2023 Best & Brightest Business Major: Sankalp Mohan Sharma, Indiana University (Kelley)

Sankalp Mohan Sharma

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

“An ambitious go-getter, poised to conquer the business world with innovative ideas and make the impossible a reality.”

Fun fact about yourself: I run a sustainable development organization that is now present in over 11 countries and has been recognized by President Barack Obama, Vice President Al Gore and the United Nations.

Hometown: Bangalore, Karnataka, India

High School: Frank Anthony Public School

Major: Business Management, Entrepreneurship & Corporate Innovation

Minor: N/A

Favorite Business Course: “Business, Government and Society”

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

Awards and Honors

  • Shoemaker Scholar
  • IU Ventures Scholar
  • Kelley Coin Recipient
  • Tom & Joyce Mutz Prize
  • Kate Hevner Mueller Award
  • The Carl H. Rinne Business Scholarship
  • Onward! The Curtis R. Simic Scholarship for Leaders
  • William G. Panschar Scholarship
  • Fast 15 Most Valuable Employee Award
  • Phi Eta Sigma National Honors Society
  • Bryan W. Price Executive Scholarship
  • Featured on the cover of the Herald Times Newspaper
  • Alpha Lambda Delta National Honors Society
  • Top 3 Student Leaders of the Year
  • National Team Sales Competition Winner
  • Published Author of The People of IU
  • BMO Harris Top 3 Interns of The Term for Summer 2022

Community Work and Leadership Roles

  • Founder & President of People of Indiana University
  • Board Member – 101st Presidents Board of Aeons
  • Vice President of Marketing – Global Sales Workshop
  • Director of Marketing – Kelley Student Government
  • International Student Ambassador – Office of International Services
  • Kelley To Kelley Mentor – Kelley School of Business
  • Resident Assistant – Residential Programs & Services
  • Student Coach – National Team Sales Competition
  • Housing Specialist – Indiana University
  • Speaker – Kelley School – Business Doing Good Webinar
  • Student Leader – LeaderShape INC.

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • Dimension Mill, Marketing & Strategy Planning Intern, Bloomington, IN through the summer of my sophomore year.
  • BMO Harris Financial Services, Summer Financial Analyst, Chicago, IL through the summer of my junior year.

Where will you be working after graduation?  Bunzl Distribution, Sales Development Associate, St. Louis, MO.

Who is your favorite business professor? As a young entrepreneur, I was lucky to learn from Professor David Haeberle. He is the son of the “Godfather of Entrepreneurship,” William L. “Bill” Haeberle, who created one of the nation’s first collegiate entrepreneurship programs.

Professor Haeberle has a unique style of teaching, which is extremely relevant in the real world. His ability to connect class courses with his experiences in startups and as an investor provides students with a wholesome learning experience. He always adds a personal anecdote with each of the concepts, making class fun and educative for all his students. I truly believe I learned so many little things in his class that go beyond the class material. As a budding entrepreneur, his tips on wealth creation and idea generation – as well as little things like the best ways to connect with a VC – are extremely invaluable. Many of the concepts taught in class and the little nuggets that he dropped here and there were extremely unique and inspiring.

All in all, at Kelley, I have had the opportunity to learn from several amazing professors that have all had a deep impact on me, but Professor Haeberle has truly stood out as a teacher and a mentor.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? I believe the biggest lesson lies outside the classroom in my interactions with my peers and my involvement on campus. I believe the most crucial things you learn in business school are from the people you are surrounded with. You learn strategies to network, ideal ways to portray yourself in a professional setting, how to develop personal and social skillsets, and how to grow a vast set of connections. The professionalism that one gains when attending a school like Kelley is beyond excellent. Your ability to carry yourself with confident humility and put your points across in the best manner becomes some of the key things you learn. From that perfect resume to those flawless emails, much of the learning in business school lies outside the classroom in your experiences.

Through team projects for your class or student organization, you can learn the best ways to work in diverse teams, patiently handling conflict, and the art of being a team player. This is extremely essential in the real world when you work with others or lead a team. Most of the things I have learned because of being a business student have shown direct and immediate results in the real world for me. Be it the work I have done through the companies that I have started or through the internships I have had over the years.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? The biggest piece of advice I would give someone is to fall in love with failing.

When you major in business or a related field, the very first thing you will notice is that this industry is very competitive by nature. Everyone works hard to stand out and be unique. At top business schools, you are surrounded by some of the smartest and hardest-working people. As you continue to grow, you are bound to fail time-and-again. At first, it feels like the worst thing that can happen to you. You will feel defeated, crushed, and de-motivated. Through all this, the one thing to remember, is that EVERYONE in college will fail at least once. The ones that fail more, succeed more.

