Musings on books, technology, entrepreneurship, nonprofits and umm.. everything else …


I had written this a month ago but decided to postpone it until graduation day. So here goes .. this is a preface to what (hopefully) will be a post on the graduation day itself.

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We have one more weekend to go for graduation. Many of my classmates are done with their classes and waiting for May 5th to get their degree. We had a process for selecting a graduation speaker for the class and some of us threw our hats in the ring. Needless to say, I got dinged :).

Back in the undergraduate days when we were applying to graduate schools in the US, we had a fun tradition. We would stick reject letters from universities that rejected us on our dorm room doors as badges of honor – for having tried and failed. In that spirit, here is what I would have liked to say a month from now to my class. Its an honor to be graduating with you! So here it goes .. from the heart!

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“We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

      Emil Zatopek

How do you verbalize an experience sufficiently well to communicate what it really was? As we stand at the finish line of this marathon, medals in hand, families at our side, smiles spread across our sweat-stained faces and hugs and cheers from our friends, what is going through our minds? Are we thinking about the grueling hours we spent on the road, one tired foot in front of the next, the nagging self-doubts through the race and thoughts of quitting … or are we already missing the exhilarating experience and wishing we could live it all over again?

So today, class 37 of the Wharton MBA Program for Executives, let us hold our heads high. Have that swagger in our walk. Marathons like the program that we just got done with are not for the faint of heart, and we have earned our badge of honor. At the same time, seldom do we see people claiming that they did it all by themselves. Our crossing the finish line has as much to do with our families, friends and colleagues that stuck with us through all those crazy week night study team calls and absentee weekends. A big thank you to every one of them – we ran this race because we knew we could count on you to carry us over the finish line if it came to that.

How we ran is also a direct function of our coaches, our mentors that taught us how to finish strong. And what an amazing sea of talent it was that we sated our thirst from! Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” And our professors taught us to see the world through new eyes. Whether it was Kent Smetters and MAGEC (and Microsoft), Andy Abel and the macroeconomic world around us (and the mess his friend Ben was helping to clean up), Ziv Katalan and modeling (and cash in, cash out), Mike Useem and becoming the leaders of tomorrow (and honoring the room) – our first year was grounded in seeing the world yet anew, through the eyes of these amazing professors.

However, second year started, and as Emily Dickinson wrote,

“For each ecstatic instant
We must an anguish pay
In keen and quivering ratio
To the ecstasy.”

We had our choice of electives to pick from, to decide which direction our journey was going to take. Some of us looked inward and benefited immensely from Stew Friedman and David Pottruck on how to change ourselves to become better leaders. Others looked at our spreadsheets and Chris Geczy and David Wessels and Mike Gibbons and learnt to run regressions and price any asset in our sleep. Some followed Jagmohan Raju and Barbara Kahn and learnt how to build and sell better products and brands.  Yet others charted their own course in their lives under the guidance of Ethan Mollick and Doug Collom and Raffi Amit and decided to build their own companies. Our lives have been transformed and enriched by these great mentors, and we thank them from the depths of our hearts.

Last but not the least, you can never win a race on an empty stomach without any nourishment. Our Wharton SF family – Bernie, Doug, Juana, Alla, Kathy, Irina, Allison, Rai, Sara, Dayne and all the others – made our lives so much easier by making sure that all the mechanics of the program were taken care of, so we could focus on learning and having fun! Thank you all for your dedication to making our lives at Wharton awesome!

It was Viktor Frankl that wrote “What is to give light must endure burning”. And out of the fire of juggling our family, school and work lives I have seen amazing lights of wisdom and leadership shine through. Brilliant people like Girish that aced the classes, and still took time out to help others keep pace with the class. Great organizers like Jared and Ashmi and Aleyda that took time out to make this journey a wild, fun party. Inspiring stories of overcoming personal hardship that we learnt from people like Lindsay and Ajaiey. Superwomen like Gitte and Madhurima who decided that life was not hard enough and chose to have babies while doing the program. There was something to admire and learn from the lives of every single person in our class.

