2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Devika Varsani, Wharton School

Devika Varsani 

The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, MBA for Executives (Philadelphia)

Age: 32

“Fervently and selflessly serving a higher purpose – in the home, workplace, community, and world.”

Hometown: Grew up in Piscataway, NJ and Media, PA; now live in New Castle, Delaware

Family Members: Husband – Divyang Varsani; Daughter – Shakti (11 months – Yes, I had her while I was in school and working full-time.)

Fun fact about yourself: I decorate cakes for celebrations with family, friends, and my temple congregation with my mom. I would love to start a side business with her when she retires to take it up a notch.

Undergraduate School and Degree: The Pennsylvania State University – B.S. in Chemical Engineering, B.S. in International Studies, French Minor

Where are you currently working? Global Strategic Marketing & Growth Leader at DuPont

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Served as Co-Chair and Professional Development Leader of the global DuPont Early Career Network; co-led the DuPont corporate United Way campaign; received 5+ company awards for expansive innovation and process improvement excellence; participated in numerous women in STEM community outreach events through the Society of Women Engineers, the Delaware Aerospace Education Foundation, and DuPont; and served on the youth and IT committees in a leadership capacity for my global temple organization – Maninagar Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities were stretched to their absolute limits while I was at Wharton – most especially after giving birth to my daughter, Shakti, after being in labor for 36 hours and having an emergency C-section, at the end of our fourth term and start of our fifth term in August of 2022. While taking in the joys of having a precious newborn, I had a long recovery and many sleepless nights (as new parents do!). There were many times I doubted myself and my ability to “do it all” (more than I could show), and I had to make many trade-offs and lean on my family and classmates to help me make it through the program. But I finished that fifth term with a perfect 4.0 GPA. Beyond just being proud of the academic achievement, it showed me that the seemingly impossible is truly possible with an unfaltering and steadfast determination and when you have the right people by your side for the journey. That achievement showed me that I was and am capable of more than I think. I couldn’t help feeling like “The Little Engine that Could” from the classic children’s book I would read to Shakti during that term! That achievement gave me the boost I needed to finish strong my sixth and last term at Wharton, during which I went back to work full-time also and truly had to juggle it all.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I served as the Professional Development Leader and then Co-Chair of the DuPont Early Career Network, the company’s global employee resource group for early career professionals, during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m most proud of growing network membership more than three times from less than 200 members to 600+ members globally, while establishing new network chapters in EMEA, AP, and LA, so that we could provide career programming, resources, and networking opportunities to employees during such a critical time in their careers.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Each of my professors left an indelible mark on me as I learned and grew while at Wharton; they were all remarkable, and I am so grateful to have learned from these brilliant leaders in their fields. To name a few… Who inspired me? Exequiel (Zeke) Hernandez. Who stretched my intellectual curiosity? Gad Allon. Who challenged me to get outside my comfort zone? Kevin Kaiser and Ziv Katalan. Who showed the greatest understanding for me as an individual (and whose class was most fun)? Samir Nurmohamed. And who motivated me to become the best leader and version of myself? Stewart (Stew) Friedman.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Wharton had it all, and then some more – a world-renowned program, faculty, and staff; a strong, well-rounded core curriculum and a plethora of electives; a bi-coastal program; global experiences; and a mandatory residency requirement during class weekends, which really allows students in the cohort to become like family. And, of course, it has the largest alumni network of any business school on the planet. A bonus for me was that it was only an hour away from home!

