From lawyer to business school
Prior to the MBA, I was practising as a Dispute Resolution lawyer for seven years at Baker McKenzie London. During this time, I also worked in Baker McKenzie’s Johannesburg and Hong Kong offices. My practice area covered a broad range of contentious and regulatory issues across a number of industry groups, including construction and engineering, consumer goods and retail, banking and finance, healthcare and pharmaceuticals. I acted for clients in high-value, multi-jurisdictional disputes in international arbitration and represented large corporates in all stages of High Court and Court of Appeal litigation in claims worth up to $950 million USD. Some of the most rewarding parts of my work were winning a case for a client in a difficult and protracted dispute, or negotiating a beneficial settlement to allow them to avoid the additional costs and time associated with litigation or arbitration.
Operating in a firm with a huge global network and tackling legal and commercial questions on a challengingly large scale, my role involved constantly assessing and strategising the next legal step to balance and protect a client’s interests. It was through this aspect of my work that I became more curious about business management, strategy and leadership. Having been promoted to Senior Associate in mid-2018, I felt it was the right time in my career to focus on enhancing and expanding my business strategy and management skills by studying for an MBA.
I attended a number of information sessions at Imperial and other London business schools, but I felt that Imperial College Business School was the right fit for me. Through speaking with several students, alumni and admissions staff at Imperial, I gained a clear sense of Imperial’s community feel and supportive team-player attitude. This, along with its evident commitment to ensuring an MBA cohort with a diversity of cultures, ideas and industries, backed by the impressive educational infrastructure of a university with an internationally recognised brand, was what distinguished Imperial and made it an easy choice for me. I was satisfied that studying for an MBA at Imperial would not only provide me with the preeminent training and business opportunities of which other schools boast, but also a close-knit network and people-oriented ethos, which make it unique.
Funding my MBA
I was lucky enough to receive a partial scholarship from Imperial on the basis of my application and interview, and that has been a huge help. The rest of my MBA is self-funded.
Adding new strings to my bow
There are so many modules that have been incredibly worthwhile and I have learned something from all of them. I have naturally enjoyed those that play into my strengths, for example, Strategy, Marketing, and Organisational Behaviour. But I have also appreciated many of the modules that have fallen well out of my comfort zone and challenged and extended my skillset, like Decision Analytics (which involves building financial models in Excel to help solve problems and make business decisions), Corporate Finance and Investments & Risk Management. Coming from a non-numerical professional background, I am not accustomed to using numbers to solve problems; for me, it is like learning a new language. It’s been very rewarding not only to see my strengths become stronger, but also to see my weaknesses addressed, and very beneficial to know that I am adding new strings to my bow.
An incredibly diverse class
So far, one of the most rewarding parts of the programme for me has been working with a really diverse student cohort. Teaming up with people from different professional backgrounds and working styles has been a very positive – and sometimes challenging – experience. It is fascinating to see how different professionals approach a problem from different angles, based on their training and way of thinking. It has been interesting to appreciate how we have all had to flex our styles in the way we interact and the language we use to communicate how we analyse things. It has shown me that if the strengths and different perspectives of each team member are properly harnessed and everyone comes to the table motivated and with energy for the task at hand, it makes for a really powerful combination. This was one of the things I was most looking forward to on the MBA and it has been very fulfilling.
Our cohort bond
My cohort is wonderful, I so appreciate everyone’s willingness to help and support each other. Coming from such diverse professional backgrounds, we all have different strengths and everyone has been open to sharing their knowledge to help others improve. There has been no competitive or cutthroat atmosphere that one might expect on an MBA. From my interactions with Imperial prior to starting the MBA, I was hopeful that the environment would be collegiate and collaborative, and it certainly has been. For example, we have a WhatsApp group for the whole cohort and if anybody is struggling on a question for an assignment or is unsure of an aspect of a subject while preparing for an exam, they will just pop a question on the group and people will jump to help out. I think it creates a really nice learning environment and also makes it a fun experience because we are all challenging ourselves and growing together.
