Ajinkya Gunjal’s journey to study for an MBA (Master of business administration) at The University of Otago began following a recommendation from an education agent in Mumbai, India:
“I met with representatives from a few other New Zealand Universities, but when I showed an interest in New Zealand the education agent suggested that I consider Otago. They also enabled me to contact current students to get a better idea of what was on offer.”
The high academic standard required to complete an Otago MBA appealed to Ajinkya:
“The Otago MBA stood out because it is a 240 credit course as opposed to others that offer 180 credits – this is a full MBA.”
And the accessibility to academic staff in the teaching environment was something that Ajinkya could not find at home:
“There are two schools from India that are listed in the top 100 universities for the financial times – one of those schools has one academic teaching 400 MBA students in each class, personally I didn’t want that, I wanted smaller classes. The ratio here at Otago
is 20:1, you get that personal attention here to carry onto the next level.”
The learning environment and the way in which the MBA programme is structured helps build both personal and professional strengths:
“In our class of twenty we work in groups of four, we learn how to interact with people, and each term these groups change. You get an idea of your own leadership style, how you work in a team and perform with different personalities. It’s more than a career option,
you build yourself personally too, it is a mix of both personal and professional.”
Bruce Hughes route to an MBA is more unusual than most: the former attorney spent 2018 pitting himself against various adventure challenges around the world, including mountain biking the length of New Zealand, competing in back-to-back 600km mountain bike races in his home country of South Africa, and attempting to hike from Mexico to Canada.
Seeking a shift away from his career in law and having fallen in love with New Zealand during his adventures, the Otago MBA felt like the perfect next step.
“The MBA equips candidates with insights into many facets of business, from strategy to human resource management to accounting and appeared to provide the most direct route to where I wanted to be.
“One of the cornerstones of the Otago MBA is the size and diversity of the class. This means you are in contact with people who have been in business for 10–20 years. I think it is important to embrace this from the beginning and be open-minded enough to learn from your interactions with your classmates.
“Having now completed eight months of the programme I believe that the MBA will help me move away from the legal industry and into the broader field of strategy and governance. While I am not yet certain where I will end up, the great thing about the MBA qualification is that it opens many doors.”
Dunedin’s diverse surroundings have been another bonus for this ardent adventurer.
“There are great opportunities for outdoor activities such as mountain biking, trail running and hiking. Central Otago and the Southern Alps are also a short bus ride away. There have been several fantastic outings with classmates, including a memorable four-day hike from Wanaka to Queenstown.”
Steve Kessler is already seeing the benefits of studying for an MBA, making it into the final rounds for a marketing position in Chicago. A former observer coach/trainer with the US Army, he picked the qualification to better prepare for a career shift.
“The University of Otago MBA programme has a great world ranking, international accreditation, and a fantastic structure that includes live case studies and a mentoring programme. Practical assignments help cement the learning and show the value of the subjects covered.
“The programme is known for its academic rigour. I have certainly found some subjects challenging but in all, I feel that it has helped me stretch my skills and abilities.”
Steve says the mentor programme adds an extra perspective to studies. His mentor encouraged him to find a volunteer position with one of the local rugby teams.
“As it happened, a classmate is the manager for the Varsity B squad and needed a conditioning coach. I spent the better part of three months working with the team on agility, endurance and strength. The immersion in the rugby culture was awesome and has been my single favourite experience here to date.”
He encourages students to make the most of the University’s unique location.
“Travel as much as possible, see all of the sights you can, and involve yourself in every/any activity you can manage whether clubs, sports, festivals or events.”
A desire to move back to New Zealand after several years working in Australia was one reason why studying at Otago appealed to MBA graduate Millie McCulloch.
"I had been a corporate/commercial lawyer for 15 years and I was increasingly doing more business advisory/strategy work. I felt I could offer more to a business than just being a lawyer but there were several areas where I needed to increase my knowledge and understanding."
The full-time, on-campus MBA option was another drawcard for Millie, enabling her to complete her studies in one go and limit her time away from the workforce.
