December 08, 2008
A native of Bombay, India, Chawla earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from the University of Bombay and his Ph.D. from National University of Ireland before doing post-doctoral work in kinetics while employed at the University of Toronto.
Though he had always been interested in a career in the business field, Chawla’s engineer father refused to pay for his college education unless he studied science.
“My dad is now 88 years old and he still believes that business is a field for rogues and rascals,” Chawla said.
After graduating from the University of Bombay, Chawla went to work for India’s Atomic Energy Commission in 1973.
“Later on when I left India, I realized that what I had been working on was the nuclear explosion,” Chawla said. “But, I had no idea when I worked there. It was all done in a modular fashion, so I didn’t know what my role was. I was just given a project. In reality, I was measuring one of the fallouts of a nuclear explosion.”
It was a Welch Fellowship to the University of Texas that finally opened the door for Chawla to pursue his interest in business. While teaching at UT-Arlington, he got his M.B.A. and then started his first stint at ASU in 1983 while finishing his doctorate. His time at ASU was interrupted, however, when he had to return to UTA for his residency requirement. He then spent two years at the University of Evansville until another job opened at ASU in 1989.
Since his return, ASU students have been benefitting from his background in both science and business.
“I strongly believe that a student needs some hands-on experience,” Chawla said. “A scientist gets his experience by doing lab work, but in the business schools, we usually just talk theories and students don’t get to interact with businesses. So, I try to expose all my classes to the community.”
The primary way he does that is to have his classes generate various types of marketing surveys for local businesses. To date, his classes have done nearly 400 such projects for all manner of entities, including churches, sports teams and companies in the retail, banking and manufacturing sectors. They have also done studies for ASU, the City of San Angelo and Tom Green County.
“In today’s global business world, companies not only require their employees to do the task assigned, but also to be good citizens,” Chawla said. “Most companies reward employees who will go beyond just their tasks. So, this is the best opportunity for students to work, get exposed and gain some experience of the real world.”
In 1996, one of Chawla’s classes helped Nathan’s Jewelers formulate a successful marketing strategy. The project also won the district, regional and national awards for best student consulting project from the Small Business Institute. There were more than 9,000 entries in the national contest.
Chawla has also won some individual awards. In 2000 he was named a Piper Distinguished Professor in management and he was nominated for a Carnegie Mellon Distinguished Professor Award in 2001.
Though raised mainly in San Angelo, Chawla’s kids also benefit from his global perspective. Every summer the family takes trips to different countries, having already visited more than 60 countries on five continents.
Fittingly, his kids also personify Chawla’s diverse interests. His daughter, Raj, is a biochemistry/biology major at ASU and his son, Shiv, is an economics major at UT.