A first-century philosopher once said that luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. That adage is quite appropriate when considering Carlson School senior Asha Sharma's undergraduate career. Her preparation has translated into co-founding a teen center and securing a highly coveted full-time position at Microsoft after graduation.
Since her freshman year, Sharma has made her own luck by following a carefully designed plan to attain experience that would complement her Carlson School education and future career interests.
"I knew I wanted to start my own business at some point, so I pursued internships that helped me get hands-on experience in certain functional areas of business such as sales, marketing, trading, and accounting," says Sharma. "Then I went after internships that helped me better understand how to grow and fix businesses to understand business development. Finally, my favorite aspect of business is technology, so I acquired an internship in that sector which would also give me direct experience in owning a P&L and running a business."
In her four-year collegiate career, Sharma has completed seven internships, as well as being an active participant in the Carlson Consulting Enterprise, not to mention traveling to Poland and Hungary to work on a live case for Cargill.
Her goal of creating a business recently came to fruition with the grand opening of The A-list, an innovative, Brooklyn Park, Minn. nonprofit teen center with a mission of entrepreneurship, education, and personal growth.
The "shop," which Sharma co-founded with fellow Carlson School senior Matt Norris, a Brooklyn Park native, fills the local teens' longstanding desire for a safe environment for social engagement and employment.
"The A-list is a social entrepreneurship venture in which teens produce 30 percent of the revenue to support the organization," says Sharma. "It's a unique business model where we provide employment in our snack and apparel business units, and offer education and personal growth opportunities such as daily tutoring sessions, insights on post-secondary education, interaction with business mentors, and fun events like dances and hip hop classes."
The A-list recently reached the half-million dollar mark in cash and in-kind funding, and several municipalities have approached Sharma and Norris inquiring about the opportunity for replication.
"Matt and I have a shared vision to see The A-list in every community of need," says Sharma. "Our goal for the next three years is to make this the best-run model to maximize impact in Brooklyn Park. From there, the opportunities will be endless."
For most students, building a nonprofit from the ground up would be time consuming enough, but during the two-year build-up of The A-list, Sharma was also pursuing her post-college career ambitions.
"Through combining preparation, drive, and the education provided by the Carlson School, I believe that my peers and I are just as competitive as students from the Ivy League, and consulting, banking, and tech jobs can be ours for the taking if we want them," she says.
In her job search, she targeted a short but distinguished list of companies that included a global management consulting firm, a Silicon Valley tech giant, and Microsoft Inc.
Although it took six months of persistence and leveraging influential networks, one company in particular, Microsoft, came calling. Moreover, upon calling they requested that she travel to Redmond, Wash. the next day.
Not long after her arrival in Redmond, Sharma was on a bus along with 15 Harvard students (it was Harvard week at Microsoft) on the way to Microsoft headquarters to start the interview process.
"When we arrived at the headquarters, the recruiter was very blunt and told us that they had only three openings, and it didn't matter whether you were an MBA or undergrad, it came down to the best three interviewees," Sharma says.
After a full day of interviews and tours, Sharma received an internship offer on the spot.
This past summer, after a successful internship in Microsoft's product management area, Sharma received a full-time position offer. She will start her Microsoft career in July as an associate product manager working on Windows.
While Sharma and Norris are pursuing their professional ambitions, they remain committed to The A-list's long-term future. "Matt and I aren't going anywhere," says Sharma, who will work remotely on the A-List as well as commute to attend board meetings. "We're very excited to move forward towards career milestones with The A-list right by our sides."
With The A-list underway, a position at Microsoft in waiting, and a BSB degree in marketing within reach, Sharma has undoubtedly had a successful undergraduate career. Whatever opportunities might come her way in the future, it's probably safe to say that she won't rely on sheer luck to capitalize on them.
"Getting the job was essentially a culmination of my passion and all the skills I had learned from the Carlson School - from networking and resume review to case interviewing and behavior interviewing," she says. "After all, luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, right?"