Honing a New Racket

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Tennis champ turned MBA student leverages skills developed on the court to excel in business

By the time he was old enough to swing a bat and racquet, his parents encouraged him to choose one or the other.

“My first thought was cricket, as I grew up in a city known for producing very good cricket players,” says Harsh. “But I got into tennis, and my parents encouraged that.”

At age 19, Harsh came to the University of Minnesota to study economics and play tennis. As an undergraduate student, he won the NCAA Division 1 Indoor Singles Championships and was ranked No. 1 in the country in tennis. At the tail end of his junior year, he turned pro and spent the next eight years on the ATP circuit competing against the top players in the world, including Andy Roddick, Andy Murray, and Lleyton Hewitt.  At one time, he was 200th in the world in singles tennis.

In 2010, he departed the ATP Tour with numerous titles, including the Manchester Open trophy. He qualified for main draw at Wimbledon, and represented India in the Davis Cup facing off against leading nations like the United States, Australia, Netherlands, and Sweden.

A whole new court

Transitioning from professional sports to a new career, Harsh took a job as a tennis academy director in Minnesota. But he soon developed a curiosity to learn a new field, and ultimately open up a wider set of opportunities. Having achieved international renown by assessing the playing field, analyzing his competition, and developing quick strategies, he pictured himself working in business.

“The general career path for someone who has invested a lot of years into a sport, like myself, is to stay in the sporting field—being a coach, or becoming a commentator in the media. But I was always motivated to learn more and open up more opportunities,” he says.

In 2012, Mankad completed his bachelor’s degree in economics at the University of Minnesota, and set his sights on business school. At the time, he was concerned his lack of corporate experience would harm his chances of being admitted to an MBA program.

“My background has been more entrepreneurial, from being a tennis player to managing the country club, and I didn’t have much exposure to the more sophisticated side of business,” he says.

Although he’d spent less than two years in the professional world, the Carlson School recognized the business skills Mankad had developed as an athlete, and welcomed him to the Full-Time MBA Program in 2012.

“There are a lot of parallels between sports and business: That strategic mindset, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and knowing your competition. A lot of these fundamentals you think of as a business strategy person are what you think about as an athlete,” he says.

Plotting the next move

Throughout the MBA program, Harsh explored all aspects of business, from marketing to strategy. Much like his childhood when he was compelled to choose a tennis racquet instead of a cricket bat, he was now weighing his options for the next stage of his career.

“Other students who have several years of experience in the business world or in a corporate setting come to business school with more clarity on what they want to do,” he says.” When you’re starting something new, like me, you’re still learning a lot about marketing, finance, operations—all the areas of business. It took time for me to understand the opportunities and find where my interests were.”

Harsh says the most memorable aspect of the MBA program was the time he spent participating in the Funds Enterprise, when he managed and invested money from a real-world mutual fund.

“In the Funds Enterprise, we looked at the growth potential of a company we invested in, and to understand that, you have to understand everything about the company: the business model, what their strategy is, who the management team is. It fit well with me, because I enjoy thinking about the competition and learning all aspects of the business,” he says.

Mankad landed on finance as the field for him, and has accepted a job at RBC Wealth Management, where he’ll work in the fixed income strategies group after graduation this summer.