Harsha Chaturvedi (MBA '99)
Living an Entrepreneur's Dream, Business Week
An SMU Cox MBA finds that running a business that spans continents makes for long but fascinating days
I am the co-founder of Vantage Agora, a contract manufacturing company in Cleveland, Dallas, and India that we started in early 2004. In the last year and a half, we have helped a number of customers save money by providing quality automotive and aerospace parts from India. Our corporate mantra is: "Regardless of the size, we will make a difference to every customer."
Even while at school I had a goal of starting a company. Along with my childhood friend Sudhir Achar (with whom I reunited soon after getting my MBA degree from the Southern Methodist University Cox School of Business, I believed that we could leverage our contacts in India to create this business.
My role as partner and director of operations includes ensuring that Vantage Agora is operating smoothly. I am also responsible for executing all customer projects in the most efficient manner to help Vantage Agora save money.
Here's a typical day at Vantage Agora.
4:45 a.m.-- I wake up to an international text message on my PDA from Vantage Agora Executive Cockpit (a portal for controlling all company activities around the world). I glance through the text to realize that the message is a major milestone.
We have shipped our first consignment for a new project. I have to call up the CEO and congratulate him right away. I force myself up and, after a quick conversation, I decide to start my day now.
5:00 a.m.-- Our day starts by reviewing our goals for the day on the Vantage Agora Executive Cockpit. Today we have to get the new requirements from a customer and make an initial presentation to a global supply chain manager for a large auto company.
5:35 a.m.-- I get ready and 10 minutes of meditation later, I go down to meet our first customer with Sudhir. We have a three-hour drive to the customer location.
In the car we call Vantage Agora Supply Relation Managers in India, who are taking care of different accounts. The goal of our conversations is to cover any highlights that they have already updated on the Executive Cockpit.
9:00 a.m.-- At the first appointment, Sudhir talks about the high-level value proposition for verticals like the automotive and appliance industries, while I talk about the high-quality capability in manufacturing and software services. The customer is informed of our strengths in India and wants to sign up for Vantage Agora services.
This has been a huge success. During the earliest days of Vantage Agora, we would give ourselves a high five when we got out of such a meeting. Nowadays we still hold the same zeal but realize the responsibility of delivering on our commitments.
Noon-- We have a lunch meeting in Grand Rapids, Mich., to discuss a possible opportunity with a high-tech electronics PCB manufacturing corporation. The meeting goes well. We leave with an action item to meet again at his office to get detailed requirements of a new project.
2:00 p.m.-- Call from our banker regarding clarification on documents for the revenue model.
2:30 p.m.-- Weekly one-on-one with Arvind Gopalakrishnan, a Cox graduate and one of the senior members of Vantage Agora handling business development and customer relations in the Southwest market. It is easy to work with Arvind because he is well versed in the financial and marketing aspect of Corporate America.
6:00 p.m.-- We are back at Sudhir's house, where I call my family and Sudhir does some household chores.
7:00 p.m.-- We head out to a meeting at a local nonprofit organization. After dinner we catch up on a couple of e-mails and evaluate what was accomplished today. We also check on the things to do and plan for tomorrow.
10:00 p.m.-- Time to hit the sack. Good night. Ring, ring -- my phone goes off again. It is daybreak elsewhere in the world and a typical day at Vantage Agora, where we provide value to the customer by enabling global supply chains 24 hours a day.
To become successful I took my own advice. Here it is:
- Make a difference to your customers. Vantage Agora was started with the goal of being a one-stop shop.
- Surround yourself with people who are better than you. It takes guts to accept that people are better than you are. You can get better people to commit to the cause by believing in the adage: "Grow the pie and share the pie," which we hold dearly at Vantage Agora.
- Above all, you must believe. What you believe in will eventually become your reality. But the first step is to have an intention and believe in it.
When you are on the road and running an organization and operations that span multiple continents, it is critical to have the tools and facilities to start up, run, and ensure the success of your organization. That's what the MBA has given to me.
The program also helped me link to the Caruth Institute, which helps companies and students to learn, understand, and build new organizations that are vital to the success of our economy. We have also gained from the rich network of the associate board of SMU.
Do you need an MBA to get a job like mine? Not always. There are some special people who don't need it. But for most of us, the MBA is not only necessary but also helps us in realizing our dreams.