Overachiever, high-performer, superstar – these are labels that Aishwary Dale has been hearing for a long time, from friends, classmates and relatives.
And for good reason.
- Best engineering college in the country
- Best business school in the world
- Best consulting firm in the world
Aish has got all of them on his resume. But our modest friend still feels awkward around such labels, as he thinks he’s part of the not-so-exclusive club of Indian male engineer turned MBA grads .
He talks about life before and after IIT Bombay, what prompted him to get an MBA after IIT, how he got into McKinsey, and what he’s doing after leaving McKinsey.
Life before and after IIT Bombay, INSEAD and McKinsey
by Aishwary Dale
Life before IIT
I was born to doctor parents in the city of Bhopal. My parents, despite being brilliant doctors (my mother topped the state government PET exam) were never after money.
They happily served in the state government service and devoted rest of their time to charity (vis-à-vis treating poor patients for free) and family (all our relatives live in Bhopal, and we still meet at least twice a week).
This aspect of my upbringing is what differentiates me – so yeah, despite being the most typical profile – Indian, male, IIT Bombay engineer; my unique identity is that of an operations focused innovator at heart.
I have learnt to be hardworking, humble, simple, caring and being there for my people from my parents, which is what makes me loves Operations.
My interest in dramatics, poetry writing (my poems were published in Hindustan Times right up from class four), and cinema makes me creative and hence an innovator at heart.
Life after IIT Bombay
Post my graduation from IIT Bombay, I joined Procter and Gamble in their supply chain division.
Starting off with more process oriented and operational roles in quality assurance and startup management, I quickly graduated onto senior leadership positions, wherein I was handling the biggest operations department for P&G India.
I had a two-tier team of 4 managers and 90+ technicians reporting onto me, and I was responsible for delivering the safety, quality, cost, operational results, and customer service for my department.
My proudest achievements at P&G were:
- The turnaround of the Ops department from below target results to global number 1 for five consecutive months.
- Leading competitive benchmarking for India pampers which led to the launch of a new product exclusively for Indian market.
- The revamp of rewards and recognitions program for the site, that was reapplied across multiple sites in India.
Post completion of five years at P&G, I realized I had gained a sound understanding of the “how” aspects of business – the nitty-gritties of supply chain, Ops, people management and stakeholder leadership.
I now wanted to expand on my understanding of “why” business decisions are taken, thereby focusing on strategy, marketing, finance and product developmental aspects.
Having travelled to 10+ countries, I also realized my love for exploring new cultures and people, and hence decided that an MBA from an international university was the right next step to pursue my personal dreams and future career aspirations.
Life before MBA
The journey to an international MBA begins from writing the GMAT.
I gave GMAT with roughly two-and-a-half months of prep, majorly using the official GMAT guide and GMAC tests as the key source for my preparation.
For me, Maths was a cakewalk, whilst sentence correction was the most challenging section.
I had been regularly scoring between 720-760 in the GMAC tests, and it is the closest to the real test, so it wasn’t a surprise that I scored 740 in my first attempt itself, which kind of paved the way for me to apply for international B-schools.
One key lesson I picked up during the application process was peeling off the layers of the onion for any essay/ story – focusing on the motivation, the “why” rather than diving too deep into the “what or specifics of the achievement”.
This approach of communicating the thought process behind your actions has stayed with me till date, as I have continued to mentor other MBA applicants.
I ended up applying to six schools in total, INSEAD and five US B-schools.
It was a combination of dream, reach and safe schools, which would also provide ample opportunities for my post MBA career aspirations.
I got an interview invite from INSEAD and Michigan Ross – the results typically come out within two months post the application deadline.
I flew to Mumbai to give my two INSEAD interviews and one Ross interview, which were all alumni-led (Yeah those were pre-COVID days, interviews still happened in person 😊).
The interviews were extremely conversational in nature, and really focused on knowing me as a person, understanding my motivations and most importantly judging my cultural fitment with the schools.
This is where your interactions with alumni really help – you understand about the school, the culture, the standout qualities, the post-MBA opportunities the school is known for – and can bring out those nuances which demonstrate that you have given enough thought to choose the school.
For instance, facts around the collaborative culture of INSEAD vs more competitive culture of US B-schools or Consulting being the only real campus placement option at INSEAD were nowhere on the web, but a by-product of my alumni interactions.
After almost two months of waiting, I got an acceptance into Ross with USD $10,000 scholarship whilst I got waitlisted at INSEAD. It was a mixed feeling, since INSEAD had been my dream school.
