Kumar Vijayendra, a 2020 MBA graduate of Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, knows how entrepreneurs think and governments operate.
After earning a Master of Commerce degree from the University of Delhi, this entrepreneur launched a firm providing financial services to small businesses that could not afford to hire fulltime accountants.
“We supported their bookkeeping, accounting, tax litigation, financial advising—everything they needed,” said Vijayendra. “This allowed them to focus on their core business while we managed their finances.”
His startup was doing well, but Vijayendra wanted to make a bigger difference in the world. So after five years as an entrepreneur, he moved into government and for the next seven years climbed the bureaucratic ladder in the Indian state of Bihar to become the director of a department focused on improving government systems.
Vijayendra could have climbed further, creating a comfortable life for himself and his family; but again, he wanted to do more for society by helping reshape how governments and businesses interact.
“I realized that poor and developing economies need business tools more than public policy,” said Vijayendra. “What the world requires is the marriage of the impact and outreach of public policy with the skillset that businesses bring, such as efficiency, analytics and the best technology.”
The scholarships were the difference between just dreaming and realizing my goals.
To catalyze the change he imagined, Vijayendra sought an MBA from a U.S. institution that would carry international credibility—until he learned that he would need a loan of nearly 6 million rupee, or approximately $80,000, to cover the cost.
The dream appeared dead before it began—until he heard from the University of Pittsburgh. Along with an acceptance letter came a scholarship offer.
“Until then, I was someone sitting in a far corner of the world just having a dream,” Vijayendra said. “The scholarships were the difference between just dreaming and realizing my goals.”
Leaving his wife and young daughter behind in India, he came to Pitt to pursue his dream with support from the H. R. Young Fellowship and the Mukerji Foundation Scholarship. In his second year, he earned the Herbert L. Gordon Scholarship.
“The gifts are the highest form of giving because they are made without any expectation of return, not even knowing to whom they are given,” said Vijayendra. “I want to make the donors proud of every dollar they invested in me; the trust and faith they imposed in me without knowing who I am.”
Part of his mission to make them proud was to be as active as possible while at Pitt. Vijayendra founded and served as president of the Katz Corporate Sustainability Club and headed the Pitt Indian Graduate Student Association. He held leadership roles on the Katz Student Executive Board and the Katz International Business Association.
He also took on several student and professional consulting projects including work for UPMC, McKesson and Italian energy company Fortore Energia.
“I want to get as much as possible out of these two years,” Vijayendra said. “I also want to stand up for all these people who helped me—the donors, my mentor and my parents, wife and daughter who I’ve seen only once since starting my MBA.”
His engagement and determination did not go unrewarded. He was inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma international business honor society and graduated with the Katz school’s top MBA student honor. In the school’s April 25 virtual celebration for spring graduates, he was announced as the winner of the 2020 Marshall Alan Robinson Prize for Excellence. Named in honor of the school’s first dean, the prize is awarded by faculty vote to the MBA student who represents the qualities of academic and personal excellence and who displays the leadership potential and ability to make a significant and exemplary contribution to the profession of management.
Vijayendra lists John Camillus, Donald R. Beall Professor of Strategic Management, as a mentor and the professor who most influenced him at Pitt.
Camillus says the respect is mutual.
“Interacting with Kumar is always a refreshing experience,” Camillus said. “He offers a perspective that adds to my understanding of important issues and he makes me optimistic about the positive impact that Katz graduates have on business and society—in the U.S. and around the globe.”
Camillus says he expects great things from his student. Vijayendra is charting a future that includes more consulting work in the U.S. and ultimately a post at an international NGO.
This story is adapted from a Philanthropic and Alumni Engagement feature.