped the first year? How did you celebrate it?
Everyone was tracking the results, with my friends tracking it more than me. (Smiles fondly). As soon as I got to know, I called up my family to share the happy news. I was in Mumbai for my internship at that time and my friends were much more excited than me. We fondly call ourselves “BabajikeThullu”, me and my group of friends. We celebrated together and it was a great feeling to see so many people happy for me.
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?
For the freshers, it is important to understand what you want to do before you enter a B-School. A lot of freshers feel a little at sea once they have entered a B-School because they are not very clear on their goals and they have just come in to complete their education. This needs to be avoided.
For people who are coming in with work experience, take the first 2-3 months to acclimatize yourselves with the life at a B-School. It might require substantially more hard work from their side and they should be prepared to commit that time. Doing well in academics gives one confidence to participate in other things. That’s how it worked for me and I hope it will work for the others too. All the best to all the prospective students.
If you could distill the necessary qualities for success into one, two or three unique attributes, what would those attributes be?
If I had to put it down to the 2 most important attributes, it would be ‘Focus’ and ‘Sincerity’.
If one is able to maintain his/her focus, there are plenty of opportunities that life in general and a B-School in particular offers. One just needs to be able to prioritize well, maintain their focus and be sincere with whatever they take up. There are no short-cuts in life and sincere hard-work is always rewarded. This is the belief that I live by.
If you could go back in time and you had to live the first year differently, what would you do?
(Promptly answers)Absolutely nothing! I have had a dream ride so far and I thank everyone who has supported me throughout my life-be it my friends, family or other well-wishers.
If I go back and change something, I wouldn’t be who I am today. It’s the decisions I have made and the choices I have taken that have made me who I am and I am fairly satisfied with life.
What are your future career plans?
Life is unpredictable and all hence all plans are mere wishes. I do have a focus area in mind though. Having had the good fortune of being mentored by some of the most wonderful people from Goldman Sachs to IIM Lucknow, I have had their constant support and guidance in all my decisions in life. I, therefore, am a big believer of the idea of helping people, mentoring them by sharing my learning from my experiences. I believe that people are an organisation’s biggest asset and they fuel its growth in the long run hence, I see myself being formally or informally involved in mentoring people working towards providing them an environment conducive to learning.
This requires me to excel in whatever field I take-up and build my credibility and I will strive to do the same.
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 Lucknow?
The greatest and most precious thing that I have gained at IIM Lucknow is my friends. I am a person who loves to talk to people and I have always treasured the bond that I share with my friends, be it the ones from school, or the ones from PEC or from Goldman for that matter.
But, the time I have had at IIM Lucknow is undoubtedly the best time of my life so far. The relationships and bonds that I have built here is one of the key takeaways from this course. We, BabajikeThullus will be friends for a lifetime.
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?
I actually relish the feeling. It is an amazing feeling to be regarded highly in the batch. What is important is that one understand that the mockery, the banter is never with a bad intent, it is just good natured jibes and I take it that way. I haven’t really faced it much at all. You could say that it is because I have an amazing set of people as my peers. The people who know me are aware of the fact that there is much more to me than just academics and hence the ‘nerd’ feeling or jibes haven’t really come in for me. And at times, if someone does say anything, I take it in a positive way, I acknowledge to myself that I have earned the coveted position through my hard work which makes me special.
How was your performance in IIM Lucknow? 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 to IIM Lucknow?
The experience was great. I did well I guess since I was in the top 20 people from the selected batch in the process. During my GD, I maintained a positive discussion, leading it when required, making sure everyone gets a chance to contribute, making enough entries, summarising the discussion in the end. I have never had any discomfort with interviews and this one was no different. It was a short interview and a fairly pleasant experience. I think the trick with interviews is to not try to project someone you are not and to just be yourself.
– Read all stories in the InsideIIM Toppers Series – The Special Ones here.