We got an opportunity to interview Aatif Ahmed, 2nd year student, Harvard Business School MBA program and 2005-grad from IIT Bombay. Following are the highlights from our discussion.

MBAfusion: Can you tell us about your profile when you applied to the business school and how did the idea of applying to MBA programs came to your mind?

Aatif: I was looking for a fast track career growth and had planned to move from R&D profile to a business/management one. With most of my friends following the path of global MBA for similar career transitions, the idea sounded convincing to me. After several discussions with my friends and mentors, I finally decided to give it a shot. I chose my GMAT appointment date as mid July 2008.

MBAfusion: How did you prepare for the GMAT?

Aatif: I had about 30-45 days for preparations. I started with the standard GMATPrep test and got a score of 650 only. Like a good engineer, I had basically screwed the verbal section. Flustered initially, I decided to give it my best shot. I would study 2 hours during the weekdays, take a 4-hour test during the weekend and in total would spend about 20-25 hours per week for the preparations.

I basically used two resources extensively – Official Guides and Kaplan GMAT Software that had inbuilt GMAT-feel tests. After a 3 week preparation I was scoring decent on GMATPrep test – around 680-700. The Kaplan tests were difficult comparatively. Since I had only about 30 days in hand, I focused on revising Official Guides and retaking the tests instead of referring to too many books. In the second GMATPrep test, which I took 2 days before my GMAT, I scored 730. I scored 750 in the GMAT.

I would personally recommend candidates to be very thorough with the Official Guide as it is strictly in line with the real GMAT.

MBAfusion: Were you thinking about your essays during this time?

Aatif: Not at alI. I realized that doing an MBA is a big decision not only in terms of career path transition but also financial investment. So to convince myself, I took a break in August 2008 and thought hard as in why do I need an MBA. After the break, I had made my decision that if at all I am applying, I would be applying only to top 4 B-schools. I started with my essays only in mid September, when I had made up my mind to apply to Harvard, Wharton, Kellogg and Chicago Booth.

MBAfusion: Why didn’t you apply to Stanford?

Aatif: Class size was an important and basic factor for me as larger class size implied better probability of my selection. Stanford did not fit into this criterion. Also applying to more than 4 schools in round 2, especially when October was almost gone, was an aggressive target for me and therefore I decided to stick to only 4 schools.

MBAfusion: How did you decide on the top 4 B Schools?

Aatif: I consulted US News, Business Week and Financial Times. I spoke to individuals in my network who were at business school during that time – Harvard, Wharton and others. These personal discussions benefitted me a lot more than analyzing the regular rankings as I could get an insider view on the schools and the discussions helped me to build my story lot better. I also researched the schools through their websites and googling.

During one of the business trips to the US, I got an opportunity to visit HBS and Wharton. I was immensely impressed by the case study methodology while attending a sample class at HBS – definitely my style of learning. I think attending the classes were extremely helpful – to make up my mind, to get a feel of MBA life and to get more substance for my essays

MBAfusion: Didn’t you face the dilemma of one year and two year MBA?

Aatif: When I started with my research, I had almost made up my mind for a 1-year MBA and was in fact aggressively exploring European B-Schools. But couple of factors changed my perception. First, my plan to change my career, my function and my location were top considerations while looking at programs. However, I realized that all of this was extremely difficult to do in a 1-year MBA program as summer internship, a big enabler of career change, was not involved. Second, 1-year MBA could not have given me the time to explore and think on what exactly I want to do after MBA, given the multiple options that open up during one’s MBA. “1-year MBA is too hectic to think of anything other than your assignments”, was a common feedback that I got from individuals who were doing a 1-year MBA. Third, I was supposed to start my MBA when the financial crisis had just started. A 2-year MBA offered me the opportunity to stay inside longer and let the situation improve so that the opportunities are better during my graduation. I have personally felt that the career opportunities available to me currently are much better compared to what they were an year ago.

MBAfusion: And while researching the schools, was returning to India after your MBA one of the criteria in your mind? What were the other important factors in your mind?

I was not particular about the location. But I had two very specific interests in mind – General Management and starting something on my own. I had done a couple of assignments at P&G which were extremely entrepreneurial in nature and the experience was extremely satisfying for me. Further, thinking about what I wanted to do in the long term was not only important for my school research but proved to be extremely critical for building my story, the first step towards addressing my essays.

With this we took a break and Aatif went back to work on Trade’o sports (www.tradeosports.com), his latest venture that offers a unique product for Indian sports fans. He has brought together two parallel worlds- trading and sports- through this platform. This is a fun way of learning the basics about trading on stock exchanges and with the mega event of cricket started, you can expect a lot of action on the trading floor where sports fans can subscribe to IPOs and buy and sell stocks of players and teams.

When we come back in the next couple of days, we would listen to Aatif on how he went about building his story and writing his essays. Stay tuned.

About Aatif

Aatif Ahmed is a second year student at Harvard Business School (HBS) and a B. Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. He was co-Chair at the Harvard India conference 2011 and is the Chief Technology Officer at HBS’s Energy & Environment Club.

He made it through the MBA process with his unique background in R&D. The international exposure that he gained during his long stay at P&G’s R&D center at Japan distinguishes his profile. His MBA effort had fetched him admission offers from Harvard and Kellogg.

Aatif has been involved in projects of diverse nature at HBS – from entrepreneurial venture mixing stock market with sports to designing competitive intelligence framework for billion-dollar companies. However, his busy schedule does not keep him far from his passion – travelling. He has independently travelled to more than 100 cities across the world with cities in Costa Rica being the latest addition to his destinations.


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