2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Vishal Ashok Narkar, U.C. Irvine (Merage)

Vishal Ashok Narkar

The Paul Merage School of Business, University of California-Irvine

Age: 42

“On a mission to provide human-centered sustainable experiences through servant leadership and data-driven approach.”

Hometown: Mumbai, India.

Family Members: Mother – Archana, Wife – Pallavi and Children – Roman & Raayan.

Fun fact about yourself: In high school, I tutored students a grade below mine to supplement my income.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

BS in Telecommunications Engineering, The University of Mumbai.

MS in Computer Science, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Where are you currently working? Taco Bell, Product Management Consultant

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Strategy and Operations Management Association.

Mentorship and Coaching, New Venture Competition.

I love playing cricket. This sport has a lot to offer in terms of strategy, execution, teamwork, and excitement. I still try to play at least one game every weekend because it keeps me motivated week after week.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As part of my executive MBA program, I was aiming for three distinct immersion tracks: Digital Transformations, Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and Healthcare Immersion. I ended up taking more than double the program’s required number of units. My goal was to not only excel academically, but also to learn new subjects that were outside of my comfort zone. I am proud of my ingenuity and ability to put new knowledge into practice in my personal and professional life.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Leading a multimillion-dollar business from all angles, including finance, operations, strategy, and product marketing, was something I enjoyed doing in the corporate world. This would not have been possible without the rigorous training I received during my MBA program. The Executive MBA program provided me with the necessary skills and attitude to launch my own business.

Who was your favorite MBA professor?  It’s difficult to pick a favorite professor because I adored all of them. They could provide me with many useful insights that I could apply to my business. Professor Thomas Eppel simplified business analytics, which is essential for machine learning. Professor Christopher Schwarz made corporate finance so simple and interesting that I ended up taking several finance courses. Professor Ken Murphy’s distinct teaching style provided a critical analytical and quantitative approach to operations management. Professor Noah Askin was outstanding in the areas of negotiation and leadership development. Professor Margarethe Wiersema provided us with numerous strategic management resources. Dr. Richard Afable inspired me to explore new opportunities in healthcare.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The decision to finalize UCI was based on four primary factors.

The Paul Merage School of Business offers immersion programs in areas of particular interest to me. I audited a few classes to evaluate the quality and was impressed with the professors and overall facility. UCI has a diverse teaching staff with excellent credentials.

My goal was to surround myself with people from various backgrounds to help me grow holistically. Given my technological background, I wanted to attend a school with a diverse cohort that was not overly focused on technology

The proximity of the school was critical. With only 20 minutes away, it was easy to participate in a variety of networking opportunities such as in-person summits, conferences, and competitions.

Finally, UCI offered me a merit-based scholarship, which allowed me to easily finance my education expenses.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The most important takeaway for me is to cultivate empathy, practice active listening, and increase psychological sensitivity. I am consciously employing these techniques to foster psychological safety in teams, which is critical in remote cultures – particularly after COVID-19.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? My Executive MBA journey began in 2020, right at the start of pandemic COVID-19. Managing work, the kids’ online school, and the demanding course work was extremely stressful. I contracted COVID-19 twice during this entire journey, both times during final exams. Due to a family medical emergency in India, juggling multiple balls at the same time became impossible. This prompted me to take a year off.

I’m grateful to UCI MBA Program Services, particularly Stephani Leonard and Rebecca Hillman, for allowing me to resume my program after a year hiatus.

Looking back, I was grateful for the break because it allowed me to reflect and make some important life decisions. My wife has been my staunchest supporter throughout this journey, taking care of everything for me so that I could focus on my goals. The class of 2022 and 2023 is no ordinary group, as crossing the finish line required grit, resilience, and patience.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Continue to be humble and hungry. You can always improve no matter how much you know or believe you know. Trust your cohort, and they will assist you in reaching the next level. This is an excellent 24-month training program; stick with it, and it will eventually transform you.

Learn to connect the dots and never stop learning; it is the only constant in your life. Please connect with me on LinkedIn if you need assistance, and I’d be happy to discuss things with you.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Because of COVID-19, we had most of our classes online for the first year, and I struggled to connect with my 2022 cohort. I wish I could have spent more time with them.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It’s difficult to pick just one classmate because my cohort is so impressive. I have a few classmates whom I greatly admire.

Yuichi Usui: Yuichi’s work ethics, discipline, and project management skills impressed me.

Wissam Zalzali: Everyone should emulate Wissam’s entrepreneurial spirit and helpful nature.

Shante Carter: Shante’s thoughts and actions are always clear. I admire her executive presence and calm.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? My primary motivation for pursuing an Executive MBA was to improve my leadership, strategic thinking, and communication abilities. My other objectives were to hone my entrepreneurial skills and establish a meaningful network of influential contacts to help me succeed in the long run.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to build sustainable businesses that add incremental value to the lives of customers, employees, clients, and other stakeholders.

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

“Throughout his tenure at the Paul Merage School of Business, Vishal consistently demonstrated a remarkable work ethic and a strong commitment to academic excellence. He has consistently excelled in his coursework, earning top grades in subjects ranging from strategic management to executive negotiations to wealth management. His comprehensive understanding of business principles and ability to apply them in real-world situations have been evident in his coursework, case studies, and team projects.

Vishal possesses outstanding leadership qualities that have allowed him to excel both inside and outside the classroom. As a team member, he consistently demonstrated his exceptional communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and capacity to collaborate effectively with individuals from diverse backgrounds. His ability to lead and motivate others was evident in his role as the team leader for several group projects, where he successfully facilitated cohesive teamwork and achieved outstanding results.

Apart from his exceptional academic achievements, Vishal also possesses a keen business acumen and an innovative mindset. He consistently displayed a deep understanding of industry trends and was quick to identify opportunities for growth and improvement. His ability to think critically and make sound strategic decisions has been consistently demonstrated throughout his program.”

Stephanie Leonard
Director of MBA Program Services


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