“For others, it was a leap of faith but for me, it was more sensible to pursue PGP at ISB than an MBA in the US.” 

Prashanth Vasu is the President of Strategy at the Ramco Group. An ISB alum from the founding batch of PGP shares his one year at the ISB, the experience & learnings. Interestingly, Mr Vasu declined the opportunity to study at Kellogg and came to ISB. Read to know why!

My Career Journey & Life So Far:

I currently serve as President of Strategy at the Ramco Group, which I joined in January 2021. Before Ramco, I served as a partner with McKinsey & Company, spending 18 years across offices in Mumbai, Delhi, London and Chennai. I was one of the leaders in McKinsey’s Transformation and Accelerate practice that supports clients undergoing a major business transformation with corresponding interventions around organisational health (i.e. aspiration setting, leadership team development, capability building, execution excellence).

Over a span of 18 years at McKinsey, I have led and supported many clients through their transformation journeys, primarily in the pharmaceutical and healthcare space as well as other sectors such as logistics, financial services and industrial. My work is spread across strategy, mergers and acquisitions, R&D, procurement and so on. Prior to joining McKinsey, I was an Operations Manager at Sanmar-PTI Filters for four years.

My extra-curricular interests include tennis, classical music and I am a practitioner of heartfulness meditation for the last 25 years and a trainer for the last 8 years.

Life Before ISB:

I cannot believe it has been twenty years ever since I joined ISB as a part of PGP’s founding batch. The time has just by flown. At the time when I joined the institute, I was just 29 years old had done my undergrad in Mechanical engineering from IIT Madras and went on to pursue M.S. in Industrial Engineering from Texas A&M University. After spending just a year in USA after my post-graduation, I decided to return back to India which was a bit uncommon at that time.

Upon returning to India in 1997, I joined an engineering startup called Sanmar Engineering (name at that point of time) in my hometown of Chennai. The group had multiple engineering companies under its umbrella. They were setting up a new company to manufacture filters and I was part of the small founding team along with the CEO, Head of Marketing, etc. My role was to oversee the transfer of technology from our partners in the US to India. I managed the line of setup for the manufacturing facility in India, learning and bringing technical knowledge. I fulfilled these duties for four years and by 2001, I felt the need to shift gears in my career.

On the personal front, I got married in 2000 and by 2001 we were blessed with a child in our lives. As a family, we felt it was the right time to seek an MBA that enables us to change my orientation of work and puts us on a firm footing five years down the line. Though the time while pursuing MBA was going to be challenging, we felt it would be a nice break from the workplace environment to reflect & grow in a conducive learning environment.

Reasons to pursue PGP from ISB:

How did I land at ISB? I have to say I was a little bit fortunate to find ISB. I started the process to apply for MBA with two approaches. I took GMAT and started applying for B-Schools in the US such as Wharton, Kellogg and other ivy leagues schools. I also took the CAT exam but felt a bit rusty after so much time away from education. I wasn’t too confident and felt I hadn’t prepared well. I got admission into Kellogg and was about to go for it.

Interestingly, my boss (the CEO) told me about ISB. He told me how the Indian School of Business is coming up in Hyderabad in collaboration with Wharton, Kellogg & McKinsey and are starting their programme from the same year. He informed me about a session ISB was conducting at a hotel in Chennai and advised me to check it out. It sounded quite interesting as I had applied for the same schools that were coming to India with ISB. Once I attended the session, I realised what a great proposition ISB was offering.

The school was offering an international quality MBA, co-conferred by Wharton, Kellogg & London Business School. The faculty came from the Top B-Schools in the world and the duration of the programme was half to a traditional MBA. Additionally, the programme was one-third the cost compared to an MBA from abroad and I had the advantage to pursue it while staying close to my family in India. It made perfect sense for me as ISB provided an MBA of international standards in one year without having to shift my base back to the US. So, I quickly scampered to put together an application and got a call for an interview. Lo and behold, I got admission into ISB.

One might wonder whether it was a big risk at that time but I didn’t think about it in that manner. To be honest, I was reluctant to go to the US and I would have been stuck there for some time, earning to compensate for the expensive MBA degree. I wanted to stay close to my family and settle in India in the longer run. I knew ISB, through associations with Top B-Schools and backing from McKinsey was poised for a great success. Hence, I politely declined the opportunity to study at Kellogg and came to ISB. For others, it was a leap of faith but for me, it was a more sensible move.

My Time at ISB & the Founding Batch:

Before pursuing PGP from ISB or MBA in general, one should have clarity of the context on which one is seeking an MBA and what one expects upon completion. I came to ISB with four years of technical experience and exposure to international education and work. I wanted to shift from the technical aspect of things to more business orientation of work. I believe 2-5-year & 5–8-year work bands are the sweet spot to pursue a one-year management programme such as PGP.

Though it had a reasonable degree of challenges, my time at ISB was very fruitful. I enjoyed the break from work with my family in a new academic environment. It was nice to reconnect with academics and student life. Although the academic work is more, the pressure is a little less than the job. My wife and daughter had the opportunity to live in a community where all the batchmates bonded with the family and helped in taking care of our daughter.

I gained a deeper knowledge of the business side of things and was able to develop a more formal way of approach to marketing and finance problems. I wouldn’t have been exposed to these learnings had I gone on with my career. Though I haven’t had the opportunity to apply most of my learnings in the job, it still gave me a new way of thinking about problems.

While I didn’t do a great job of staying in close touch with my batch, I believe one should stay in close contact with ISB and fellow students as it provides meaningful bonds for a lifetime. I enjoyed the friendships and associations I developed during the programme. I continue staying in on-and-off touch with my batchmates and feel a great connection with them.

I also consider myself lucky as well because, within two months into the programme, I was able to bag an academic scholarship from McKinsey which cleared 75% of my student debt.

In terms of challenges, I felt a little huff and puff on the academic front as it took me almost two months to get back into the study mode. I wanted to do well in academics and felt a little bit out of shape. But once I caught back the student life, I was able to excel. It was also a tough year on campus as the world was reeling from the effects of 9/11. The markets were down and job opportunities were scarce. ISB was still in its infancy & the Career & Administrative Services (CAS) were just coming up and we were not able to address all the sentiments and aspirations. I personally found this experience quite tough. But despite these factors, I felt the entire ISB experience was time well spent. I learned, grew and was able to secure a job at McKinsey & Company. Though few had higher expectations, the entire batch was able to land at good positions.

Overall, when I look back, I’m grateful to be part of the founding batch of ISB. It was a year that helped me shift my career from a steady engineering background to a much more diverse role in a global organisation with greater career growth potential. I was able to do all of it at virtually zero cost and at least amount of debt. My subsequent 18 years at McKinsey were fantastic, filled with learning, exposure and growth. I would definitely give credit to ISB for my career progression so far.

The above blog summarises Prashanth Vasu’s PGP journey he shared during an online session conducted by the Indian School of Business.