Why did you choose to study the Full-Time MBA and why specifically at Imperial College Business School?
Three things happened around the same time that steered me towards the MBA – I reached the point in my career where I needed business and finance skills a lot more, blockchain technology was mature enough to lend itself to some very novel and practical use cases, and I wanted to start a FinTech business.
Imperial College London was a natural choice for me for a couple of reasons. Firstly because of its world renowned strength in the sciences, which appealed to me because of both my IT background and wanting to found a technology start-up; secondly, the focus of the MBA was entrepreneurship while still offering an extremely well balanced curriculum that is applicable anywhere, which ticked all the boxes in terms of skills I’d need in a start-up, but equally anywhere else should the start-up not work out. And of course the Imperial brand also opens a lot of doors.
What was the main learning point you took with you from the Business School?
The MBA is about ingesting a lot of complex subject matter very quickly and being able to use this effectively as tools; every module on the MBA was new to me, so I had to put in a LOT of extra hours, but I got results far exceeding my expectations. It realigned my perspective on my own potential, which gave me the confidence to co-found a start-up, and later to change industry and country and go for a more senior roles. I became more self-aware.
What advice would you give to a prospective student considering studying the same programme as you?
Should you do an MBA? I think absolutely! And if you are – think very carefully about why you are doing it in the first place, and what you want to get out of it, both in the short and long term. Having a clear goal will help you best target your time and effort during the MBA and really get the most out of it. And time is definitely not one thing you will have a lot of.
What was the highlight of the programme?
The electives. I immersed myself in PE, VC, M&A and other banking and finance focused electives and workshops, and it completely changed my perspective of financial services and the banking system. This really helped crystalise my start-up idea, a socially-focused for-profit commodities exchange – which became Impala UK. This has all stood me in very good stead in my current role too.
What is your current role like?
It is a very good mix of core IT, M&A, valuation & DD. As cliché as it sounds, each day is different. One day I could be running an acquisition in Southern Africa, the next rolling out a new infrastructure deployment in South-East Asia, and the next meeting with investors. I have the good fortune of being able to remain hands-on with the technology, while still driving strategy and growth. The MBA gave me the skills to think like an investor and my decision-making process has evolved to be much more commercial. There is upwards of 50% travel, which is very demanding on my family life too, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What do you enjoy most about your current work and what are the main challenges that you face?
The sense of ownership and tangibly seeing the difference my work makes. This is a great time to be operating in emerging markets, where a company providing a good product or service reliably has a huge advantage; and IT is at the heart of this. As Group CTO, I am directly involved in implementing the platforms which allow our portfolios to dominate their local markets. I can directly impact growth, revenue and profits, which is very rewarding!
And not everything is about the numbers. There is an intelligent workforce hungry to learn processes and best practices from developed markets, and I take every opportunity to pass on my knowledge and expertise to the local teams and empower them to think in global terms. I feel I am directly contributing to developing the leaders of tomorrow, and this is priceless.
However, operating in emerging markets does have its risks – unstable governments, ethnic and sectarian violence, terrorism, volatile currencies, personal health and safety issues, corruption, and the seemingly endless challenges and bureaucracy you face when trying to get trivially simple things done. All this can make the experience frustrating and very tense, but that’s the reality of emerging markets, and one must simply accept the bad with the good.
What skills does the job require?
First and foremost – IT, but also finance, project management, strong communication, cultural empathy – not just awareness, and M&A.
What is your proudest achieve in the job so far?
The IT carve-out of an insurance company in Asia from its previous parent – achieving ~ 70% and ~ 3% reduction in TCO and combined ratio respectively, which turned it from loss-making to profitable. It’s a nice feeling to know you have changed the fortunes of a publicly listed company.