McIntire Worldwide: Alumni in India

February 5, 2018
Kanika Suri, Elliot Rosenberg, Zain Nathani

McIntire’s Dean Carl Zeithaml is on the move. As the School strengthens its global programs and deepens its international alumni connections, he maintains an active travel schedule. This January brought him to India, where he made stops in Delhi and Mumbai to speak with alumni, parents of current and prospective students, and important partners of the growing McIntire community.

We caught up with a trio of alumni living and working in India that Zeithaml saw on his trip, and we spoke to them about the unique opportunities and challenges that make the world’s second most populous country a hotbed of entrepreneurship and technological innovation.

All three Comm School graduates have a true stake in India’s growth, but in entirely different sectors. Zain Nathani (McIntire ’03) is focused on India’s long-term sustainability through metal recycling. Entrepreneur Kanika Suri (McIntire ’01) draws on the country’s thriving manufacturing landscape to domestically educate and promote yoga through accessories while exporting her unique consumer goods to the rest of the world. California native Elliot Rosenberg (McIntire ’13) strives to improve the lives of others via the IT sector, expanding online information access and providing greater earnings to the nation’s most remote and impoverished citizens.

A Place of Inspiring Possibilities
Why India and why right now? Suri says that after living in the U.S., U.K., and Taiwan, she returned to her family’s homeland, moving to Delhi and the promise of what’s on the horizon: “These are exciting times to be in India. There is always a perpetual sense of buzz and excitement. I wake up to something new, exciting, and dynamic every day.”

Rosenberg spent more than 15 months backpacking through 17 Asian countries before deciding to stay in Mumbai, and, like Suri, he believes the southern Asian subcontinent is uniquely defined by its potential. “India is the future, and I want to contribute toward making that a more equitable one,” he says. “In terms of businesses serving the poor, India is unparalleled in the size of its market, need, and the number of commercial success stories. Moreover, it has a well-established IT sector shifting from outsourcing to homegrown innovation.” Rosenberg explains that upward mobility through learning is within reach, because Indians hold profound respect for the idea of education transcending social class that he has yet to see in any other part of the world.

The groundbreaking efforts that the McIntire alumni make in their work requires them to navigate issues unique to India’s laws and demographics. Nathani, Managing Director of Nathani Group, who also serves as Vice President of the Metal Recycling Association of India and other likeminded organizations, says that the Indian government’s lack of awareness about sustainability in his field remains his greatest challenge. “We are working closely with the Indian government to frame a policy on metal recycling. To date, we have no recycling laws in place, and this leads to a lot of waste. Materials are being discarded into rivers and landfills,” he says. “We are working to change the perception and explain the economic and environmental benefits of recycling. A thriving recycling industry is imperative for India’s sustainable growth.”

Conversely, Rosenberg has witnessed a proactive approach by his adopted country in his work combating poverty. “The Indian government is undertaking ambitious initiatives in financial inclusion and unique identity that are unprecedented in their scale,” he says. “Now policymakers and the private sector worldwide are eagerly awaiting the outcomes of these experiments as a model for other countries.”

He cites examples such as the government’s Jan-Dhan program, which in only three years created more than 300 million bank accounts for those who formerly had no banking access, as well as the Aadhaar initiative, which provides “1.2 billion citizens with a universal, biometrically unique, and digitally accessible identity with both civic and consumer applications.”

Suri’s earliest issues in the consumer goods realm were due to the national consumers. In developing her company, Kanvick, and the yoga accessories brand Kanyoga, Suri found that she needed to familiarize domestic consumers with a product line they didn’t understand. “Our foremost challenge was educating the Indian customer about the need for yoga and meditation products,” she says. “When the brand was started, the focus was on the B2B segment both for export and domestic. There was very little knowledge of yoga and meditation accessories in the domestic market.”

Suri notes the situation changed dramatically in 2015, with the advent of International Yoga Day, when the ancient traditional practice attributed to India was first observed worldwide. “The awareness of yoga and meditation accessories has since increased,” she says. “In the past year, in addition to the export B2B and the domestic B2B market, we are now focusing on the domestic B2C customer as well.”

Aiming to reach another domestic market, though a traditionally underserviced one, Rosenberg is working with mobile communications platform Awaaz.De in its quest to deliver access to financial, health, education, and agriculture services for a wide range of NGOs, foundations, and research institutions. Though the firm has had a long journey toward finding a “product market fit,” Rosenberg, who is the start-up’s Vice President of Business Development, believes it is now “closer than ever.” He first connected with Awaaz.De after McIntire alumnus and impact investor Mark Straub (McIntire ’04) referred him to the company.

Enduring Lessons
Indeed, a substantial contributor to the success of all three alumni can be traced back to their experiences at McIntire. Suri says that the many class projects and multicultural study groups helped prepare her for her current position, having given her the confidence to interact with the many international buyers she deals with on a regular basis.

Nathani credits the School with both priming him for his first job at Bain and Co. and readying him to act at the executive level in his family’s business. He has said three lessons stick with him, “There’s no substitute for hard work and putting in the requisite long hours, you must be able to work well in teams, and equally as important as working hard? Enjoying yourself during downtime.”

A more recent graduate, Rosenberg was able to point to specifics, such as the Entrepreneurship Track’s “invaluable” focus on customer development. He also recognizes Professors Eric Martin and Brendan Richardson for their faith in his abilities, which he says led him to believe in his passion for new business ventures. (Rosenberg began pursuing his “life’s mission” in earnest before graduating, with the founding of Favela Experience, a tourism social enterprise he launched in Rio de Janeiro’s slums in 2012.)

No Distance Too Far
With these McIntire alumni located more than 8,000 miles away from Rouss & Robertson Halls, they find ways to stay connected to the School. Nathani says that many of his closest friends today are fellow Hoos living in India whom he regularly meets.

As president of the UVA Club of India, Suri makes it a point to stay on top of developments across Grounds, since she advises prospective and incoming students. “The club organizes events and receptions for visiting deans, directors, engagement officers. We also organize meets, which enables alumni to stay connected to each other,” she says.

For Rosenberg, his physical distance from Charlottesville hasn’t presented any barriers to staying in touch. “Because of the School’s remarkably large international student body,” he says, “many alumni return to work in their home countries. This has made it surprisingly easy to maintain friendships and make new friends with alumni in the places I’ve lived.” And because of the School’s extensive global presence, meeting up with visiting McIntire students, staff, and faculty has been a relatively normal occurrence.

That brings us back to Zeithaml’s recent tour of one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies.

Suri was thrilled about seeing “Dean Z” in Delhi, adding that his trip “greatly and positively implies that the McIntire School considers India to be central to its current and future programs and initiatives.”

Nathani also finds the Dean’s visit to be significant. “India is a very important market for undergraduate business students heading to the U.S.,” he says. “An increased presence can only help to further promote McIntire’s top-ranking programs and alumni success stories to Indian parents and future students.”

Rosenberg agrees. “Dean Z’s visit recognizes the large contingent of students, alumni, and faculty from India, and the growing role the country will play in global commerce.”