2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Vrinda Gupta, U.C. Berkeley (Haas)

Vrinda Gupta

University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“I am a consultant, proud mom, and avid tennis player living in Washington D.C.”

Hometown: Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

Family Members: Steven Yost (husband), 2.5-year-old son, parents and brother live in India.

Fun fact about yourself: I have lived in seven cities in my adult life across India, Europe, and the U.S.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Penn State (BA in Advertising), London School of Economics (MA in Media and Communications)

Where are you currently working? ICF, a global consulting and technology services company in Washington D.C.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Tennis (NTRP 4.0), volunteer ESL teacher at Washington English Center since 2014.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of doing well in Mergers & Acquisitions. It’s one of the most challenging courses that Haas offers during the executive MBA program. It was outside of my comfort zone and carried a large workload. I successfully completed the class and loved the topic, but I hadn’t envisioned myself doing well in the coursework before starting the MBA.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At ICF, I work closely with the Federal government. My work focuses on improving the delivery of government services that have a high impact on the public. This impact can involve a large customer base or a critical effect on those served, to ensure that citizens and other businesses who are “customers” of those government services receive their desired outcomes. Working with the federal government and its dedicated employees has been very inspiring and it’s something I am proud of doing.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I have two favorite professors. Peter Goodson was my professor for Mergers & Acquisitions and Managing Difficult Conversations. Professor Goodson is a master of his craft. He has an incredible professional background in Private Equity and has a rigorous, yet entertaining approach to teaching all his courses. My other favorite professor was Andrew Isaacs, who teaches one of the most important business courses, Climate Change and Business Strategy. He made the fundamental science of climate change very approachable, and he opened my mind to what’s effective and what’s greenwashing as it relates to a business’ efforts to achieve climate and sustainability goals. He is passionate about the subject and extremely articulate.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? Since I am based in Washington DC and have lived here for nine years, I wanted to be exposed to a different part of the country and to people who work in different industries than I do. And when I learned about Haas’ Defining Leadership Principles, I knew that this was where I wanted to get my MBA. The school’s values really resonated with me.  

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? In a course called Building Trust Based Relationships, we learned that lowering self-orientation has the greatest positive impact on building trust between individuals. A survey we took in the class revealed that self-orientation was an area of improvement for me. I am a strong advocate for my methods and approaches (which I am often hired for), but since taking this course, I have tried to be a more active listener and be more flexible in my approach. I have accepted approaches that I previously considered old-fashioned, which allowed me to build greater trust with my clients and create more strategic business opportunities with them.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? In the fall of my second year, my family and I squeezed in a vacation to Spain. I had completed three terms of the program, and I knew my family desperately needed a break. Unfortunately, the EMBA coursework doesn’t stop. For most of that vacation, I worked on an assignment for my M&A class. I woke up at 5 am every day to meet with the team or work on my portion of the assignment. While I hunkered down in the Airbnb until 1 or 2 PM, my husband took our son sightseeing. I was stressed about missing family vacation moments, and I just wanted to relax. This memory is just one of the many instances where I had to sacrifice my personal interests for my school commitments. The executive MBA program goes non-stop for two years, so it’s important to squeeze in breaks and vacations, even if it doesn’t fully align with your image of “time off.”

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? If you have ever thought about doing an executive MBA, do it sooner rather than later. The executive MBA takes a lot of endurance, but you should know that once you start the journey, you’ll finish it too. You’ll grow your stamina and get more efficient with your schedule. Plus, your academic team members will help each other out. Express appreciation for everyone who is supporting you on this journey, and make sure you are allowing the people who are supporting you on a daily basis a regular break. I encouraged my husband to join a weekly soccer league, which he really enjoyed.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? “Now is not the right time.” When I joined the EMBA program, my son was roughly eight months old. I wasn’t sure if this was the right time to go back to school for both me and my family. However, after careful thought, I just pushed ahead. I reasoned that I will always have an excuse to not make a move. I am constantly amazed by my ability to do more than I think that I can. Overall, I believe that people are inherently resilient, and we are capable of doing more than we give ourselves credit for.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish that I could have spent time working on a new business idea and taken advantage of Berkeley’s amazing entrepreneurship resources. A number of my classmates launched new companies during the program and it’s inspiring to see what they are building.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is an incredibly hard one to answer because everyone in my cohort is highly accomplished and admirable in different ways. The one who comes to mind first is Chaitali Narla. She was one of the brightest in the class. I loved hearing her input during classroom discussions. She is unassuming but comes across as a strong leader. She is incredibly accomplished in her career, and she mentors other women seeking leadership positions in tech.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I didn’t want to leave the work that I enjoyed, and I did not want to stop my career progression at my current employer, so the executive MBA was the perfect format for that. A part-time program would have limited me to programs in the DC-area, and in an online program I would have missed out on the people-aspect of the MBA experience. Additionally, both part-time and online programs would have taken me longer to complete, and I wanted to be done in two years.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? To build one or more successful social impact ventures.

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

“I am pleased to recommend Vrinda Gupta for the Poets and Quants list. Vrinda has taken two of my classes: Value Creation in Mergers and Acquisitions and Difficult Conversation for Executives that Matter. Four attributes came to mind that made her stand out.

Intellectual Curiosity– At first, Vrinda’s interest in exploring topics at a deeper level is what struck me. After every session she would ask penetrating and insightful questions. The mark of an exceptional student, in my book, is endless curiosity. That epitomizes Vrinda.

Insightful Contributions– Many students like to talk in a classroom, but discussion contribution is different. I found Vrinda to be measured and precise in her class shares. With an economy of words, she always added to every problem’s solution when called on. In a highly interactive classroom, the aim is to let students find answers. In so doing, we occasionally get stuck in a case discussion without resolution. Whenever we were pressed, I knew calling on Vrinda would soon break the log jam.

Supportive Interventions- There is a way that Vrinda influences when facing another’s opinion that is worth emulating. Challenging others’ views can be risky in today’s willfully opinionated climate. I envied Vrinda’s tact and diplomacy in making others feel validated, yet when they were full of it, she was able to challenge their thinking without being offensive. I admire a well-phrased challenge to a belief without having it be perceived as a put-down.

Creative Solutions- One of the differentiators I value in students in my courses is the ability to think outside the box. Vrinda would often approach problems and create opportunities for others in ways unique to the class and in general. Bravo Vrinda! Creativity is where a better future will spring, and you are one of those leaders who will make that happen.”

Peter Goodson
Distinguished Teaching Fellow


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