Ramesh Botta, a former MER (myEssayReview) student, holds a degree in software engineering and has worked for prestigious tech companies in India, the US, and Singapore. He climbed the corporate ladder to become a Data Architect at Grab Singapore and is now a Principal Data Architect at Cake DeFi. With more than a decade of rich global experience in data, Ramesh aspires to attain the position of CTO at fast-paced, technology-focused, and data-driven organizations such as Grab, Netflix, and Google. He collaborated with MER on his application for INSEAD's GEMBA (Global Executive MBA) program and was accepted with a 10K Euro scholarship.
Ramesh has recently graduated from INSEAD and graciously agreed to share his INSEAD GEMBA experience, giving prospective INSEAD students a behind-the-scenes look at the program.
Talking Points of the Conversation:
- Background 1:10
- Views on being a part of 200+ international cohort 3:19
- Favorite thing about the program 4:38
- Anything he wished he had known 8:55
- His views on INSEAD's massive application and rigorous selection process 11:30
- Work-life school Balance 17:20
- His contribution to classroom and group projects 24:29
- Advice for incoming GEMBA students 28:02
And now presenting Ramesh……….
Poonam: Hello, Ramesh. How are you doing?
Ramesh: Good morning. I'm doing good. Thank you for making this call.
Poonam: Thank you for your time for this conversation. I know you had to wake up early to adjust to my time zone, and I'm grateful for that. I am looking forward to a rewarding conversation.
Ramesh: I would say there is nothing better than speaking to you early in the morning.
Poonam: Thanks. Congratulations on graduating from the INSEAD GEMBA program.
Ramesh: Thank you. And I think I did not thank you enough during the admission time. A lot of the credit goes to you for guiding me through this journey and helping me make my presence felt at INSEAD. So, thank you for that.
Poonam: It was my privilege to be a part of your MBA journey. Ramesh, please tell our viewers about your academic and professional background.
Ramesh: I completed my schooling and engineering from a very modest College in India. I was fortunate to start my career in data space back in 2010. At that time, data was niche and not as well-known as it is today. I've always been fascinated by technology and its applications in business. As I gained more experience in the data space, I became interested in the business side of things. So I decided to pursue an MBA after ten years of working in technology.
Today, I'm pretty hands-on with technology. When it comes to data, one needs to understand business, so my journey at INSEAD was significant and important for me. I have been fortunate to work with companies like Amazon, Grab, and now at Cake DeFi. I also worked in different geographies, including the US, UAE, Singapore, and India. These experiences have enriched my learning, helped me understand human behavior in different geographies, and contributed to my personal and professional growth. So, that has been my modest journey. And today, I stand after INSEAD looking for the future ahead.
Poonam: After ten years of rich global experience in data, how was your experience as part of a cohort of over 200 people of diverse backgrounds from 40-plus countries?
Ramesh: It was an eye-opening experience for me. After a decade of working in the industry, I thought I knew a lot about space, but being part of a diverse group of people worldwide showed me how much I still had to learn. I ended up meeting people from 40 different geographies, working in different industries such as social entrepreneurship, tech, finance, and oil and gas. Meeting these people gave me a broader perspective on the subjects studied and the experiences of individuals from different cultures. It was a humbling and dynamic experience, and I'm grateful for it.
Poonam: Wonderful. So, what is your favorite aspect of the program? What did you like the best about INSEAD?
Ramesh: Well, one of the things I loved about the program is that it starts with core subjects that are the same for everyone in the 200-plus cohort. After that, it deviates for good. We have the option to choose four electives, and there are a vast variety of subjects to pick from. I have seen individuals tune the program based on their interests. Some people go into a very deep aspect of finance, like corporate finance and advanced corporate finance. I'm going to governance- corporate strategy.
I wanted to do my startup right after my MBA, so brand management was important. Then there were subjects about VC and private equity with a fantastic professor, Claudia. We had subjects like entrepreneurship through acquisition, a new aspect of exploring customer insights. I could tune it in a way that is more meaningful to me. Everyone had their own opportunities, and we could choose from 25 plus subjects, which enhanced the course experience.
The program also offers KMCS (key management challenges) in different parts of the world, such as Brazil, Israel, Geneva, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, France, and California-San Francisco. I chose the most relevant ones, including a five-week program in San Francisco with Professor Henning, exploring what Silicon Valley has to offer in terms of starting new entrepreneurship. I also went to CERN in Geneva, a research facility that shares research ideas and helps you build business models around them.
The ability to customize the latter half of the program and choose the most meaningful subjects was incredibly empowering. And the KMCS experiences allowed me to think about real-world problems and solutions and how to build business models around them. I ended up the final and third KMC in Singapore of becoming a CEO, which discusses your overall mentality of driving an organization. It's not just the business model or about making money; it is about how you treat your people and stay grounded while growing that journey. All this blends into you and gives you an essential flavor of different aspects.
Poonam: It looks like there was no one favorite aspect for you. There were so many things that you liked the best. You enjoyed the whole experience, not just one part.
