Doubling UF Degrees

Growing up in Gainesville, Bala Poddar always wanted to graduate from the University of Florida. On April 29, 2017, he made that dream a reality for the second time.

Poddar received his bachelor’s degree in marketing from UF in 2011 and returned to graduate from the UF MBA program in April. From the very beginning of putting together his plans for college as a kid, there was only one school Poddar wanted to attend.

“It was basically just the University of Florida,” Poddar said. “It just made sense. I grew up with a ton of friends in the area, and it’s a fantastic school.”

Born in India and raised there until he was two years old, Poddar’s father moved the family to Los Angeles to serve as a Hindu priest at a Krishna temple. His father also wanted to start a business for the extra income and created Sacred Threads, a women’s clothing business that distributed clothing to boutiques. The company grew quickly, and the family moved to Houston for a few years before looking for a long-term location to live.

Poddar’s father wanted a place to raise his family. Sacred Threads was established and leasing a warehouse in Houston, and with a growing Krishna community in Alachua County and some family friends in the area, the family decided to settle down in Gainesville in April 1998 when Bala was only eight years old.

As he grew older, Poddar started to get more involved in his father’s business. When he graduated from UF’s Heavener School of Business, he started working full time with Sacred Threads in an undefined role that dealt with buying and planning, mostly through traveling to China and India to work with manufacturers and acquire clothing for the company.

It wasn’t long before he wanted a change.

“I was working with my father, but I never felt much ownership in what I was doing,” Poddar said. “I always felt like the boss’ son, too. I wanted to get a role in marketing and be a marketer instead of being viewed as the boss’ son.”

Poddar wanted to expand his career and took a marketing specialist role with Springer Publishing in New York City, which also happened to be the home of a woman he was dating and later married. The new role allowed him to be the liaison between Europe and the company’s main office in New York City while he focused on marketing and brand building.

Two years into that role, Poddar and his fiancée decided it was time for a change. They were away from their family on both sides, and he realized the career growth he was seeking wasn’t possible at Springer Publishing. The idea of pursuing an MBA came to mind.

His first degree from UF was a no-brainer. The second came with a few more questions. While living in New York, he began to research the MBA program at UF as well as many in the northeast. However, one trip back to Gainesville sealed the deal.

“I came down here for a showcase weekend and I was sold,” Poddar said. “I applied here first and that was it. I wanted to stay here, live here and get married here – and that’s what I did. It helped that it was a strong MBA program, but a big part of it was coming home.

“Now graduating twice, it feels appropriate.”

Poddar and his wife move to Seattle in mid-July as he begins a retail leadership development program at Amazon. It’s a three-year management rotational that will provide him with experience as a category vendor manager, product manager and marketing manager.

Graduating with a job at Amazon felt like a lofty goal for Poddar when he started the UF MBA program, but his work with Graduate Business Career Services made him realize it was possible.

“They started by helping me go through my background to understand the value I can give to a company like Amazon,” Poddar said. “It’s a big pivot for me, but we were able to go through mock interviews where I got the confidence in myself that I can handle this change. It was a huge confidence boost for me.”

However, it’s the overall UF MBA experience that he’ll never forget, shaping him as a person and a professional.

“When you’re in a cohort for even a week, it feels like a family,” Poddar said. “Everyone is extremely invested in each other and there’s a sense of family with people from all different backgrounds.”