We also leave the program with a wonderful collection of memories – of time spent together at school, at the pub, at our late night pub sessions and poker face-offs. Robbe shooing cabs out of the way so our buses could park in front of the Windsor in Rio as the rain came pouring down, us singing the Botafogo anthem and doing the waves with the team’s fans against Internacional at the Engenhao stadium, Peter Eberle betting away to his heart’s content at the Sao Paulo Jockey Club, Victor spouting wisdom under the Bodhi Tree at Pe De Manga in Villa Madalena and watching the sun set after that from Por Do Sol in Sao Paulo, watching Tosh and Aniket murder Bon Jovi songs at Karaoke bars, Vijay with his novel glasses and the social experiments, Pramod teaching Prof. Bryce about marginal cost, Aleyda chasing after Luciana in the study rooms, Andrey shouting and cheering the soccer game from our study room during the lunch hour, Vamsi teaching Prof. Roberts about levered and unlevered beta, Nabeel with his impromptu speech in Prof. Werbach’s class, … these are moments that enriched our lives together.

We also remember those rare moments in class, when something unexpected happened. Like a session went by without a single question from Girish, or with Ashish in class, or with Tejas wide awake!

Wouldn’t it have been fun to witness some of these events as well? Like Piotr finishing his question before we hit the restroom and got back. Or John Do coming in wearing contacts and being stopped at the lobby and asked to sign in. Or Pavan sitting in the first row and asking questions, or Vanessa carrying a phone without a camera and Jing walking in wearing sneakers. Or Omar offering you your deal on your terms and throwing in a bonus to boot. Or Nirmal, Manoj and Kalpan sitting in three different corners of the class, or Jared getting drunk and passing out at the pub, and Ajaiey refusing a drink and saying that he was done.

As a class, we can also lay our claim to several firsts. We were the first cohort to rightfully call the new campus our home – having spent almost our entire two years there. The countless hours spent at school were made so much richer by looking out of the window. Seeing the vastness of the Pacific as it changed from steely grey with bars of golden yellow sunlight in the morning as we sat down for breakfast. The mid-day glory of a serene blue ocean with trains, traffic, runners, vendors and bikes whizzing by that gave us pause between sessions over lunch. The brightly lit Bay Bridge with a constant stream of yellow light snaking through as it straddled a sleepy, still, dark ocean on our walks back to the Meridien. We will miss that view more than we realize today.

We were also the first to host a student-run entrepreneurship conference. And the first to vote for a class on social impact, one of the three pillars of focus for Wharton. We followed that up with yet another first – a student-run social impact conference in San Francisco. We hope to have future cohorts take these on and continue the tradition. We were also the first batch to see the Wharton Entrepreneurship Program take off well and grow wings, with our classmates like Daniel, Amilcar, Vijay, Manoj, Vinay and Tim leading the charge. And of course, we’re proud to have in our class our one and only Kaufman Fellow, Victor! We hope to have the Wharton brand firmly established in the West Coast as an engine for innovation and entrepreneurship as well, and not just finance.

Today, as we sit here, battle-weary but wearing the smiles of victory on our faces, we should congratulate ourselves that we did not pick the path of least resistance. We lived by the motto – “pain is temporary, glory eternal”. What we have accomplished along with our families in the past two years is something that we will look back upon for years to come with amazement and disbelief.

Knowledge is a strange beast. Once you know something, it is hard to unknow it. Armed with our newly acquired skills, as we head out of this room to go change the world, it would be good for us to remember, as Albert Schweitzer said, that “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.” I hope we are all able to find happiness in what we do, or find something to do that makes us happy. At the same time, let us also learn to distinguish between happiness and meaning. Happiness comes from having our needs, wants and desires met. Meaning, however, comes from giving, from making the world at large a better place for everyone. So here’s wishing us all wonderful, happy, meaningful lives ahead!

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