Inspired by his family to help people, Harpreet Mangat set his sights on medicine when he was a child growing up in both England and India. He took the right classes, graduated with high marks from Cambridge, and in 2011 became one of a handful of doctors in the UK selected to enter the National Neurosurgery Training Programme.
He was attracted by the challenge of trauma care, and worked with cutting-edge technology such as robotic electrode implantation. “The virtual brain biopsy was done with something akin to satellite navigation,” Mangat recalls.
The precision required in neurosurgery aligned with his abilities. “My seniors often remarked that I had ‘very good hands.’ But I also credit a lot of my skill to my youth, when I played video games at a professional level. Today, I’m always doing things with my hands. I’ve learned how to fix my car. I knit. I do micro-soldering. I like to say that my hands ‘get itchy.’”
But after more than a decade performing surgery, Mangat became disillusioned with medicine. Under-resourced hospitals meant more time spent on administrative tasks than in the operating room. He no longer felt challenged. After a long night shift, Mangat thought about his next 30 years and was left questioning the career path he’d spent 15 years planning.
“I was becoming super specialized in a very, very small niche,” Mangat says. “The experience didn’t live up to my expectations. I wanted to help people, full stop. But five percent of my time was spent with patients, the rest was bureaucracy. I just felt sad. In England, leaving medicine is very frowned upon. I had no support in making this kind of jump.”
But Mangat took the leap, landing at McKinsey to work in consulting within the pharmaceutical and data science industries. He gained experience in the public sector, banking, and insurance. Then, in 2020, as COVID swept the globe, Mangat teamed up with his colleagues to provide ventilators to developing countries. He is now at Stanford GSB with his sights set on venture capital, a field that allows him to stay at the forefront of innovation while still helping people.
What did you learn during your time at McKinsey?
I learned about the importance of empathy outside of the doctor-patient relationship. That’s such an important skill: the relationship-building, being a mentor and a support. Business is no longer transactional; a lot of it is making sure that you can develop the trust of people you are working with.
You worked as chief of staff for Vivian Hunt, a senior partner at the firm. What was that experience like?
She was the greatest mentor I’ve probably ever had. I was shown a completely different side of business from the day to day — the Excel, the PowerPoint, etc. — I was seeing the higher level. Business is actually about building trust. As long as you still produce substance, people support you because they care about the relationship you’ve built with them.
You then left McKinsey to join the fight against COVID. But you were also interacting with the healthcare system on a more personal level. Can you tell us more about that?
Just before COVID, my dad needed a kidney transplant. My sister volunteered [to donate a kidney], but there were significant surgical complications. She suffered major blood loss, oxygen deprivation, and was in a coma. When my dad woke up, he’d gotten a new kidney, but he’d almost lost his daughter. The shock eventually caused him to have a heart attack.
My Stanford application was due at the same time. I asked permission from my sister and my dad to leave their bedsides in the ICU to go write my Stanford essay. I had all the other stuff prepared — the logistics, the transcripts — but the big substance of it, the “what matters me to most and why” had changed dramatically after what my family and I had been through. It made me think about sacrifice. I wrote about my desire to help people and how that was going to motivate me for the next steps in my life.
Fortunately, my sister and dad both recovered, but only a few weeks later COVID swept the globe and many people — including the clinicians who had helped my family — started passing away. I took a leave of absence from McKinsey to join the front line. I worked with some of the worst cases in England as an intensive care doctor at the Royal Free Hospital London, the UK’s main infectious disease center.
What was it about Stanford GSB that excited you?
I wanted to be involved in healthcare. I wanted to be in tech. And where is cutting-edge tech? Well, Stanford and Silicon Valley. What I learned is I also love context switching: I don’t like deep-diving and being involved in a project for 5 or 10 years. In venture capital you can work with multiple teams every day, working on different ideas.
Your fellow students and the Stanford GSB community learned something very interesting about you at a recent View From The Top event with Malala Yousafzai.
I wanted to introduce myself to Malala and ask a question. I had met her once before, but she wouldn’t have remembered me because she was unconscious in the ICU, having been shot in the head by the Taliban. I was one of the doctors who looked after Malala. I had followed her career afterward; I even wanted to work with her foundation when I was later at McKinsey.
And your classmates hadn’t heard this before?
After the event, people came up to me and said, “Why have you never told us this? I can’t believe you’ve got all these stories!” I’d never shared because it is Malala’s story, and I didn’t want to take that away from her. Getting to meet her again was an amazing opportunity I was never sure I’d have.
You’ve changed careers a few times now. What lies ahead for you?
I don’t have to live such a predictive path as I did before. I’ve given up on a 15-year-plan. I’ve even given up on a three-year-plan! I can’t look three years back and say I would’ve been here at Stanford. In medicine, I was trained to be so risk-averse. But now, I’m very much the kind of person who is accepting of risk. Business school has really helped with that. What I do know is that I want to always be challenging myself, but I also want to make time for what is important: my family.
Photos by Nancy Rothstein