Learn about Aarthee's MBA journey and how she leverages Chicago Booth's curriculum and experiential programs.
- May 04, 2022
- Part-Time MBA Blog
Tell us about yourself
My journey from Kaveripattinam, a small town in India, to Chicago Booth has been an eventful one. When I was in school, girls were not encouraged to pursue ambitious careers as the role of women revolved around the family. It was sheer persistence and hard work that led me to secure a state-level rank in TNPCEE and get into College of Engineering, Guindy, with a full merit scholarship. I began my career as a Software Engineer at Starent Networks (acquired by Cisco in 2009), which specialized in 4G mobile gateways. Subsequently, I came to the US to work for Alcatel. Early in my career, I have worked in startups in both pre- and post-acquisition phase to come up with cutting edge solutions focused on solving telecom and enterprise infrastructure needs, which gave me the skills to work in ambiguous and fast paced environments. Later, as part of Fortune 100 companies like Cisco, VMware, and Nutanix, my solutions focused on scalability, along with innovation, which gave me opportunities to engage in geographical and functional cross-collaboration with diverse teams.
Why MBA and how it led to Chicago Booth?
In the last 10 years, as B2B infrastructure solutions underwent dramatic changes, I have evolved with it, specifically in the field of software defined networking. Having seen the impact of these solutions on enterprises and end-users, I have understood the importance of encouraging disruptive innovations. I wanted a bigger role than that of a software engineer. In addition, my work as a freelance Product Manager for an early-stage startup gave me a detailed perspective of the processes involved in product ideation, validation, and execution. The level of ambiguity involved in the entrepreneurial journey led to the realization that an MBA is imperative for my future career prospects. While I was exploring MBA programs, Booth stood out for its receptive culture that encourages exchange of ideas, however far-fetched, and the emphasis on a data-driven approach in a diverse environment.
How did you leverage opportunities at Booth?
The key drivers of Chicago Booth that broadened my horizon are the experiential programs and collaboration with talented fellow Boothies. From the moment I arrived, Booth did its magic, when I got involved in programs that are part of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. I first participated in the Sterling Partners Investment Challengefor which I formed a team with five fellow Boothies with diverse backgrounds and built an investment thesis in real estate. Our proposal was selected, and we had an opportunity to intern for Sterling Partners, a middle-market PE firm based in Chicago investing out of its $200m eighth-generation fund. We also participated in a Private Equity lab course. Our team identified a profitable untapped sub-sector within the slow-moving real estate sector.
Through similar experiences, I gained expertise in research and due diligence including evaluating the companies, their products, and their business model, and analyzing the industry, its growth, and its market.
Can you share how you explored different career paths?
When I started the MBA, my focus was to pivot to Product Management with a long-term goal to become an entrepreneur. However, through Booth’s ecosystem and pedagogy, I got opportunities to participate in programs that showed me a path towards entrepreneurship. A year into my MBA, I was selected for the Innovation Corps program funded by the National Science Foundation. I also led a team of ten fellow Boothies who were selected for the New Venture Challenge (NVC), and subsequently, participated in its lab course where Professor Steven Kaplan and other coaches helped us figure out how a new venture could be bootstrapped. The six-month program gave me the opportunity to actually evaluate investments vs. entrepreneurship and I decided to explore the venture ecosystem.
The following summer, I got a fellowship from an angel investment group, Vectors Angels, and then a fellowship from a venture fund, Lakeshore Ventures, and I really enjoyed both the internships. These experiences changed the course of my career goals and I started pivoting towards VC.
While charting a path to become a VC, since my previous responsibilities were limited to one function and one role, I decided to move into consulting post MBA to acquire diversified industry exposure. My first consulting opportunity as part of Booth Social Impact Club was for the Chicago based nonprofit, Christ the King. It was an exhilarating experience to understand the issue with their corporate work study program and propose a solution to improve the effectiveness of the solution. Since then, I have been consulting and mentoring early-stage startups on their product market fit, 4P strategy, and overall business plan.
How did participating in the on-campus recruiting process help you? Tell us more about that.
I had access to on-campus recruiting, which methodically goes through every step of the recruiting process, including getting your materials ready, guidance on networking and building rapport. Career coaching sessions, both group sessions and individual discussions, prepared me for the rigors of the interviews.
I ended up securing an offer from EY Parthenon, which specializes in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). I can definitely say that all these different experiences, programs, and courses at Booth contributed to my success, primarily because I had little consulting experience. I’m looking forward to starting in July!
Anything else you’d like to share or recommend to current or prospective students?
For someone to take full advantage of innumerable opportunities available at Booth, they must chart their own path. In my case, I specifically focused on entrepreneurship and leadership.
I started with LEAD, Booth’s hands-on leadership program during my LAUNCH. The most defining moment I had was in an exercise when I didn't speak up. The coach asked why I didn’t speak, and said you chose to come to Booth; you can speak up and people will listen. I received collective feedback from my cohort that I could “keep” my thoughtful insights and “start” voicing them. These group exercises gave me the confidence to boldly share my ideas. My second experience was the one-on-one session with the leadership coach where I learned to overcome my inhibition to say “no.” Another opportunity which benefitted me was participation in Booth Women Advance, an annual leadership program for Booth women in all programs, where the key takeaway was to ‘be in balconies, not in basements.’
The leadership accelerator coaching helped me concretize my career goals. For this one-on-one coaching, I chose to focus on exploring my thought process and pushing my way towards my goals. With 10+ years in a particular role, I had a lot of trepidations about my career pivot. But my coach helped me convert my goals into actionable steps, discussed my inhibitions or blocks, and nudged me to come up with solutions. Most importantly, she was an accountability partner. I moved from the fear zone to the growth zone after these six sessions.
Finally, Choosing Leadership with Professor Linda Ginzel completed the circle, when I learnt to articulate my goals and clearly communicate with others. Besides coaching on other topics such as Impostor Syndrome and Team Dynamics added further value to my repertoire. I want to particularly highlight my career coaching with Ms. Anita Brick whose guidance was very crucial in preparing me for the interviews.
In a nutshell, I can say without hesitation that Chicago Booth has holistically transformed me!
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