Curiosity has always propelled Pranav Kothari. As a child in India, he was intrigued by his family's wholesale textile business. "I was always interested in how things work, how they're made, how machines produce," Pranav says. A visit to the U.S. at age thirteen further stimulated his interests. "I was amazed by the infrastructure, how smoothly things functioned here."
Impressed both by mechanics and America, Pranav pursued an engineering degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology. There, his curiosity took another turn, one that shifted toward the social rather than the scientific. "With some friends, I started the Culture Tech Club to bring students from different backgrounds together. Every spring, we hosted a week-long festival of foreign films, international cuisine, traditional dances, and sports that are less familiar to Americans, like cricket and rugby."
New conceptions of business
After two years as a consultant and another two as a venture capitalist, Pranav found a renewed interest in his family business, but with an entrepreneurial twist. "I see an opportunity for us to move into technical textiles," he says, "making materials used for industrial applications, like car fabrics." For Pranav, an MBA would give him a chance to develop necessary management skills and test his ideas.
HBS topped his list of possibilities. "While working, I realized I learned best from my colleagues. When I visited HBS, I saw that the professor is an important enabling mechanism, but your peers are your true teachers. I also noticed that I laughed most at HBS; there's a large dose of humor, of fun, here."
Pranav's classes have challenged his previous conceptions about business. "My classes have exposed the reasoning behind management decisions and directions," he says. "At work, I learned how. Here, I learn why. I've been particularly struck by the whole movement around social enterprise. My professors have asked provocative questions about the larger purpose of life. Now, as I consider my options, I'm thinking about not just helping myself, but what I can do for others."
Speaking engagements and trips enrich Pranav's education. "Every day, there are usually two or three executives or entrepreneurs on campus. They add an element of practicality to frameworks we learn in class. The cases are an historical recount; the speakers are the living voices behind the events."
Lessons from and for India
Pranav believes he cannot praise the Immersion Experiences highly enough. "My trip to Vietnam is among the things I've most appreciated here. When you go with faculty, you get a deeper understanding of context, of culture and government policies. In Vietnam, our faculty guide, Regina Abrami, was exceptionally insightful because of her research background. On the IXP, I gained a deeper knowledge of Asia's industrial and manufacturing sectors," he says. "The trip helped me determine whether this is the right moment for my textile company, in terms of infrastructure and timing."