05 Sep 2023

Q&A With New Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid Rupal Gadhia


We sat down with Harvard Business School’s (HBS) new managing director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid, Rupal Gadhia (MBA 2004) to learn more about her thoughts on the impact of the HBS MBA, her career leading strategic marketing efforts, and what excites her about this role and returning to campus.

Tell us a little about your background. Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Rochester, NY. My parents were in Uganda when Idi Amin was in power and left Africa as refugees and settled down in Rochester—they came from warm tropical climates to literally the snowiest place ever! I spent my weekdays in public school as one of the only Indian kids in the classroom and my weekends surrounded by Indian families that were like family to me—because my real grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles were continents away.

What is your fondest memory of your time as a student at HBS?
Tuesday night dinners with a group of girls from my section who are now my best friends. We still see each other at least once a year. They are the women I call on with good and bad news, the ones that help me figure out the hard things, and the ones that will fly out in a moment’s notice. Our dinners were sacred. We would all drop everything and make sure we were present. One of us would cook dinner for the group and we’d bond over relationship ups and downs, the stress of classes, and figuring out our future paths. The one Tuesday I would love to forget (but my friends will never let me) is the time I was making dinner and one of the side dishes was spaghetti. I got a little distracted while cooking and actually managed to burn spaghetti. So, from then on out, I ordered takeout during my cooking turn! I have really honed that skill over the years, and I am proud to say I am one of the best Uber Eats and Door Dash orderers around!

Describe your professional journey to this point.
I was born to Indian parents and was given two choices for a career: a doctor or an engineer. (You can imagine the conversation when I told my parents I thought my calling was interior decorating. That did not go over well!) So, I picked the shortest path and became an engineer to check that box. After graduating and working as an engineer for a year, I went to HBS, where most of my elective classes were in marketing and social enterprise. Upon graduation, I was torn between working in social enterprise or brand management—so I called my mentor and asked her for advice. She told me to first get some skills that could actually benefit a nonprofit. That led me to Sara Lee and the Campbell Soup Company in marketing/brand management.

After a couple of years, I moved to New York and decided to do a slight career shift into management consulting at Booz & Company (now part of PWC) working on everything from growth strategy to merger integrations to a lot of cost-cutting projects as we were entering the recession. Eventually, I decided to make a change and pair two of the things I loved doing—marketing and consulting—and join the brand consulting world leading strategy at the Brand Union and Interbrand. I was able to work with some of the most amazing brands helping them reposition, strengthen their brands, and develop the right go-to-market strategies.

After over seven years of working in the agency world, I met the love of my life, my now husband—he was living in Boston and I was in New York City—and we had to figure out our path forward, which simply could not involve a four-hour train ride to see one another. I joke that we picked straws and he won and so I moved to Boston where I joined a B2B company, Genpact, that was focused on digitally transforming large corporations' back and middle offices. I was brought in to reposition and strengthen their brand, leading a team of 50+ incredible people across brand, editorial, communications, talent marketing, digital marketing, social media, and creative. I worked at Genpact for over five years and then was presented with the opportunity to join SharkNinja, where I led marketing for their robotics and home environment products.

The admissions role is unlike anything you've done before. Why did you decide to pursue it?
After almost 20 years, I finally feel like I have the marketing and social enterprise skills my mentor suggested I develop. So, when Jana reached out to HBS alumni about the role and it read like my dream job, I couldn’t resist reaching out about it—it truly is the opportunity of a lifetime. HBS had such a profound impact on my life and is responsible for one of the biggest growth periods of my life—it was the place that taught me to find my voice, express my views and perspectives, and lead with integrity and kindness. And I wanted to contribute to HBS having that profound impact for generations to come. This role will leverage my background in marketing and strategy and give me the opportunity to continue to learn and grow from the best and brightest.

What do you see as the greatest opportunity for MBA Admissions?
I’m very excited about the opportunities ahead. Younger generations are contemplating the benefit of the MBA, so we have to showcase how the HBS MBA can provide students with the skills, relationships, and opportunities that can help them throughout every chapter of their career. We also have the opportunity to excite prospective students about the important role that business is playing in addressing some of society’s most complex problems. There are so many examples to point to in terms of faculty research and initiatives and ventures being led by students and alumni.

And while there is a lot of scrutiny on college admissions these days, I am confident that we can maintain our community values of being respectful and accountable to the law while continuing to strive for the diversity and inclusion that is so critical to educating leaders who will make a difference in the world.

What will your first order of business be when you start?
Honestly, I have a lot to learn from the MBA team. I have been beyond impressed with the people I met through the interview process and am honored that I get the opportunity to work alongside them and learn from them. My first order of business will be to learn, absorb, and understand how the MBA program operates and how they recruit the most amazing and talented students.

What do you like to do in your personal time?
I have twin five-year old girls that are full of boundless energy and endless conversation. They bring joy to my personal time as it is amazing to see the world through their eyes. When I’m not at work, I’m with my husband and the girls. I also love anything artistic from woodworking, using resin to make hair clips for my girls, to painting. It’s the way I relieve stress. Although, combining my twin girls and art sometimes increases my stress, especially when sticky, paint filled hands get EVERYWHERE, I love to see their creativity in action.

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