Pivot from behind the scenes to lead strategist

As a project manager for an IT outsourcing consulting firm in his native India, Vinod Ramachandran (MBA11) was eyeing a future as a business strategist in the U.S.

After considering several Southeast Asia MBA programs, he took a bold leap and picked Iowa for its small class size, value, and hands-on consulting experience.

Read how Vinod leveraged five consulting projects—two with Fortune 100 clients—to launch his U.S. career in Chicago and become a lead strategist at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

#1: Tackle tough business problems

How do you resolve GE Health Care’s reporting problem resulting from multiple M&As? Develop a rationalization model to consolidate its myriad IT systems. How do you help Best Buy outpace Amazon, Walmart, and other big-box retailers? Build the business case for investing in uncharted markets and marketing tactics. How do you uncover the right tech topics for CONACYT, Mexico’s national science foundation, to invest in and profit from? Define the strategic tools to market four tech opportunities with market potential of $100 million.

In each project, Vinod and his cross-functional Iowa MBA team—experts in technology, marketing, analytics, finance, and health care—brought in a third-party perspective to objectively identify the clients’ strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to arrive at the right solutions.

“We were able to divide and conquer on our areas of expertise and rationalize the solutions with the entire group, finding any mistakes in our plan, and delivering the highest quality solution to the client,” Vinod says. “That’s what I do as a consultant now. And I apply some of the frameworks from the experiences that I’ve learned in business school to implement projects for real clients today.”

#2: Transform the way you approach interviews

After graduating, Vinod landed a senior consultant role with Cognizant—a tech-business consultancy. He headed up projects like implementing ICD-10 (a new expansive code set to document medical visits and diseases used at health care organizations across the country).

When Vinod interviewed with Cognizant, what differentiated him from other candidates was being able to align his experiences with the company’s goals. He learned how to articulate his story through mock interviews with career services, professors, and alumni.

“The way I approached my interviews before I came to Tippie was completely transformed from how I was approaching interviews in my first year—when I was actually looking at jobs,” Vinod says. “When I came in, I was talking about the things I had done and the skill sets that I already had, without necessarily aligning that to what the company was looking for.”

#3: Accomplish something you didn’t think was possible

Winning the best presenter award at the Big Ten Case Competition was one of Vinod’s most memorable moments. His team had prepped 10-15 hours a week for three months. At the competition, after forming their case strategy, they had 35 minutes to present their solution to a panel of judges. Vinod nailed his presentation, and the team won third place.

“For someone who's a non-native English speaker, to be able to participate in one of the most prestigious case competitions and at the end of it also be awarded with the best presenter award was probably not something I thought I would have done,” Vinod says.

“A major part of my job is being able to communicate and articulate things properly to my different clients, oftentimes communicating complicated, ambiguous messages in an insightful manner,” he continues. “Tippie really helped me do that and be successful at my job.”

#4: Work out the kinks first

By digging into case studies through competitions or in the classroom, you work on a team to determine the best solutions. It’s a process of trial and error that you don’t always get in the workplace. 

“When you're consulting with PwC and you miss an ICD-10 requirement, which costs a client millions of dollars, there's no going back from that,” Vinod says. “However, when you're working with a team on a case study, you are allowed to come up with your own creative solutions without worrying about the failure of that solution. The ability to take concepts and apply them to case studies or to real-world consulting projects without the fear of failure was the best experience I got.”

#5: Leverage your Iowa network

When he was looking to advance at Cognizant, a former Tippie classmate put in a good word for Vinod as PwC decided to venture into health care. Now Vinod’s defining best practices and a standard framework for PwC’s health care implementation projects. He also leads a risk assurance team that identifies future actuarial risks before clients even anticipate them.

When Vinod and his team approach a new project, they don’t go into it with the perspective they know everything about the client’s industry. Their biggest challenge is making sense of ambiguity.

“What we really bring in is a third-party perspective,” Vinod says. “When you're so deep into a project, clients have their blind spots. We provide  a specific framework that we know is thorough, that we know is comprehensive, and if every single aspect of that framework is followed then the project has a likelihood of success.”