Abroad and at helm of affairs

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 1.07.04
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Ajay Patel

Yet another academic with roots in Calcutta is making his mark in the US. Ajay Patel has recently been named dean of the Babcock School of Business at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University.

Patel, whose family owned the landmark Bombay Photo Stores till its recent closure, studied at St Xavier’s Collegiate School till Class V, after which he went to St Paul’s, Darjeeling. After finishing a B.Sc degree in Bangalore, he came back to Calcutta to work for a couple of years.

“My grandfather was unwell in the US and I went there to be with the family. I never came back,” recalls Patel, in town for a holiday.

He enrolled in an MBA programme at University of Baltimore, despite uncertainty about whether he wanted to pursue a career in the sciences. But an “intuitive understanding for business”, possibly from “growing up listening to people in business” reinforced his decision to shift course, and Patel soon found his new stream of study “very eye-opening”. Finance classes had him hooked. “I wanted to go to New York and work on Wall Street,” he relives. “But I wish I knew then some of the things I know now.”

“Having to sell yourself” is not a skill most Indians are equipped with, having “never been trained to think like that”, feels Patel. With Indian companies usually hiring “bright, raw talent”, those skills are not something that students in India pick up. “It is important to find a story that helps you convey the value you can add to the company you want to work with,” is the 45-year-old’s advice to students now.

On completing his PhD, Patel headed for academia. After appointments at the University of Missouri and Bentley College, he started out at Wake Forest as assistant professor 11 years ago, being promoted to associate professor in 1998 and associate dean for faculty affairs in 2002. Finally, last year, the expert in corporate financial management and international finance stepped in as interim dean and in April 2004, his position as dean of Babcock School was sealed.

His career at the university in Winston-Salem — listed among the top B-schools in the country by various agencies and also has an exchange programme with IIMC — has been peppered with awards. He was named Educator of the Year for five consecutive years between 1996 and 2000 and again in 2002. In 2001, he bagged the Kienzle Teaching Award, “given to the faculty member who represents the highest standards of teaching excellence”.

While the new responsibilities offer “fresh challenges”, he is looking forward to “growing relationships with alumni” and “networking with individuals of high net worth”.