By Elizabeth June

Born in India, Vimal Kanagaraj (Class of 2021) lived in four countries before coming to the U.S. to attend Darden. His global upbringing and work experiences in Saudi Arabia, India, Japan and Germany have shaped his outlook on business and influenced his goals for the future. Vimal joined us for a virtual interview and shared more about his Darden story:

Please tell us a little bit about your background. What led you to attend Darden?

I was born in India, but spent most of my childhood in Saudi Arabia. Living in Saudi Arabia naturally cultivated my interest in the oil and gas industry, which led me to pursue a degree in chemical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai. During my junior year, I interned at the Proctor & Gamble Company (P&G) in a manufacturing plant, where I ultimately realized that chemical engineering was not for me. This realization spurred me to explore my interests in other sectors. I moved to Japan after accepting a job offer from Sysmex, a Japanese healthcare supply chain management company. I worked for Sysmex for about four years, during which I moved to Germany for a year to work as a liaison for the company before returning to Japan for another year. 

Though I enjoyed working in supply chain management, I realized that I was much more interested in finance. I started researching and connecting with business schools, and I learned that Darden has the best program for general management. In addition, the students with whom I spoke were always very friendly and responsive to my questions. The Darden network and community really appealed to me and ultimately influenced my choice to attend Darden.

How have your global experiences influenced how you engage in business? How have they enriched your classroom experience at Darden?

By living and working in various different countries around the globe, I have become more empathetic. I believe that empathy is the key to success in a global business environment, and that it is important to be empathetic and adaptable, especially when starting a career in a new country. Through experience, I have learned that a country’s history and cultural norms shape its work environment; understanding this truth is critical to success in an increasingly global world. For me, that meant learning Japanese while working in Japan. Darden has done a great job emphasizing this idea through global case studies, which allow students to attain a good understanding of these historical and cultural elements in which a business operates.

My global experience has also influenced how I participate in the classroom. The most important lesson I have learned is to listen intently and contribute to the part of the discussion where you can provide the most value. That way, everyone stands to gain the most out of the classroom.  

What have been some of your favorite experiences at Darden so far?

Vimal (second row, far right) with Section D classmates at the Darden 2020 Talent Show

One of my favorite experiences was the Darden Cup, in which all sections compete in a series of sporting events. Everyone is so passionate about it, and the Cup helps to build comradery among the First-Year class, bringing everyone together despite our busy schedules. I also thought that recruiting events were fun, even though they were stressful. Networking with various companies helped me understand the work culture of people in the U.S. and allowed me to build better relationships with classmates with similar interests. Through these events, I explored new locations around Charlottesville and tried a variety of great restaurants.

I have also really enjoyed my internship with MasterCard this summer. MasterCard has a significant base of Darden alumni, so there are Darden-specific virtual happy hours and we had the opportunity to interact with the CFO, Sachin Mehra (MBA ’96), who is a Darden alum. In this way, my Darden experience continues even during my internship.

What activities or clubs are you involved in at Darden? What motivated you to get involved with them?

During my first year, I attended the club fair, where I learned about the many clubs at Darden. I joined the Tech Club, the Darden South Asia Society (DSAS) and the General Management & Operations Club (GMO), where I served as the First Year liaison, organizing career resources for the club. I also served as a Darden UVA mentor, giving career advising to undergraduates at UVA.

This year, I will be GMO’s VP of International and a Second Year Coach for Darden First Years, advising and guiding them through the career process. In addition, I like to speak with prospective students from India and Japan to help them in their decisions about attending Darden. My main motivation for being involved is to contribute wherever I can. As I have been through multiple career shifts, I hope to help those who desire to do the same. 

What are you most looking forward to during your second year at Darden?

I am most looking forward to being with classmates again once that is safely possible. Adapting to the virtual setting hasn’t been too difficult, as the professors have done a great job transitioning classes online. I hope to continue building social connections in the hybrid classroom setting once classes resume as well as through global learning opportunities, as I missed not having the opportunity to travel with classmates due to the pandemic.

What advice do you have for future Darden students?

Darden is all about putting your “why to work”. Learn to articulate your story and highlight the “why.” The “what” is similar for everyone – we all want that great position and success in life. The “why” sets you apart and shows how you are unique.

Making an effort to connect with people makes all the difference. Don’t just do research about a prospective career or goal, make sure to get out there and meet people to build a network that leads to opportunities for the future. Your career is a long game. Work hard and be consistent, and you will reach your potential. Don’t be too disappointed by setbacks, or too overconfident by successes. Keep learning and growing consistently, as that is the only way to continue bettering yourself.

What is your “why”?

My passion is to improve businesses’ productivity by combining my broad experience in supply chain management and newfound interest in finance (thanks Darden!). My internship with Mastercard in the Corporate Development team is a step in that direction as I have the opportunity to work on identifying companies that are revolutionizing B2B payments.