CAT's 100 percentilers chase big dreams in corporate careers, startups

Topping the CAT (Common Admission Test) is no small feat - after all, the race for the prestigious Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) is run by some of India's best and brightest. Which is why every one of the thousands of MBA aspirants that sit for the exam each year, dreams of making it to the 100 percentilers' club - the honour reserved for the top scorers alone.

But after coming up trumps in an examination as competitive as this, where do these 100 percentilers go As CAT registrations for 2014 get set to enter the eighth week, ET tracks down a bunch of the toppers from CAT 2011, to find out where they are and what they are doing.

Of the nine students who bagged a 100 percentile in CAT 2011, ET managed to zero in on five: Vishal Kedia, Sri Ram Prasad Pemmasani, Shashank Prabhu, Ajinkya Deshmukh and Rajesh Balasubramanian. Three of them have opted for corporate careers; Deshmukh is heading a vertical at an education startup while Balasubramanian trains students to crack CAT.

First, the outliers Ajinkya Deshmukh, deputy general manager at Ace Creative Learning, who completed his MBA from IIM Bangalore this year after his CAT coup, took a call to not join a high-paying MNC and work in the field of education instead. In a quasi-entrepreneurial role, he has full responsibility for the social business division at the Bangalore-based startup which offers training and guidance to students for various entrance examinations.

This division aims at promoting quality education among deserving children from underprivileged backgrounds.

"Having had prior experience in a multinational firm before joining an MBA, I always felt the need to work at a place which offers me plenty of scope for shouldering responsibility and decision-making. I think once that was clear, joining a startup was the obvious choice," says the IIT Madras grad.

Then there's Shashank Prabhu, who despite a top score, decided to continue in Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), where he was pursuing an MBA at the time. "I had a bent towards sales and marketing, the opportunities for which are similar across all the top campuses. Also, the fact that it would have taken an extra year and a few lakhs more made me stick to FMS, instead of appearing at any of the interviews/GDs at the IIMs," says Prabhu, who's also a doctor by qualification.

At present, he is working with ITC handling sales and distribution for their personal care products portfolio and looking forward to getting into more of a strategy-based role in the next few years.

For both Prabhu and Deshmukh, the 100 percentile was primarily about the confidence boost it provided; whether it was in facing interviewers or in pursuing a career of their choice. For Vishal Kedia, a senior associate with the Boston Consulting Group, on the other hand, the biggest takeaway from CAT was expectations management.

"People start expecting a lot from you post a thing like this. You have to learn to manage expectations and prioritise," says Kedia, a chartered accountant. After his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad this year, he's recently joined BCG, handling his first case in the industrial goods sector.

Kedia's batchmate at IIM-A, Sri Ram Prasad Pemmasani, was another CAT 2011 topper. The 23-year-old signed up for an MBA after completing his electrical engineering from IIT Ropar. He was a student placement committee coordinator at IIM-A and has now landed a job at Nestle in the sales and marketing division.

Pemmasani prefers to play things down. "I think it definitely becomes a talking point" - he says of his 100 percentile - "but after that, it's the rest of the profile that matters. All other things remaining constant though, a topper would get a slight edge," he says.

Agrees Rajesh Balasubramanian, an IIT Madras and IIT Bangalore graduate, and director of 2IIM, an IIM alumni initiative that prepares CAT aspirants. He has secured a 100 percentile, not just in CAT 2011, but in CAT 2012 as well.

Balasubramanian creates all the content for the Chennai-based company that has around 300 students a year, and has recently launched an online version of CAT coaching.

"Getting a 100 percentile does earn you bragging rights, but it's more a conversation point than anything else. Most of these students go on to do pretty well in academics but it's not a huge advantage or anything when it comes to placements. You can't call it a game changer," says Balasubramanian.
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