Ramesh: Yes, but it's not just the coursework that made the experience great. The professors were excellent, and their viewpoints and perspectives made me think about things differently. And then, after the class, we speak to others during coffee breaks which enriches the overall experience. So, coffee breaks were equally crucial for networking and learning from others in the program. Overall, combining all these aspects made the experience truly enjoyable for me.
Poonam: Excellent. Is there anything you wish you had known before starting the program?
Ramesh: When you think of an executive MBA, where everyone is an experienced professional with 15- 20 years of experience, you assume you will only do the coursework and assignments and get graded. However, it was an eye-opener for me that the academic part of the course was challenging in the first week itself. The exams were not easy, and the cohorts were very competitive. So, I started studying all through the night before the exam and had the same experience I had during my engineering exams. That was one aspect I did not expect, but it was a pleasant surprise. It motivated all of us to work hard during the program. I thought the program would be more about learning things than just exams, but the exams turned out to be equally important. Looking back now, they helped us read the material more thoroughly than we would have done otherwise.
Poonam: You learned that mid-career professionals are equally motivated and competitive and want to do their best academically.
Ramesh: Yeah, this was new learning for me.The world outside is competitive, no matter your age or background. You can't rest and relax.
Poonam: Looking back, INSEAD has a massive application and rigorous selection process. What challenges did you face during the application process, and how did you work on them?
Ramesh: I think there are three major hurdles. First, the entrance exam, and you typically have two options:- one, the GMAT or the exam conducted by INSEAD itself. Both are very similar. I have friends who have done the other one, and we discussed that the experience is very much the same in terms of complexity and rigor. I took the GMAT, and I thought that would be the most challenging part, but it turned out not to be the most difficult part.
The second challenge was essay writing. To apply to INSEAD, you must write 6 to 8 essays. And I thought I got a good grade, so I have a chance. I started writing the essays and realized how difficult it was. The topics are like what do you want to do, why do you want to do an MBA from INSEAD? The one-liner questions sound straightforward, and you feel you know yourself, and you can write down that essay. But when I started writing essays, I got lost in the writing process, and I felt like I needed help with the essays. And that's when I came across you, Poonam ma'am. Poonam is very highly recommended by a lot of people. So I could connect with her. By the time I connected, I was running late as I was applying in the month of Feb. When I said I want to complete my essays in two weeks' time before the deadline, you asked me, "Are you sure you want to do that in such a short time? But I genuinely appreciate that you extended your time and worked with me on the weekends.
So, I think the essay part is the most difficult in the journey, not because you need to impress the admission committee, but because you need to reflect on why you want to do a particular program in a specific college and, at this point, your career. If you are true to yourself and write with honesty, even before the admission committee, you will know whether you will cut or not. So, I think it's essential to be prepared well in advance, and I wouldn't recommend anyone trouble Poonam by coming to her at the last minute as I did. But thank you for not saying that you cannot do it in two weeks.
And it was all worth it. Looking back, my essays helped me reflect on why I wanted to do the program and what my goals were. You helped me with self-reflection, asking me questions like 'What experience you had after five years,' 'What did you do at Amazon, and why?’ 'Can you cite some examples of that.' We might take our work for granted, but it is unique to us, and we would not know until we start reflecting on our experiences. And that happens through these essays. And I remember you said multiple times, 'Oh, that's a good experience; you should write about it,' whereas I thought this was common in my industry.
Poonam: I remember we described that experience of not making eye contact with strangers in the elevator in Singapore to exemplify cultural differences.
Ramesh: I remember you encouraged me to share that story. And I would highly recommend people to work with Poonam Mam or people like Poonam Ma'am in the industry, who will drive you forward.
Poonam: Thank you, Ramesh. You pursued this rigorous global MBA program along with your demanding full-time job and your family responsibilities. How did you achieve the school, a work -school-life balance?
Ramesh: To be honest, I don't want to scare anyone, but even a couple of months before the start of the program, you receive course material that you are expected to read before the classes begin, which takes up quite a bit of time. So technically, two months before the course starts, you start working on the course material. From then on until the end of the course, I never had weekends. However, you must balance your work and studies; otherwise, you will miss out on the experience. You cannot afford to compromise on either. So, the work will be demanding, and you need to stay relevant at your job because you will constantly be traveling to campus, attending classes, and returning to the office.
Many people asked me how my trip to France was, assuming it was a vacation, but I was exhausted. From their viewpoint, Ramesh is not there for two weeks. They would not know how intense my two weeks were. You need to stay relevant at work and give 100% or more to your studies because this is an experience you will not have again in your life. It was challenging for me as I got COVID during the program and had a high fever before my finance exam. I remember reading formulas and other things while in bed. But I enjoyed it, as it pushed me to my limits. I also changed two jobs in 15 to 17 months, which is not recommended during the program. I moved to a new geography, which added more challenges, but I did it anyway.
Poonam: I remember you changed jobs before you started the program, but I did not know that you did that during the program also.
Ramesh: So that was something unplanned, though. I moved to UAE to join a start-up bank. I was excited and joined it five months before the program started. It was a new job, and I needed to prove myself, build relationships with stakeholders, and learn how work is done in that region. It was challenging, and I added the GEMBA complexity, so it was a lot to handle.
