Paul Keng'ara is an Executive MBA class of 2018-19 student. After graduating from Imperial College Business School, Paul continued his role as Intelligence Analyst in the United States Armed Forces.

Professional background

In my final year before graduating from my undergraduate degree, I decided to join the United States Armed Forces. There was a recruiting centre right next to the bank I went to and I asked them about it and whether I could join after finishing the semester. I joined that summer of 2004 and continued my studies taking fewer courses until I graduated in 2006. My first assignment was in San Diego followed by Japan in 2007, moving to Japan as an aviation mechanic fixing helicopters. In 2009, I became commissioned as a Naval Officer in the flying programme. I did it for nine months but didn’t like it so while in the training programme, I opted for something else. My family were also not too enthusiastic about me being in a military plane during the height of Iraq war. I then applied for an intelligence role and was selected as an Intelligence Officer. I moved to the Middle East in late-2012 in the Bahrain/Dubai area. In 2015 I moved to England.

My role as an Intelligence Analyst on the unclassified side is in the Africa command, which is headquartered in Europe. We look at the Africa region, looking at the political-military situation of allies and see how we can work together for a common goal.

Choosing the Executive MBA and Imperial

I felt like I had plateaued at the Department of Defence and I wanted to do something that is more assignable. When I was looking at my resume, I realised that my work experience could not really be applied to the world outside the military. I chose the Executive MBA because I had 12 years of work experience and this was the MBA option where I would get a balanced cohort.

I looked at many great schools at the time when I was applying for the MBA. When I visited Imperial College Business School for admissions day, it had a great vibe to it. The people whom I met were intellectually stimulating, and at the same time hungry and eager to take whatever career they are in to the next level. There was no measurement of achievement but there was an inherent thirst I saw that attracted me to Imperial.

Funding my MBA

I funded my MBA using student loans from a loan company in the United States called Sallie Mae, which was the only funding available for an American student overseas. I also got a boost from the Veterans Affairs, having served for a while. Those two combined have made it possible to comfortably fund my education. Also, let’s not forget the support from my parents – both financial and emotional when I need it.

From the military to Executive MBA

The most rewarding part of the programme is going to class with a very smart and diverse cohort. Coming from a military background where we have a certain way of doing things has been eye-opening. At Imperial, the sharing of our backgrounds, career fields and past experiences is really encouraged. This is also a challenge because with my background, I have closed myself to a lot of other things outside of my role. Joining Imperial and getting into the Executive MBA has made me realise that I can actually start crawling again in a whole new career field and do well given this type of talent, skill and breadth of experience.

Also, in the military as an Officer, sometimes operations take you far from each other with very little peer-to-peer engagement. Being able to mesh well with my cohort creates a very accommodating professional family that is voluntary and not quite mission oriented. That’s been great for me. It’s an opportunity I never thought I’d have and appreciate every moment.

Creating friendships with an amazing cohort

The key takeaway of the Executive MBA so far is the networking and genuine great friendships I have formed in the last nine months of my two-year programme. I can’t wait for tomorrow because yesterday was amazing. Whenever we meet for our Executive MBA on campus sessions, you learn something different about someone personally and professionally. The reward has been our international residencies. They are just amazing. We came back having a way better bond and it’s now become a professional social setting; where every piece is as important as any other to complete this puzzle of MBA and beyond.

I have a younger brother and sister who are my motivation in different ways, and on the Executive MBA you make brothers and sisters who do the same professionally. Every single person opens my eyes to different opportunities, challenges and how to navigate the maze of career fields with past experiences shared. We are a small class of 30 students and I know everybody’s first and last names. A few of us had babies during this programme and we share in the joy, while understanding their distorted schedule. It is really a family.

Working in groups

Imperial put us in syndicate groups; a group of five or six from different fields. Working in these groups was initially tough because everyone comes with their own set of beliefs, opinions and professional experiences. It takes a very short time to realise the benefits of being in these groups and share the workload, knowledge even the cluelessness when you have to reach out to your ‘class network’ and see how they tackled a problem. The whole class is pretty much a big group. We are only as good as the weakest link and I’ve seen every person in the entire cohort willing to step in and help a struggling student in whatever area It doesn’t only stop with group work because the same folks are there to help out even in individual work like meeting up virtually or physically and knocking it out together.

Global residency to China and Hong Kong

I came back from our first international residency with a changed view of China from my preconceived notions. They are genuine trailblazers and at the cutting edge of technology. China has a self-sustaining ecosystem – from consumer goods to machinery, design to concept, manufacturing and sales is done in-house. In Hong Kong, we had great lectures by fantastic academia on China and its place in the world of technology, innovation and manufacturing and the strategy they apply. While in China, we got to see their technological advances and innovations of all sorts. What I found interesting was when we went to a shipping facility and all their lorries, forklifts and other machinery were all China models. There was no Toyota on any ‘known’ or international brand. Everything is for China, from China. Impressive. Understanding how China feeds their appetite for innovation is unbelievable.

Career goals

I am currently working out the next step in my career after the Executive MBA, though I’m considering going back and running the family business in real estate in Kenya. I want to use my MBA classes and networking to make the business realise its full potential. Alternatively, I am also looking into employment in the Middle East, I’m definitely getting away from the Western world in Europe and America. I would like to work for a security apparatus in the real estate/finance area.

The London factor

In London, Imperial is a piece of a really big puzzle. It is a great School, but it is just a small part of what London has to offer and I needed to be here so I could tap into that. Whenever I come for my on campus sessions, I get a hotel in London and stay here for the weekend. What I enjoy about coming to here is that I get into the zone of academia – I’m going to the Business School, going to meet my classmates and I remove myself from the home and work zone. Although South Kensington is incredible and there is so much going on, I have tunnel vision from the train station straight to campus. I always say one day I’m actually going to take in the sights of South Kensington and what it has to offer! For now, let me appreciate that my School is at the heart of it all.

Work life balance

When I first started there was no balance. I’m in a job where I’m constantly travelling to Africa and Southern Europe. In between the constant travel and whenever I have a chance, I delve down into School and block out everything else. However, because Imperial is a blended learning system, you get a lot out of online prep from The Hub, your cohort and your syndicate group.

Advice to prospective students

Really look at what you want to get out of the Executive MBA. Look at the programme holistically including what electives are on offer and see what’s going to be beneficial to you. The Executive MBA is not just one weekend a month, it’s a full-time commitment for two years that you have to account for in your life – whether emotionally, mentally or academically. Imperial is a great institution that speaks for itself. Numbers don’t lie and it’s been featured in several publications both academically, for employability and the mix of students in a cohort. There are those who join an MBA to change careers, to move up in their fields, start businesses or join a family business like myself. So, whatever it is you want to do, there’s someone else who’s thinking what you’re thinking. At Imperial as an Executive MBA, ‘you’ll never walk alone’.

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Role
Executive MBA
Nationality
Kenya
Education :

Bachelor of Applied Science (B.ASc) in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Job prior to Imperial :

Intelligence Analyst, United States Armed Forces

Next steps