Failing is an inevitable part of the learning and growing process. By embracing failure and viewing it as an opportunity to learn, you can develop a growth mindset and become more resilient. Instead of being discouraged by failure, you can view it as a stepping stone towards success. By falling in love with failure, you will take more risks and learn from your mistakes, which can lead to both personal and professional growth. At the end of the day, one thing that I realized early on is that everyone will fail. However, to be the person who succeeds at whatever they do, you need to be the person that gets back up every single time. No matter how hard the circumstances, just keep standing. No matter how rough it may feel, just keep trying. The ones who continue to stand in the face of difficulty – the ones that continue to fight in tough circumstances – are the ones who ALWAYS succeed.

It is also really important to stay curious. Often, students place themselves in silos, be it business school, majors, or classes. Don’t limit yourself, continue to expand your knowledge base, meet new people from different majors and different schools and make sure you get the whole college experience. It is essential to step outside the bubble we live in and seek discomfort, not just to continue growing as individuals but also to stand out and be the unique students that can bring a different perspective to every conversation.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? It was the amount of impact businesses can have on society, that I didn’t necessarily know they could. I have found myself enjoying business related topics, classes, and subjects since my days in school, but a part of me has always been passionate about giving back to the society. I have always felt excitement and fulfillment in working for the community and leading change. I always found myself conflicted when deciding what I wanted to pursue as a career. Having been sure that I want to be an entrepreneur in the long run, I was unsure if business was the path to get there or social work and being involved in the community.

The one thing that absolutely surprised me about studying business was the large-scale positive impact businesses can create on the world – and how business concepts can be used for the greater good at every level. Every small thing that you learn within the classroom can directly be implemented in doing good either through a non-profit, community service, or your own ventures and innovations. That’s what surprised me the most, the amount of good businesses can do for the society, our planet, and our race.

Looking back over your experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently in business school and why? I have honestly truly enjoyed every single part of my journey. The ups-and- downs, I am grateful for everything. The wins are always great, but all the learning I had through my failures are tremendously important to me. So, I truly, truly, wouldn’t change a thing, but if I knew more about some resources earlier, I definitely would have benefited from them.

As an international student, I was not very familiar with the amazing honors program at Kelley. By the time I found out, it was too late for me to apply. Similarly, with the unique business fraternities that our school offers, I was unaware of the opportunities to build a strong community of friends that inspire each other and grow together professionally. Having been an outgoing student who is extremely involved in the IU community, I pride myself in having built that community for myself and for exposing myself to the resources of the honors program in a unique way. Had I known more about these resources in my early days on campus, I would have definitely had a smoother sail my first couple of months.

What business leader do you admire most? My most admired businessperson is someone extremely unique. He is someone who is the very definition of a true businessman for me, someone who is the physical embodiment of success. An industrialist, a philanthropist, an investor, and a game-changer for the Indian economy. He is a disciplined, compassionate, and generous individual. A businessman par excellence and my inspiration – Ratan Naval Tata, the chairman of Tata Sons and the former chairman of Tata Group.

What makes Mr. Tata so different from all the other astounding leaders out there? For me, it is a combination of three traits that are extremely rare. These three traits are generosity, humility, and discipline. Tata is a leader who has never entered the world’s richest lists because more than half of his conglomerate is held by philanthropic trusts. His level of generosity and targeted support for communities far exceeds what others at a similar level have done. Another key aspect of Ratan Tata’s leadership style is his discipline. Not only did he create one of the best work cultures in the country of India and around the world, but also grew the revenues of the Tata Group by 40 percent and profits by 50 percent in his 21 years of leading the company.

In addition to his business acumen, Ratan Tata is highly respected for his integrity and humility. He is known for his modest lifestyle and for shunning the spotlight, instead choosing to focus on the work of the Tata Group. When the Taj hotels were attacked, not only did Mr. Tata compensate the families of his employees who were injured or lost their life, but he also personally visited each and every employee’s family. He started with a blue-collar job in his own family company and worked his way up,. Mr. Tata, worked with the laborers, handled the blast furnace, and shoved limestone before earning his chairman position instead of just gaining it with his last name.

For me, a business leader is someone who does more than just good business. He is someone who gives back to the planet and the human race, builds a family in their business empire, and  leads with trust, humility, generosity and discipline. Mr. Tata is all of those things. Ratan Tata is a business leader whose legacy will be remembered for his leadership and his commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Which academic, extracurricular, or personal achievement are you most proud of? Having founded the organization, “People of Indiana University” has been the most fulfilling and inspiring journey in my college career. Coming to the U.S. from India was a huge culture shock. New people, new food, and a new way of living: I missed my family and my home. But within my first semester, I made new friends and travelled the Midwest Every time I came back to campus, I felt like I was home! My friends became my family and IU became my home away from home. I did not want to wait till I became an alumnus to give back and do my bit.