“While I was studying I was also working part-time (remotely) in the legal team at Xero. I was fortunate enough to be offered a job with BowerGroupAsia a couple of months after finishing my Professional Consulting Engagement. BGA advises clients (largely Fortune 100 companies from the US) about public policy and government affairs in Asia-Pacific markets. My role is to provide local market expertise on government policy, legislation, regulation, political and business matters, and I work closely with colleagues throughout Asia and in Washington, DC.”
During her studies, Millie says she enjoyed the sense of camaraderie with classmates and the engaging contributions of lecturers.
“The live case study was also a highlight for me – it was excellent to be able to test our new skills in a safe environment.
“Otago is a friendly, welcoming place and there are plenty of opportunities to meet new people, get involved in the city and learn from great lecturers. It is also important for international students to remember that New Zealand is not like the US or other countries. When you study an MBA here, company executives aren’t waiting at the door to offer you a job in your first couple of months of study. You need to build your own networks and chart your own course. If you can do this well, you will be successful after your MBA.”
Choosing to undertake a full time MBA (Master of business administration) programme is in itself an academically demanding and rigorous path. Anup Mohan has not only taken this challenge on, but he has chosen to move his life and his family from India to study for his MBA at Otago University. With so many MBA programme options available to him globally why did he choose Otago?
“It’s a really important decision and we need to get it right, Otago is the most logical choice for an international student wanting to do a business degree. None of the other universities offer anything similar, for example (another NZ university) has an MBA programme but it is only offered to residential students, and only on a part-time basis, it’s not a full time programme, so that just doesn’t work for international students. When it came to MBA colleges Otago really stood out for me.”
But it isn’t just the academic programme that attracted Anup to study here:
“I looked at other options in the USA, Asia, Canada, and Europe, and my decision also revolved around finding somewhere with a good work/life balance, a good environment.”
The pivotal point for Anup after doing his own research on finding the right MBA programme was that the Otago MBA came highly recommended by the people who had experienced the product first hand – the University of Otago alumni.
“My decision to come here was influenced primarily by alumni. I got in touch with them (alumni) through Linkedin and email and also set up a phone call. What they told me influenced my decision to come here.”
Lovish Thakkar grew up in a family of business owners and has always been attracted to the challenges of entrepreneurship. He started his first business after completing a bachelor’s degree and quickly realised he could benefit from more knowledge. Research led him to the University of Otago’s MBA programme.
“I found Otago to be the most reputable university in New Zealand. It was the best value for money and it offered an exchange programme – I got to study at Duke University in the US for six months. I also found the mentor programme interesting.”
With classmates from a wide variety of countries, Lovish says the diversity of opinions during tutorials was one of his favourite aspects of the course.
“Everybody brought different perspectives on running a business. The faculty was friendly yet professional. They made sure that learning was fun and not pressured. I loved how they encouraged everyone to participate in discussions and gave valuable feedback.”
After graduating, Lovish moved to Auckland to work for MediaWorks as a project co-ordinator, a position he believes he gained thanks to his MBA.
“Later, I moved to Wellington to join Business.govt.nz where I'm currently working as a business performance advisor. Business.govt.nz is the central government's initiative to help small businesses increase productivity by improving management capability and compliance.”
Before his arrival in Dunedin, Harsh Vijh worked in organisational learning and capability development for leading financial and professional services, and pharmaceutical organisations based out of Mumbai, India.
“I wanted to live a healthy, balanced life with my family. In Dunedin, my wife and I can achieve a good work-life balance. The city has no traffic and great schools – my son and I often walk to school through the green belt.”
Harsh embarked on the MBA to expand his horizons and says the mentor programme has been key in helping to shift his thinking.
“I was paired with Tony Allison, chairman of Dunedin International Airport and ex-CEO of Night 'n Day. Tony created a mind shift for me. Now I think of myself as a business professional and not a human resources professional. He also gave me my first New Zealand business project and connected me with local Dunedin businesses.
“The MBA is preparing me well to work for a global Kiwi business, preferably based out of Dunedin.”