Akhil Shahani was admitted to Kellogg when he was only 21, but the college deferred his admission for two years to let him gain work experience. He was the President of the Entrepreneur’s Club there. While his family is one of India’s largest paper distributors, he is interested in education and is currently the Director at Centre For Management. He has also started a PE firm investing in education, called Kaizen Management Advisors Pvt. Ltd. He was awarded with Bharat Shiromani Award in 2005 for his contributions to the Indian education system. He is President of the Rotary Club in Mumbai, and is educating entrepreneurs through the web in India. A philanthropist by nature Akhil Shahani is sowing the seeds of international education methodology in India.
Go2Bschool Team got a chance to share his experiences. Read the interview to know why this man is a visionary and to learn from his motivational words.
Go2BSchool Team: Where were you born and brought up?
Akhil: I was born in Bombay but I spent a lot of my childhood in London. I came back to India when I was 10.
Go2BSchool Team: From where did you get your undergraduate degree?
Akhil: I did my undergraduate at Thadomal Shahani Engineering College which is in Bombay. I did my electronics engineering.
Go2BSchool Team: What were your plans before joining Kellogg?
Akhil: I knew I wanted to start my own business but at that point I was not sure of what business to start. I thought most probably I will join my family business and expand it to other areas. So I planned of coming back to India and working here.
Go2BSchool Team: Why did you choose only Kellogg and not other B school? Why not IIM’s?
Akhil: I thought if I really wanted to do well in business I need to know what?s happening outside in the global environment. When I thought of choosing a B school I looked for various universities. I found out a lot of other universities like Stanford, Wharton abut I finally chose Kellogg.
Go2BSchool Team: What was your GMAT score?
Akhil: It was 650.
Go2BSchool Team: How was your interview round? Any tips to the future applicants?
Akhil: I had a very unique situation as I was only 23 when I got admission in Kellogg. When I applied I was 21. I spoke to the Dean, Donald Jacob that time and told him about what my ambitions were and he seemed to like me. In fact he said because we like you so much, because of the interview we are ready to give you a deferred admission. It means that you go back to India, get one year of work experience and we will give you a guaranteed seat in Kellogg.
I have been interviewing students for Kellogg admissions and I feel that they should expand their extracurricular activities and develop an all round personality because colleges are looking for diversity and leadership. So, you need to show why you are unique. The other thing is the work experience. Anything like where you have been a leader, taken initiative or shown anything unique about you just to show that you are proactive.
Go2BSchool Team: How did you finance your MBA journey?
Akhil: I financed it through my family funds. In 1992 there were not many bank loans or financial institutions.
Go2BSchool Team: How many Indians were there in your class? Can you tell us about their backgrounds?
Akhil: We had around about 12 Indians in the class of around 800. But actually there were only two Indians me and one more guy who came from India. Most of the other Indians had already worked in the US so they were more American than Indian. Many had the background of working with consulting firms or financial institutions. Some of them had study in America and other graduates had worked there.
Go2BSchool Team: You were the President of The Entrepreneur’s club at Kellogg. What were the activities in which you participated?
Akhil: We had a lot of events happening like we had Entrepreneur seminars. We also got a lot of industry speakers to talk to students. We also had an India Business Conference for the first time at Kellogg where we introduced India as a place for business. We also organized a trip of some Kellogg students to come to India to look at the business environment here and also to talk to Manmohan Singh, the Finance Minister then and just understand what is happening in India. So, we did promotion of entrepreneurship and also of India as a place for business.
Go2BSchool Team: How was the experience of these Kellogg students who came to India?
Akhil: They obviously had a very good time because that time we had a very good interaction. We met Aditya Birla that time when he was alive. We met Ratan Tata, the Finance Minister as I said and a few industrialists. So yes they had a very good time. We showed them a good view of India and we got a lot of benefits.
Go2BSchool Team: Any other experience you want to share being a part of Kellogg?
Akhil: I had a very good time and it was very interactive and happy with education I got there. What I did there inspired me to start my own educational institute. I am bringing a lot of international management post graduate and undergraduate courses to India. These are all accredited by foreign universities. So the education we provide in India is modeled on the education provided in Kellogg. My international experience has helped me create the ideal business school environment.
Go2BSchool Team: What do you think the students must do other than studies at a B school?
Akhil: The whole point of B school is not just studies there is a lot you learn from your fellow students. You learn a lot more from the people in your class than the faculty. So build up a network, talk to people, and find out the experience of other people from other countries. Schools like Kellogg bring the best and brightest from around the world. So a lot of these people have an extensive experience and knowledge that they can share. So, networking with your fellow students is another key thing. And of course, talking to companies, people in industry while you are studying is also important.
Go2BSchool Team: Are you still in touch with Kellogg?