The next one-and-a-half months seemed like years. I wrote multiple emails to the admissions committee reinforcing my interest, consulted with my interviewers, consultant, my seniors.
I basically did all I could to show my intent, inclination and fit.
I still remember the day when I got that call from a French number.
I stepped out from the office meeting room and I all I could hear was – “Congratulations! We would like to offer you a full-time position in the class of 19J starting at Fontainebleau.”
I almost screamed with joy, with a couple of heads turning around to look at me. That was the moment I knew I was going to have the best year of my life 😊.
And INSEAD was arguably the best year of life. It is truly the business school of the world – We had people from 70+ countries in a batch size of 500, with no nationality being >10%.
The best part about INSEAD was the fact that the average work experience was 5 years, hence the class was truly collaborative and focused on learning from each other’s experiences, rather than competing for grades.
I would be lying if I said that it’s a cakewalk – it is quite intense since you almost learn ~80% of what you would in a two-year MBA but all crunched in 10 months.
And despite that, you make time for parties (what happens there stays there 😉), travels (I travelled 10+ countries with INSEAD buddies), the national weeks (where you celebrate the culture of the country), DASH (google it!) and many more such social gatherings, which make INSEAD a wholesome experience.
The graduation for the July class happens from the Fontainebleau Chateau, which is an icing on the cake.
Life after MBA
INSEAD is majorly a consulting school, a fact I knew before applying. The placement process is quite different from Indian B-schools, with no-set placement days and majority of the people opting for off-campus jobs.
Most of the campus jobs are from Consulting companies, and they happen between 4th and 5th periods spread across 3-4 months.
The preparation starts from the 3rd period, with case preparation workshops, case prep groups with your batchmates and working with your career counsellor on your pitch and stories.
Consulting interviews have 4-5 rounds in total, with the first two rounds happening in person on the campus and the subsequent rounds being a mix of zoom/ in-person interviews depending on your choice of the office.
My diligent preparation in the 3rd period helped me to make it to the final rounds of most companies, finally landing a couple of job offers. Apart from the regular prep, one of the most important decisions is choosing the right offices to apply to, since that plays a big role in getting the shortlists.
I had applied to McKinsey Jakarta practice, and when I got that convert, it was truly gratifying for me.
All my second-round interviews were with southeast Asia partners and happened via Zoom.
(Believe it or not, we were sceptical about online interviews those days and considered them to be a disadvantage)
McKinsey had been my dream company and I was super excited to begin my journey in southeast Asia.
I took a six-month break post my MBA before starting off with McKinsey. I wanted this time for myself and to explore and do something very different, which I found at TechnoServe, a non-profit working in the fields of health and agriculture.
I examined micronutrient compliance in Nigeria and quantified the financial cost for the industry, thereby formulating a business case for increased compliance (the project was sponsored by the Gates foundation). The experience was culturally enriching and truly satisfying in nature.
Life at McKinsey was everything that I had heard and so much more.
I got staffed into a remote mining study upfront, and while it gave a glimpse into the consulting life – the weekly travels, the team dinners, game nights, drives to and from the client site discussing about work and life.
The first couple of months are overwhelming – you need to sharpen your toolkit on analytics, PowerPoint, and communication – while continuing to deliver. And having your manager and your colleagues as the sounding boards really helps you get to speed. Come March 2020, and we shifted to remote work.
Whilst challenging at first, I am amazed to see how we and the clients have adapted to these ways and this almost seems like the regular way of working.
Yes, there is difficulty in setting personal and professional boundaries, getting answers from clients/ partners is a longer process – but then we try to make the best of it.
Life after McKinsey
After almost two years in Consulting (which almost felt like a continuation of my MBA learning and growth journey), I have joined Walmart as a Product Manager couple of weeks ago, and really looking forward to this exciting new adventure.
As I look back, I feel extremely proud, humbled, and gratified that I got to study at two of the best institutes for my undergrad and MBA, and work at couple of best companies as well.
To future aspirants, I would just like to say that craft your own story, be your own true self.
I have seen many applicants being super generic with their answers, and unless you put your heart and soul into the process, and bring out your distinctiveness, it is difficult to stand out.
Hence, give it a sound thought, speak to your confidantes/ friends/ mentors/ B-school application consultant, and craft your unique story that has “you” sprinkled all over it.
And lastly, enjoy the journey, the relationships, the friendships, and the experiences. Because equally important as the destination is the journey and experience, and make sure you make it memorable and your own!