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? At the end of term 2 in December 2021, in the span of two weeks, I had my embryo transfer as part of my IVF treatment; onboarded my first direct report; found out I was pregnant with my daughter Shakti after an arduous journey; took three final exams and then immediately drove to JFK Airport from my home in Delaware; flew to India for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding and back within 72 hours before the Omicron COVID-19 variant began to spread; and had my first ultrasound before settling down for the holiday season while starting to look forward to becoming a parent with my husband. It was downright crazy and risky (and by no means do I recommend doing this). Everything was just happening all at once, and they were all important. Was I nervous? Yes. Was I scared? Yes. But I was excited by all these things, and I had the most supportive husband, parents and family, work manager, classmates, and class manager who were by my side through it all. You can indeed juggle work, family, and education. It is by no means easy, but it’s not impossible either. Many times, it will wear you out, but it may even give you the greatest thrill.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Get ready for a dynamic and transformative journey that will be equally as challenging as gratifying. Prepare yourself and your villages (your loved ones comprising your family village, your work village, and your soon-to-be executive MBA village) for your very best and your very worst self. You will face some trying times, but you will also have some of your most enlightening moments and make some amazing memories. Soak in every moment of the journey because you will sorely miss it when you reach your destination, but you will look back with absolute fondness and pride. I promise you that it is completely worth it in the end. Being able to cross the graduation stage alongside your amazing classmates with your loved ones, faculty, and staff cheering you on will help all the pieces fall into place. For me, just having my daughter watch her mom graduate from Wharton from the very first row made everything so worth it. And that’s only the beginning of my ROI!  

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? “It’s hard to get back into a learning and studying mode.” While you may initial struggle with getting back into the swing of taking exams or writing papers, that’s only part of the equation and just a small speed bump in the beginning. We’re all lifelong learners, and you will genuinely enjoy the intellectually stimulating environment of the classroom and the exposure to phenomenal classmates and faculty – all who are experts in their respective industries and fields. You will effortlessly get into the true “learning mode.”

What was your biggest regret in business school? I try not having any regrets because each moment in our lives is an opportunity to learn and do better. And, our time is so limited while in an executive MBA program, so we undoubtedly have to make tradeoffs and relentlessly prioritize. However, if I had more time, I would soak in the moments outside the classroom with my classmates and friends because that is where those lifelong friendships are truly formed. Also, if it were not for my husband needing to take care of our infant daughter so that I could achieve this dream of mine, I wish I could have integrated him more as part of my overall Wharton experience.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is the hardest question because there is something about each of my classmates that I admire or who have inspired me to strive for a better version of myself. To name a few, recognizing that I could list everyone here for something… Senthil Govindarajalu for his unparalleled work ethic; Tatiana Folefak Nkuipou and Souvik Mukherjee for their devotion to and perseverance through our program despite exceptional personal circumstances; and Megan Helzner and Krishna Babu Mohan Babu for radiating positivity and being able to brighten up any classmate’s day.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? Wharton’s MBA for Executives allowed for an in-person MBA with the same cohort, which I believe were fundamental for the fully integrative experience I had. Additionally, an executive MBA program meant that most of my classmates would bring more years of experience than I did to the table, which meant that I had the opportunity to learn from and alongside those more far ahead than myself in their careers. However, I was able to bring just as much value to the classroom as they did, and I think the diversity of experience and industries represented is what brings tremendous value and the magic to an executive MBA program. Everyone is there with a genuine desire to learn, and they are there because they want to be there.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to lead and inspire a large multinational business at a Fortune 500 science and technology company as President or VP/GM. However, my interactions with my Wharton classmates, faculty, and staff have shown me that there are so many pathways one’s career can take. And so, ultimately, I just hope to make a lasting impact on this world doing something that I love and feel passionate about.

What made Devika such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Devika is an inspiration to working mothers everywhere. She gave birth to her daughter in the second year of the program, and only missed one or two class weekends during that time. Despite raising a newborn while completing her MBA, Devika came to class fully engaged and 100% committed to making the most of her time at Wharton. In fact, she is currently assisting the full-time MBA program staff with policy surrounding student absence due to childbirth/childcare. Devika is caring, driven, and passionate about helping those with unmet needs. We were very lucky to have her as a member of the class of 2023.”

Cathy Molony
Director of Philadelphia Cohort and Director of Alumni Engagement, San Francisco and Philadelphia


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