Akhil: We have a Kellogg Alumni Association which I am a part of. We also have an American Alumni Association of which I was the President some years ago. The American Alumni Association (AAA) is an umbrella body of people who have studied in US and have come back to India. We try to promote networking among these American college graduates. The US consulate is a great supporter of the AAA.
Go2BSchool Team: Why did you choose an MBA being from an engineering background?
Akhil: Most of the people who graduated from my engineering college did not take up engineering as a career. Eventually, we found that management was where we wanted to go.
Go2BSchool Team: What is the single most important reason you think you got into Kellogg? What is the second?
Akhil: Like I said when I went to Kellogg I didn?t have much experience and they gave me deferred admission. The number one reason can be I did well in the interview. I had a very different background from the standard class. I think this is the sole reason.
Go2BSchool Team: Do you think the perception of people of India has changed towards MBA from 1992 to 2010?
Akhil: Yes and No! MBA in my time was very aspirational not all who applied got into MBA. It was much more extensive. But today everyone wants to do an MBA. They look at MBA as a standard thing to earn money. There are a lot more business schools available and i feel the value of being an MBA has been impacted.
Go2BSchool Team: Tell us more about your family business, East India Paper Company?
Akhil: We are one of the largest distributors of paper in India. But my real business is education. We are running a chain of business schools where we bring internationally recognized management diplomas in India. We also help Indian students get MBA’s from UK Universities at a highly discounted price. This is actually my main business right now. The family business is running but now I am into education.
Go2BSchool Team: People in India usually think, doing MBA means getting higher paid jobs. You already had a well established family business, what made you do MBA?
Akhil: I think if you are in a family business, most of the time you?re learning from your own business is very limited. May be your father or grandfather started the business in the closed economic environment in India before 1990. Probably, they don’t have much idea of what is happening outside India. If you really want to grow your family business, I think you must get out and see how business is done worldwide so that you can understand and bring that knowledge to your family business. For me it was more than salary, it was about getting GLOBAL knowledge so that I could run my business here.
Go2BSchool Team: Tell us more about your company Ajax Knowledge Systems Pvt. Ltd.?
Akhil: That was a software company that ran for six years until 2006 & created software products in the knowledge management space. I now mainly focus on my education business, centre for management and education focused private equity fund, kaizen management advisors.
Go2BSchool Team: How much did your knowledge from MBA help to establish these start ups?
Akhil: It helped me a lot. As I said, in Center For Management we bring down international MBA practices to India and most business schools in India are not very international. So what we are doing essentially is trying to bring down the best international business school knowledge and practices in to India. My education in Kellogg and my understanding of work and the method of case studies is all from Kellogg and now we are bringing that in to India. We are helping students to get access to that international method of learning.
Go2BSchool Team: You got the Bharat Shiromani Award in 2005. What do you think made you achieve this?
Akhil: I think it has to do with my contribution to education. That time I was involved with a few education institutions. We facilitated connections of many Indian institutions with foreign universities. And also my work in American Alumni Association and bringing down international education system to India. So, I am assuming I got this recognition for doing work in international education arena.
Go2BSchool Team: Why did you start the private equity education focused fund? What future do you see of it in India?
Akhil: The education industry in India is growing very rapidly and being a part of Center For Management we are doing a lot for the management education space.
However, I?d like to bring my expertise and contacts to a much broader canvas. helping to set up kaizen private equity, allows me to get involved in helping to grow India?s education industry, right from schools, colleges, distance learning and education suppliers. We are working on some major educational deals which we will be announcing over the next few months.
I see a very bright future for India?s education sector. With Center For Management we are franchising great courses and helping a lot of students in India. We shall be having more than 50 franchise locations of centre for management by 2014.
Go2BSchool Team: What is Smart Entrepreneur Network all about?
Akhil: Well that is a website for entrepreneurs that I am running as a hobby. I give them advice to start and run their businesses. Smart Entrepreneur has articles which I have written?about how to start, how to get finance and more.? I also like to mentor young entrepreneurs in my spare time.
Go2BSchool Team: How are you related to the Rotary Club?
Akhil: I was the president of rotary club of Bombay midtown which is one of India?s oldest and largest Rotary Club. I have been a very active member here and been a member past 9-10 years now. we?ve have been doing a lot of social work like providing education to the poor, helping the handicapped, providing drinking water to villages, setting up hospitals etc. rotary is a great organization & I think more people should get involved in what we do.
Go2BSchool Team: What advice would you give to the future MBA applicants?
Akhil: Find a way to build up your resume by doing a lot of things. Just don’t focus on your job but focus on other things as well like doing social work, helping people, doing activities. You have to show some leadership in your job so that when they are doing an interview. Basically, schools look for diversity and leadership qualities in a potential candidate.
Go2BSchool Team: What are your future plans?
Akhil: Well my future plan is to bring quality international education to India, which I am currently working on. I wish that one day people from abroad may come to India to study here in our management institutions.
Go2BSchool Team: Thank you so much Akhil for this interview.
Akhil: You are welcome!