I then moved back to Singapore towards the end of the program and into a completely new industry, crypto, when Bitcoin crashed from 60,000 to 40,000 and now roughly 20,000. It was a pure startup, and everyone was on their feet at work. It was a lot to handle, but it was worth it because I enjoyed it. If I had to suggest something to someone, I would say not to do what I did. It's better to keep your job stable. I have had no weekends for the last 12 to 18 months, but since the program ended, I have enjoyed my weekends and resting a lot.
Poonam: You deserve that rest and relaxation.
Ramesh: Yes, It has been a taxing one and a half years.
Poonam: During the program, could you apply your classroom learnings to your work?
Ramesh: I went into INSEAD to learn things that would help me start my own startup. I applied all my learnings to my marketing strategies and implementation essays, which focused on building a unique startup idea. My final project was also on a startup idea, which was unique. I enjoyed working with the professor who helped me to fine-tune. I now have a pitch ready for venture capitalists to raise funds. I applied all my learnings to come up with ideas, create business plans, and create a pitch so that I could pitch to VCs. While I used much of what I learned, I still want to understand more, such as finance, business models, and revenue forecasting. I have the necessary knowledge but need to extract more value from it.
Poonam: Excellent. Ramesh, what, in your view, was your most valuable contribution to the program- to classroom and group projects?
Ramesh: My experience working at Amazon was my most valuable contribution to the program. At Amazon, there are always a 2 set of groups of people who really love Amazon and people who do not like it because they would say they don't treat their workers well. I shared examples of how Amazon manages performance, measures success, and monitors the business closely, which sparked discussions about Amazon's practices. These examples were uncommon in the classroom and helped provide a different perspective. So those experiences I shared were among the few that led to more significant conversations. I measured my contributions based on whether they sparked post-class discussions. My firsthand experience with the gig economy while working at Grab and understanding the finances and revenue models also contributed to class discussions.
Poonam: When we worked on your application, you mentioned how much you missed your time at Amazon. You enjoyed working at Amazon so much that you did not want to leave it. I remember that conversation.
Ramesh: Yes. Even today, I still carry the 14 principles of Amazon with me. They have helped me think in the right direction and will always be relevant to me.
Poonam: And I remember you mentioning it in one of your essays.
Ramesh: Yes, I did. I share it with others and ask them to read it. It can make a big difference even if they pick and apply one principle to themselves. I'm amazed that 20 years back, they thought this would be meaningful, and these principles are still relevant after 25-30 years. I genuinely admire Jeff for that.
Poonam: You have shared some beneficial advice for incoming GEMBA students. Do you have any more advice other than not making changes or switching jobs during the program?
Ramesh: I always tell my friends who ask me about executive programs first to understand why they want to do it. Knowing what the program offers, what depth, and what aspect you want to focus on are important. People come to the classroom with different objectives, and it's essential to have a clear idea of what you want to get out of the program. You don't want to get lost in the journey and wonder what you want to achieve. Everyone comes to a classroom with a different objective. Some people enjoyed the core topics of the course. Some loved making friends from different industries. Some wanted to start their own VC funds. So, if you don't clearly state your objective and nail down that this is what you want to get out of the program, you might get lost because you will see so many things happening around you. You need to filter it out. Even during networking, you need to pick the people you want to network with, which would be meaningful. You will make friends with all the people over there, but on a professional level, you want to make sure that you approach the program with the clear intent of what you want to get out of it. This is especially important as you age, and it's a considerable time and monetary commitment. So, I suggest considering this before starting the journey, not just for GEMBA but any program.
Poonam: Yeah, you should have clarity of goals and do your homework. This will help you stay focused throughout the program instead of trying to figure out what to do and where to go.
Ramesh: Absolutely. Don't choose a program just because it looks fancy or the school has a big name or high rankings. Those rankings might change, and you might be demotivated during the journey. It's important to be internally motivated rather than externally focused. If your motivation is based on external factors you can't control, you'll be demotivated when those factors change.
Poonam: That's valuable advice. So, Ramesh, is there anything else you want to share about your journey? Any questions that I haven't asked?
Ramesh: No, we covered good ground, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. Thank you again, Poonam Mam, for doing this interview and helping me during the admission process. I genuinely mean that, and even my wife always conveys her regards to you for assisting me in this journey. My advice to incoming students is to stay focused and enjoy the journey. Don't be disheartened if you don't get into a particular school because everything happens for a reason. You'll get the next best thing if you're true to yourself. Looking back, I realize that everything that happened during my journey was for a good reason. Thank you for this opportunity.
Poonam: Thank you so much, Ramesh. It was my pleasure working with you, and please convey my regards to your wife as well. Thank you for your time sharing your INSEAD journey with us. I'm sure your insights will be valuable to the prospective and incoming students of INSEAD. Thank you so much for your time, and I wish you good luck in your post-INSEAD career and continued success in your life.
Ramesh: Thank you, and have a good evening.
Poonam: Thank you.
You can connect with Ramesh via LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rameshbotta/
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