Therefore, I created People of IU, Indiana University’s first organization that was not siloed within a school or a particular passion, a place for everyone to share their story. As the founder and president of People of IU, in the last three years, my team and I have interviewed and highlighted over 130 inspiring and breathtaking stories of students, faculty, alumni, and staff from across our campuses. They are people who have done amazing things and helped build Indiana University to the institution that it is today.

Through the challenging pandemic, all we read about were heartbreaking stories of how the human race was navigating the pandemic, numerous cases of racism, and a mentally taxing election in the United States. We at People of IU made an endeavor to highlight the Hoosier heroes that were creating a positive impact across the globe. From nurses to resident assistants and food service workers, we highlighted motivating stories of those that were among us and were creating a difference.

Watching the growth of the organization has been absolutely surreal for me, particularly the numerous awards, recognitions, and honors we have received and the people we have been able to highlight. The connections that have come out of these stories, new projects, new investments, and new teams are something that even we did not anticipate. More than anything the impact People of IU has had on the university and its ‘people’ has been a real blessing to watch.

Which classmate do you most admire? I decided to answer this question last as it was one that made me think a lot. I am surrounded by some of the most inspiring, humble, and brilliant peers and I admire all of them equally. As they say, you are who you surround yourself with and they have all played a key role in shaping me. Iswerya Ajay, who is another tremendous international student doing great things personally and professionally, has always supported me and inspired me to be the best version of myself. Christina Yang is a passionate leader, and a supportive peer that has redefined hard work and leadership for me. John Floros, Blake Bradley, Dean Sofianopoulos and Simone Steinberg have all shaped the way I view guidance, innovation and organizational leadership. They have all taught me different facets of what it means to be a good leader and team member. Finally, Maddie Heath has shown me the importance of compassion, caring for your team and true friendship. All these peers and many more have continued to inspire me throughout my four years here and I have admired them all. I am extremely lucky to have a strong IU family that has defined my college career.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? The opportunities that I have been blessed to have and the work I have been able to accomplish through my college career has been something that I am truly very proud of. When any one individual is successful, they always have an army of people behind them who guide them, help them, and support them throughout their journey. I am very lucky to have an army of people behind myself, including my family (my mother, my father, and my sister), my friends, professors, mentors and so many more selfless individuals who have always celebrated my successes and more importantly had my back when I was down.

There is, however, one person in particular that I owe everything too. He is someone who has always put my needs before his own, gone the extra mile to help me grow, and instills discipline, unmatched hard work, and humility in me. He is my father. I am often praised by people for all that I have been able to accomplish, but I truly would not have been able to do any of it without my father. He has always had a vision so big for me, that even I could not dream of for myself.

Coming from a middle-class family in India, travelling to the US always felt like an impossible goal. It was my father, who worked day-and-night to make that goal a reality. Attaining some of the best education in the world, was something I always wanted, it was my father who showed me that not only would this be my goal, but soon my reality. When I say these things, I have to clarify: he never spoon-fed me a single thing. He only showed me the path to excellence and equipped me with the tools of discipline, unmatched hard work and humility, and made me pave my own path. In the face of extreme hardship, and trust me, I saw a lot of it over the last few years, when everyone stopped believing in me (and even I stopped believing in myself), he ALWAYS stood behind me, quietly, patiently, and firmly as my rock. That is what I am most grateful for: he has always been my pillar of strength, always showed me that no goal was too big, but let me do every single minute thing myself which in turn made me respect every opportunity and every individual that crossed my path.

My father is truly my hero and I dedicate every honor I have achieved and am yet to achieve, to him.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Build a Fortune 100 company
  • Serve in the Office of President

What are your hobbies?

  • Building companies
  • Recording and sharing stories for People of IU
  • Playing & watching basketball
  • Travelling,
  • Listening to TED Talks
  • Meeting new people, Cooking Indian food and hosting potlucks with friends and family

What made Sankalp such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Sankalp is truly a living legend around the Kelley School. Of course, everyone knows him as the visionary founder of People of IU, as a student leader in many different spheres on campus, and of course as the guy who got Mark Cuban to sit for an interview. But what I personally appreciate about Sankalp is that he always has time to serve and help those around him. He has always offered himself to sit on panels in first-year seminar courses, mentor younger students, and give back to the Kelley School whenever asked. Anyone who speaks with Sankalp is made to feel like the most important person in the room — the mark of a truly exceptional leader and communicator!”

Ben Taylor
Associate Director, Undergraduate Program


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