Ask Berkeley MBA Ashok Sundararajan about how an executive MBA (EMBA) can take you from consulting to startups – the degree enabled him to make that jump while pursuing a lifelong passion for transportation.
It was the 36-hour train trips Ashok took to New Delhi for university that deepened his interest in more efficient transportation options. With the advent of ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft as well as the development of autonomous vehicles, he became even more curious about the next generation of urban mobility.
Now with his degree from the Berkeley MBA for Executives Program, he’s become a senior product manager at San Francisco-based Ridecell, making a desired switch from consulting to product management in a startup environment. Ridecell produces a technology platform to launch, operate, and scale new mobility services. “Rich or poor, regardless of our backgrounds, billions of us need to get from one place to another,” he says.
Since he was a child, Ashok had been fascinated with planes, trains, and automobiles. He grew up in Chennai, India where the overcrowded buses would be late or might not arrive at all. On those days, he would walk the two miles each way to school, carrying a heavy book bag in sweltering, subtropical heat. His long trips to New Delhi earned him an undergraduate degree in civil engineering from the National Institute of Technology Kurukshetra after which he pursued an MS in transportation from Penn State University.
Ashok’s career grew in this direction with associate and management positions at such consultancy firms as AECOM, Booz Allen, and CH2M. But after about 12 years as a consultant, he felt something was missing. “I would deliver a client presentation, make some recommendations, and walk away, with no idea of what would happen after that,” he remembers. “I lacked real ownership and wasn’t challenged enough.” He also felt that he was still asking the question, What do I want to be when I grow up?
A powerful network in the tech base
Ashok graduated from the Berkeley EMBA Program in 2017 and says, “It helped me to define my course, address my skill gaps, and build up a strong network of colleagues and friends.” Paramount was the reach of the Berkeley Haas network and its alumni accomplishments in the tech base. “Once I got into the EMBA program, every single thing that’s happened to me professionally is because of people I’ve met through Haas.”
As he followed his curiosity into new career directions, the area of product management struck a chord. His colleagues helped him to grow a strong network in the field. One fellow student, Aileen Nguyen, even arranged for him to shadow her for a day at her job as product manager at Neustar, Inc. and gave him the chance to work on a real-world problem with her company.
In his new position at Ridecell, Ashok is putting into practice much of what he learned in the Haas classroom. From his Applied Innovation course he acquired skills to identify the products and features that his clients will need. From his Data Analytics course he learned how to create and drive value using data-powered business strategies. And in his Executive Leadership course he garnered the skills to inspire his team to perform at its highest level.
Ashok had heard that the hardest career maneuver is a double-pivot, changing both industry and function. With his newly minted Berkeley EMBA he did both. Now he’s working toward agnostic solutions that will improve the global transportation outlook – possibly even for schoolchildren in Chennai, India.
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