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Our life experiences shape our skills, perspective and help define our paths. Reflecting on my personal and professional journey, I would like to share three lessons which have strongly shaped my journey and outlook.
My first lesson is about people. I feel fortunate to have understood the enormous potential in empathizing and collaborating with individuals to achieve community success, organizational targets and personal goals.
Perhaps due to my father’s frequent job transfers, I grew-up as a reticent, lone worker, shying away from forging long-lasting relationships. While excelling academically, I skipped participating in anything at school that required dependence on other people. It was only at my undergraduate institution, [University] that I really started building relationships with my hostel-mates and exploring the various opportunities [University] offered.
However, soon dark realities came to the forefront when a final-year student committed suicide while my close friend, [Name], got sucked into a vortex of depression due to his poor academic performance. Deeply shaken, I resolved to address mental-health issues on campus and joined the Institute Counseling Service, comprising student volunteers, faculty and professional counselors who sought to provide emotional and academic help to students.
Driven to make a difference, I led 240 student volunteers, strengthened our mentorship program to identify students in need of professional help and organized Orientation Programs. To dispel the stigma associated with mental-health and build trust, we increased the approachability of counsellors by initiating hostel visits and collaborated with NGOs to use theatre and generate awareness. I personally mentored students and it was heartwarming to create an environment in which people were able to discuss their personal issues freely with me. While I gained friends for life, I realized there is no greater happiness than witnessing one’s mentee overcome difficulties and be successful! Listening to varied personal experiences inculcated empathy and fostered ability to forge strong interpersonal connections.
This experience stayed with me during my professional journey with [Consumer Goods Company]. Just out of college, I had to navigate union strikes, reconcile socio-political contexts and motivate 600+ unskilled workers, several years my senior to transform the quality performance of an $800M factory in a small town. Leveraging interpersonal skills, I understood employee concerns and created an experiential training program. Listening to them, educating them, sharing success and owning failures together, I immersed myself in the workforce environment, instilling a culture of innovation and change. Our efforts reaped dividends as we eliminated all consumer complaints and achieved the best-ever performance in quality metrics, securing [Consumer Goods Company] market-share and launching 24 premium product variants. Thus, I learnt to drive organizational change by harnessing people’s potential.
My second life lesson is about values. I feel long-term success can only be achieved if one has the character to stand by one’s principles during testing times.
At age-5, I recall accompanying my mother to court hearings to witness a long-drawn trial involving my father. Overtime, I understood how my father had been slapped with a fake harassment case because he refused to accept a bribe for professional favors. Standing by his principles, he was later acquitted emerging as my inspiration and teaching me values of honesty and integrity.
After 17 years, these values were tested. Early-on in my role as Quality Manager of [Consumer Goods Company] plant, consumer complaints for a particular defect inflicted 10% market-share losses in [Big City]. On probing, I realized that we had overlooked an important data trend during manufacturing that could have averted the disaster. While corporate auditors were preparing a report attributing the occurrence of defect to chance, I presented the true picture, taking full responsibility. It was a difficult decision as our factory had already lost credibility prior to my joining. Our General Manager intervened to manage the crisis and while recognizing my ethics and courage, placed faith on my ability to redeem myself.
Motivated to prove myself, I worked incessantly with my team, ensuring that I drive systemic changes and build a culture of continuous improvement. Within one-year, we achieved benchmark performances, restoring faith in the unit/team. During our annual performance review, our unit was appreciated for data-integrity, reinforcing my belief in my value system.
The third lesson is about impact. I believe true success is achieved when people are guided by a desire to create sustainable impact and make a positive difference in society.
During a factory-visit, I engaged with our CEO, and advocated driving growth by monetizing [Consumer Goods Company] distribution network to service regional firms/startups. Intrigued, he inducted me into his office in the Trade Marketing and Distribution function in a strategic role, a move unheard for any non-MBA engineer. Initially, I engaged with product entrepreneurs to offer them [Consumer Goods Company] distribution for scaling-up. One case was [Company], a [City]-based startup that innovated on cost-effective sanitary napkins. We are helping them reach 60M consumers in [Country], a country where 75% women resort to unhygienic alternatives. Curious to understand their success, I engaged with the founder, [Name]. I realized [Name] was driven by a desire to positively impact the lives of rural women and this motivated him to innovate continuously.
Reflecting on this conversation, I identified how [Consumer Products Company] could play a larger role in adding to consumer-value and go beyond giving distribution access to CPG startups. If tech leaders such as Google, Microsoft could incubate technology startups, we needed to explore similar models in the CPG space. I formulated a strategic investor model to incubate and eventually acquire CPG startups, a first for an Indian CPG firm, and pitched it to senior leadership. They appreciated my vision of synergizing with startups, providing [Consumer Products Company] marketing expertise and product development insights to encourage product innovation, thereby creating an inorganic growth roadmap for [Consumer Products Company] vision of achieving $15B by 2030.
These lessons provide the foundation to succeed and define my professional ambitions. Going forward, I envision energizing the [Country] CPG startup ecosystem, stimulating innovation and strengthening symbiotic relationships with Corporations to deliver high social-impact products, creating sustainable value for 1.2B Indian consumers. While my experiences have created the primer, I see Harvard as the perfect catalyst to transform me into a change leader. Building on my life lessons, I can’t wait to engage with classmates who bring with them a wealth of global experiences and stories!
Analysis: In this essay, the author shares the three life lessons which have most strongly shaped his experiences and outlook. Each one brings forth a different side of his personality. The first focused on developing empathy and lasting relationships having mostly favored solo working up until his undergraduate days. The second lesson is built around personal family experiences that drove home the importance of standing up for his values: honesty and integrity. The third and final lesson drives home the author’s desire to achieve a lasting positive impact in his professional life, by fostering an internal culture of innovation, and championing start-ups in the Indian CPG industry.
Topic: The difficult part of an open-ended Harvard prompt is deciding what one wants to share. The writer shares the three life lessons which have strongly shaped his experiences and outlook. We think this is a great approach as the writer shows the admissions committee “who” he is and “what” his values and motivations are.
Each lesson brings forth a different side of his personality. The first focused on developing empathy and lasting relationships having mostly favored solo working up until his undergraduate days. The second lesson is built around personal family experiences that drove home the importance of standing up for his values: honesty and integrity. The final lesson drives home the author’s desire to achieve a lasting impact in his professional life, by fostering an internal culture of innovation, and championing start-ups in his country’s CPG industry.
Tone and readability: This essay does not have dramatic flair. Because that’s fine as flair is not everyone’s style and one should stick to his or her style! The writer comes across as someone who has reflected on his experiences and what is important to him. He also comes across as genuine and shows vulnerability as he goes along. There is a certain humility that comes of the page - someone who has accomplished a lot but is comfortable in his skin and able to share not only his achievements but also his failures.
Why this essay wins: We can see the candidate’s accomplishments in his resume and have heard from his recommenders. This essay wins because it allows us to answer the question:
“Would you want this person to be in class with you?”
Disclaimer: With exception of the removal of identifying details, essays are reproduced as originally submitted in applications; any errors in submissions are maintained to preserve the integrity of the piece.
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