Gagan Bakshi is the type of person who makes the most of his experiences and opportunities. The son of a decorated senior officer in the Indian Army, Bakshi spent his childhood on army bases across India. After high school, Bakshi attended the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi where he graduated in 1991 with a Bachelors of Engineering degree.
Bakshi then decided to pursue higher studies in the US and as a Graduate Research Assistant in the Master’s degree at the University of Georgia in Athens, he taught undergraduate students and conducted research on textile chemical finishes. After his graduation in 1993, he spent the next six years in various roles at Cone Mills and Burlington Industries, and got involved in all aspects of managing denim fabric production. “The costing aspects of the production process were intriguing” which led to Bakshi’s increasing transition from a technical to a financial mindset , and he saw his role evolve into more of a “Techno-Manager,” as he puts it. This change prompted him to pursue an MBA in 1999 to acquire financial skills and broaden his business knowledge base.
While at Burlington Industries, Bakshi met Sherry Wallace, Director of MBA Admissions. She encouraged Bakshi to attend a few classes “without trying to sell me on the school,” he says. After evaluating a range of MBA programs including NYU, Chicago and Wharton, Bakshi settled on UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
After sampling classes at the other schools, Bakshi says he was swayed by the smaller class sizes, high quality of class participation and the diversity of the student population at UNC Kenan-Flagler.
Students at UNC Kenan-Flagler “represented a wide range of ethnic, demographic and job backgrounds,” he says. In addition, the students at UNC Kenan-Flagler were clearly members of teams. Even though they competed with one another and sometimes disagreed on approaches to solving problems, the team aspect of the UNC Kenan-Flagler model was a key selling point for Bakshi, he says.
Bakshi’s experiences at UNC Kenan-Flagler have helped him to learn how to deal with stressful situations such as giving impromptu presentations in front of his peers, with little or no preparation, learning how to incorporate input, both constructive and critical, from other team members, and juggling school, job search and social life, he says. He and his classmates learned how different leaders reacted to various challenges and situations from case studies they explored. In addition, Bakshi was Vice President of Diversity on the Student Council which helped him experience leadership firsthand.
The compilation of those experiences at UNC Kenan-Flagler “was the best preparation” for the business world, says Bakshi, who received his MBA in 2001.
The M&A Ladder
While pursuing his MBA at UNC, Bakshi interest in finance intensified further and he actively sought a role in investment banking on the Street. After a successful round of campus recruiting, Bakshi spent the next seven years at Credit Suisse in a variety of roles, where he provided M&A advisory, and equity and debt capital raising for clients in the energy, power, chemicals, aviation, travel and technology sectors. “I think the various roles of increasing responsibility I received while at Credit Suisse reflected the successful transition I was able to make from an engineer to a banker,” says Bakshi.
During his tenure at Credit Suisse, Bakshi continued to grow as an advisory specialist and take on a wide ranging assignments in different geographies, including New York, London and Mumbai. He participated in several franchise defining M&A deals and also led a massive $2.5 billion IPO for the National Oil Company of Kazakhstan (KazMunaiGas) in 2006. He was then tapped by Credit Suisse leadership to help open an office for the company in Mumbai in 2007.
“I took that as a sign of confidence from senior management,” says Bakshi.
Two years ago, Bakshi decided to take a break from banking and joined the leadership team of one of his advisory clients, InterGlobe Enterprises Ltd., a $1.5 billion conglomerate based in Gurgaon, India with a concentration of travel industry holdings, including IndiGo airlines and a joint partnership with Acccor of France. Bakshi, who is Director of Mergers & Acquisitions for InterGlobe, is responsible for all M&A activities in existing lines of business and for developing InterGlobe’s diversification strategy. He is also evaluating venture investing opportunities for the Group.
Bakshi describes his accomplishments at InterGlobe as a work in progress. “The company is growing rapidly and we’re hiring selectively. I just hired a UNC MBA alumnus for our M&A team,” says Bakshi. “We’re looking at strategic investments and I am inculcating a strong investing discipline in the company. In one to two years, our efforts are likely to bear fruit.”
He proudly points to his “thoroughbred” engineering and finance background holding him in good stead in the corporate environment.
As a member of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s International Board of Advisors, Bakshi says he praises Dean James W. Dean, Jr. for his role in differentiating the school’s global focus and reach.
“Putting this international Board together was one of Jim’s many great ideas,” says Bakshi, noting how one of three graduate students at UNC Kenan-Flagler is international. “Getting real time feedback from people across the globe is one of the key pieces for the Board. It’s a fantastic step in the right direction.”
As Bakshi looks back over his educational path and life experiences, he says he has learned four key lessons.
“You need to have clarity of thought and conviction in your own ideas,” says Bakshi. “If you don’t believe in your own ideas, how can you convince your team members to believe in them?”
He also stresses the importance of effective communications, which includes being a good listener. “That ensures you convey the correct message to your team transcending language, culture, and country barriers”. The third lesson involves execution. “To be successful, one needs to select the right people, set clear objectives, monitor progress and finish on time”.
The fourth lesson, which Bakshi gleaned from his father, is leading by example. “Show your team members how something can be done correctly,” says Bakshi. “and your juniors will follow through with the assignment.”