2021 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Mukund Vasudevan, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)

Mukund Vasudevan

W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University

Age: 43

“Simple curious guy who loves intellectual conversations, music, and helping others.”

Hometown: Phoenix, AZ

Family Members: Wife – Kalpana, Daughter – Aadhya (4 years old)

Fun fact about yourself: I love to sing in the shower, and my wife immediately knows the days I am stressed out!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Manipal Institute of Technology, B.E. Chemical Engineering,

University of Illinois at Chicago, M.S. Chemical Engineering,

Washington University in St. Louis Ph.D. Chemical Engineering

Where are you currently working? Tessenderlo Kerley Inc., Business Development Manager

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Learning Indian classical music, working out, traveling, cooking, hiking, and photography

Member of Young India Cultural Group (YICG)

Member of professional organizations (SME, AMUG)

8 scientific publications (including one in Nature Materials), 4 patents

Employee excellence award at my company

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I would say it was getting an A in Finance, as that course was something I feared going in to the program.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Leading the commercialization of a safer water treatment technology at various municipalities and major North American Nuclear Power Generation players – it allows for safer working conditions for their employees while also being a greener technology for the environment.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor. Daniel Brooks – Statistics Professor – he gave exceptional insights by citing various real-life problems, conveyed the message of how the same data set could lead to various (and completely opposite) interpretations, and explained what should one watch for going forward. His approach allowed the students to think through the various possible narratives behind the data, which is very valuable in real life.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? While reputation, proximity, length of program, and program cost were important factors, the more impactful and deciding factor came after meeting the faculty and program director during the interview process. I got an instant appreciation for the wealth of the faculty’s diversity and experience that they would bring to the table, and the courses on globalization, public policy, and international practicum (which are unique to this school in this region of US).

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? While there are several takeaways, one key lesson was a tool to “measure” culture in the Organizational Behavior course. This tool allowed measuring the alignment and divergence of culture across different levels of the organization, and highlighted the specific areas or cultural attributes that were different, such as between groups in the same building or country and even across geographies. With these metrics, we could then analyze if that similarity and differences were by design, and/or if it was something that needed attention. In our business, we could use that tool to gauge the cultural differences between our US office and our parent in Europe. I worked with our VP’s and HR to highlight this tool and implementing this tool facilitated various discussions. Now, there is talk of cross-training and business initiatives with greater frequency to help improve this alignment.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? I was born and raised in India. My larger family, including my parents, continue to live there. Just a note that my parents, both senior citizens, have been doing voluntary social service in a remote village in India over the last 16 years. In 2020, the COVID year, it was an obvious challenge to manage working from home. However, the added complexity was to also attend to my father, who had some health issues. I had to fly back twice (42 hour trip each way, 12-hour time difference), while also managing my work responsibilities in North America and ensuring my wife and daughter were also OK (as they could not travel with me due to COVID restrictions). It involved several late nights, very long hours, (and jet-lag helped me here). Fortunately, with the MBA, the professors and my immediate team members lent a great deal of support. The pandemic enabled the switch to virtual classroom sessions, which meant I could attend the classes from India, although the classes started at 8 PM and went until 5 AM next day (which was followed by attending to my dad’s health in the day). When my dad would take rest, I would attend to my MBA work as well as office work. At work, my manager and my team were also supportive, and accommodating for calls at off-work times. At school, I owe a great deal of gratitude to the faculty and team members who supported me at school during these times – e.g. working on assignments, presentations, and various discussions.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? The EMBA program is an investment in oneself, and is an incredible enriching experience, as you learn so much about yourself. This is especially your strengths, and where and how to leverage them, and your weaknesses – and how you can rely on your newly formed network of a diverse cohort that can be used as sounding boards and for course-correction. At the end of this journey, you’ll feel proud that you were able to accomplish this. You will understand so much more, connect-the-dots faster, and able to add much more value at whatever you do. And the hardest part of this entire program was only before the program started, as it was a fear of getting in.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The myth was that it is going to be incredibly hard. Well, the best learning was that the challenges you face are very similar to the challenges other people face. And when you share and solve these challenges as a team, you help each other; your mental horse power is instantaneously multiplied with this team. That, psychologically, is a morale booster, and the challenge gets incrementally easier. Further, the faculty is phenomenal in that they realize that these are common challenges, so take extra time to go through aspects that are not well understood. Moreover, it is not the degree that matters in the end, it is what you learnt about yourself.

What was your biggest regret in business school?Our cohort was the one that coincided with the COVID pandemic. As a result, our in-person interaction, domestic and international trips, and-curricular activities were severely curtailed.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire?

1) Matt Heilala – He is a doctor who travels every 2 weeks from Anchorage, Alaska to attend the program. Further, he brings such incredible and rounded points of views and rich experiences from his travel and readings. His perspectives are unique and very insightful, well-thought through, and coherent – all hallmarks of an intellectual. For Matt, being in the 50’s and a grandfather, to go through this program is really the exemplary and inspiration for continuous learning. Overall, it was a rewarding experience to get to know him.

2) Ronny Horvath – an IT wiz from Germany. I was amazed to hear his perspective as an immigrant, and his dry humor with which he would explain a situation. His points of views were extemporaneous, but very coherent, rationale, and full of insights, experience, and a message. Mostly though, I admire his determination and dedication to continuous learning – the guy had advanced stage brain cancer and very near death experience – and took a year off for treatment – and returned to complete the program with us. Knowing such incredible dedicated people itself is an inspiration to be in this program.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted in-person learning as I feel enriched by the discussions with the professor, and have my doubts answered instantly. More importantly, it was to hear the perspectives of my diverse cohort, and their opposing points of views that, frankly, I would have never learnt or thought about otherwise. Learning to build this well-rounded point of view allows me to gauge situations very differently and more holistically. This enables me to analyze the risks and rewards of the proposal, and minimize the opportunity cost.

Online programs, especially the asynchronous ones have less room for interaction, and harder to learn complex topics and concepts.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to give back to the society in 2 ways:

A) Lead teams in developing innovative technology that is smarter, better, safer, and greener for this world. As I look back at my career, the more examples of this I can talk to, the more successful I will feel.

B) Be a mentor/teacher to groom the next generation in holistic thinking

What made Mukund such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Regardless of the topic, Mukund was always an active and engaged participant in our class discussions. And the perspective he shared was usually one that not only advanced the conversation, but also helped his colleagues see the issue from a different angle. He was a positive influence on his team during the capstone project and helped them work through a particularly challenging case in a way that proved helpful in their final analysis and presentation. With his positive energy and engaging personality, Mukund is exactly the type of student to bring out the best in an EMBA classroom.”

Kevin Corley
Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship