Aishwarya Balaji is an Advisory Experienced Associate at Pricewaterhouse Cooper. She has had a wide range of experience during her college days from serving as a Wedding & event coordinator for Pink Lotus Events to working as a business intelligence intern at Boston Scientific and an operations intern at Liberty Mutual Insurance. She is also a well trained Bharatanatyam dancer.She shares her story with Lokvani.
Could you tell us a little about your background?
My parents were both born and raised in Tamil Nadu, India. I was born in Madurai, India and moved to the United States when I was two years old. I grew up in Acton, MA and went to Acton Boxborough Regional High School. For college I attended Boston University School of Management where I received a bachelor of science in business administration degree with a dual concentration in management information systems and finance.
After college I moved to New York City to start my career as a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers. During my first year I was fortunate enough to be selected for an international project, which led me to gain wide global experience. Fun fact: During the first half of 2014 I traveled to over 27 cities across the world. After my first year with the firm, I transferred to the Boston office to be closer to family.
Can you tell us about your current position? How did you choose your field of work?
I am currently an advisory experienced associate at PricewaterhouseCoopers. I actually didn't consider consulting until the summer before my senior year of college. After my internship at a medical devices company during my junior year, I realized I did not enjoy the repetitive nature of the work because I wasn’t told how my work contributed to the overall business. I realized I liked looking at the big picture of each project and determining what components were needed for execution. This was when I realized that I wanted to be a consultant. Consulting is fast paced with lots of travel and new clients every few weeks. Work is project based so I am able to holistically see from beginning to end what we are doing and how it directly impacts our clients.
How did you get to where you are today?
Trial and error. Going into college I knew I liked business, but I didn't know what specific area interested me. I switched my major four times before landing on MIS and finance. I also interned at a variety of different companies, which taught me what I liked, but more importantly taught me what I didn't like.
I am also a curious individual, thus if something remotely interests me I'll want to try it. For example, when I was a senior in college, I thought it would be fun to be a part time wedding planner while finishing up my classes. I had already signed with PwC, but I thought it would give me a different experience. I loved working with knowledgeable individuals in the field and learning what goes into executing a seamless event. The experience helped me improve my attention to detail and has helped me better deal with my clients now. I am a strong believer that every experience shapes you into a better person.
What was your first job?
My first job was actually when I was 12. I was a soccer referee for the youth soccer league.
What advice would you give to South Asian students ?
Keep an open mind. As a young student or a recent graduate, it is easy to think you know what you want to do in the future, but until you actually try everything you won't really know. In fact, one of my favorite quotes is by HBS professor Deepak Malhotra, and the quote is "Quit early and quit often." This is the best time to explore your options, so it's vital to keep an open mind and say no to nothing.
What advice would you give to others who want a career like yours?
If you are interested in consulting for a large corporation, I would suggest getting as many business internships as possible. However, keep in mind, the number one thing consulting firms look for is personality, not technical expertise. Gain experience giving presentations, leading others, and collaborating as a team.
What has been your greatest professional accomplishment so far?
I was sent as the sole PwC representative to the United Kingdom to lead a team through a critical project. It was an honor to be given and trusted with such great responsibility so early on in my career.
How do you manage a balance between your Indian and American cultures?
Balancing Indian and American culture has become second nature to me because I have always tried to take the best from each culture. Growing up, I was involved with various clubs at school and played soccer and tennis. My parents were actively involved in Indian organizations, thus I grew up being actively involved in the Indian community as well. I attended Shishu Bharati and Chinmaya Mission, and learned Carnatic music and classical dance, so I always had a strong connection to my Indian heritage.
What were the best things your parents did for you when you were growing up?
My parents are my rock and have always given me everything. I owe everything I have accomplished thus far to them. My dad had a very tough childhood and grew up with little to nothing. Despite all odds, he was able to educate himself and become successful. His stories always inspire and motivate me to do more and give back at the same time. I am extremely grateful that they have always been supportive of my decisions, whether it comes to my career or my extracurriculars. They have always given me space to grow and figure out what I want out of life, and I still lean on them for advice.
What is the toughest interview question you have been asked?
The toughest interview question I've been asked was actually quite out of the box. It was "If you could be any kitchen appliance, what would it be and why?"
What do you do in your spare time outside of work?
Dance! I have been dancing since I was 3 years old and was on the BU Bhangra team and Boston Garba team back in college. I also learned Bharatanatyam prior to entering college and recently restarted classes to fill the dance void in my heart.
I am also an active volunteer for Ekal Vidyalaya, which is an international non-profit organization that educates children in rural/tribal India. I am currently on their social media team and their young professionals’ board.
What is currently in your ipod/smartphone– music?
I mostly use Spotify/iTunes Radio to listen to music, and usually depending on my mood it’s either on a Bollywood, hip-hop, or house music station.
Can you finish this sentence - I believe?
I believe that the world would be a better place if people appreciated each other more. I am a big fan of the trending "pay it forward" campaign.
What is your Favorite App?
I love my Flipboard app. Flipboard is a news app that you can customize to specifically show top stories in genres you have an interest in. It's convenient for when I am on the go because I can easily flip through short blurbs of each article.
What advice would you give young people growing up as Indian Americans in the US?
Embrace your culture and be proud of who you are.