Bain Partner Credits UVA Darden Experience With Planting Seeds for Success
By Dave Hendrick
Arpan Sheth (MBA ’96) has used his University of Virginia Darden School of Business background and entrepreneurial nature to position himself at the intersection of technology and business in the heart of the world’s fastest-growing economy.
Sheth — a partner and managing director in Bain & Co.’s Bengaluru, India, office — leads Bain’s Asia-Pacific information technology practice and Bain’s India private equity practice, helping position clients for stability and growth at a time of rapid disruption.
As the leader of practices in private equity and information technology, Sheth is fulfilling his long-term goal of working in both business and technology. And as technology has boomed, he has watched an auxiliary function became central to major corporations.
“Today, what’s different is that there’s a fundamental understanding that business is IT and business is technology and technology is business,” Sheth said. Technology is now thought of as a “core skill set” for nearly any business, as executives believe their company’s technological standing may “dictate whether I win or lose in the marketplace or whether I get disrupted by someone else.”
The Bain partner gave the example of a large industrial manufacturing firm he consults with that is focused on staying ahead of the technological curve, wary of becoming the provider of “commodity work.”
“That’s the fear that people have, that someone is going to come in and disaggregate the business that I have and leave me with the pieces that are capital intensive and labor intensive and take the margin out,” Sheth said. “Even older-line industries are afraid of that and they want to think about how they can disrupt their own business and adapt the right digital technology because they also want to keep their best talent engaged.”
Although fear of disruption seems to be universal in the current business environment, in India, it comes amid a period of rapid business expansion and historic growth in the middle class, as millions successfully climb the economic ladder.
“The business owners and entrepreneurs that we deal with have very strong growth outlooks for their business,” Sheth said. “There is quite a bit of innovation on the ground in India that will drive a very positive outlook for the country. From a business perspective, it’s an exciting place to be. I’d urge any Darden student or grad: If they can have an experience in India then they should.”
Consulting in India wasn’t the future Sheth initially imagined as a kid from suburban Washington, D.C., when he came to the University of Virginia to study engineering. After subsequently attending and graduating from Darden, Sheth said he knew he wanted to put both his business training and technical know-how to work, and took a position with AT&T Solutions, an arm of the telecom giant focused on new business models and system integration within the company.
Although the work was compelling, Sheth said it was hard to see the impact of his efforts within a large organization.
“I did that for a year-and-a-half before realizing that tying consulting to a large network-based business just didn’t work,” Sheth said. “The incentives didn’t align and it was too small a business to make a real difference in the larger AT&T organization.”
It was Sheth’s next position with A.T. Kearney that hooked him on the business of management consulting, showing him the impact that the work could have with clients, while exposing him to a variety of sectors.
After a period riding the Internet boom as a part of an early-stage company, Sheth took a position with Bain in New York in 2003, working with financial services and retailers on technology-enabled business models.
Sheth proved his effectiveness in both arenas, and eventually moved to Asia with the charge of expanding Bain’s practices in the area. He’s since opened offices in both Mumbai and Bengaluru.
“One of the things that has happened to me over the course of the years is I’ve always wanted to be entrepreneurial,” Sheth said. “And one of the reasons I have thrived and loved Bain is it has allowed me to be quite entrepreneurial in nature over the years, which has been fantastic.”
Sheth would like to see Darden become a more familiar presence for his colleagues and prospective students in India. Although there is a palpable level of awareness of the School, Sheth believes Darden should be “top of mind” for top Indian students. Sheth is a supporter of the India Fund at Darden, which provides scholarships to Indian students as part of a broader effort to increase Darden’s connections to the fast-growing country.
“We have an education process to do that probably begins at some of the premier undergraduate institutions in India to raise familiarity with Darden and our alumni network, both in and outside of India, and the opportunity afforded by a place like Darden,” said Sheth.
Once at Darden, Sheth said students have ample opportunity to pursue a career in consulting, which has proven to be the most popular post-graduation career for recent Darden graduates, attracting 38% of the Class of 2016.
Said Sheth: “We all would love to have more students from Darden.”
The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
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