Attending the World Government Summit in Dubai
I was fortunate to be selected as part of a team of five representing Imperial College Business School at the annual World Government Summit in Dubai to compete in the 2019 Global Universities Challenge. It was an incredible experience competing alongside the best business schools in the world on a policy-related case study. Alongside the competition, we were able to attend the three-day conference, listening to global leaders, policy-makers and champions of socio-political change, discussing leadership and good governance. The Summit reminded me that true success in business often requires a good grasp of the socio-political and economic environment within which we are operating. The Challenge itself also showed me the power of assembling a team of ambitious people who are really dedicated and excited to learn. Although we had never worked together before, our attitude and the combination of our skills meant that we could all pull together and produce something that we were immensely proud of in a very short space of time.
Opportunities with the wider Imperial College London community
There is a multitude of opportunities available at Imperial, and it is easy to get involved in them. I was lucky to be selected to participate in the WE Innovate programme, which is an accelerator for female-led startups. I was in a team with a couple of Executive MBA students, so it was a great chance to work with students outside my cohort. Among the other participants were students from across Imperial, including medics, engineers and MSc students at the Business School. Being able to learn alongside one another and bounce ideas off each other by drawing on our different perspectives, was very beneficial.
All participating teams were supported by the Enterprise Lab, a dedicated space that focuses on building a creative learning environment. It provides a safe space where you can brainstorm and play around with ideas, with the support and guidance of the experienced staff members. It is also a great opportunity to get to know other people and to be part of other aspects of Imperial College London, in addition to the Business School.
Exploring sustainability in Copenhagen
The European Insights trip to Copenhagen trip was a really fun experience. It was great timing because it came just after the Christmas break, making it a good way for us all to touch base again as a cohort after the holidays and re-engage in MBA life to kickstart the new term. We enjoyed visiting the different businesses and being shown around Copenhagen to find out more about the city’s sustainability agenda. It was a busy couple of days, opening our eyes to how many businesses in Copenhagen are seriously pursuing sustainability objectives to help make their city greener and more sustainable. It was inspiring because it seemed that it was a consideration at the forefront of many business strategies and not just a ‘tick the box’ exercise. It made us all think about how we might be able to contribute towards the same goals in our career aspirations post-MBA.
My pre-MBA employer, Baker McKenzie, was kind enough to give me a 12-month sabbatical to study full-time for my MBA. My main objective on the MBA was to take the time to learn more about business and upskill on business management and leadership. I have been a lawyer for over seven years so I wanted to learn more about business to expand my legal and business skillset as a whole. I am open-minded about my career aspirations post-MBA. My goal was to meet as many people and create as many opportunities for myself as I could and take as much from it in terms of learning, upskilling and extending myself. One of the most valuable things I have gained is a wider perspective and a new vocabulary about and in business, and I know this is going to be really useful to me in whatever I pursue post-MBA.
Discovering how I lead
Something I really wanted to gain from the MBA experience was to build my leadership skills and learn more about my leadership style. I appreciate that a good leader requires good self-awareness, so I have made a focused effort to evaluate my working style and seek feedback from my peers throughout the year. I want to come out of the MBA as a better leader by understanding more about my leadership style and being able to adapt it when necessary, so that I can engage different stakeholders and bring them to the table in a business setting by properly tapping into their interests and what motivates them.
Life in London
I knew I wanted to study for an MBA in London. I am from Zimbabwe, but I have studied, worked and lived in London for over 10 years. Having previously studied and worked in Paris, Hong Kong and Johannesburg, I was excited to feel like this time I would be studying ‘at home’. I also think that London is one of the greatest cities in the world. It is an exciting hub for business and to be a young professional in London is incredibly satisfying. I love that it is fast-paced and cosmopolitan, and there is always so much to see and do. So, to learn more about business in one of the world’s most dynamic cities made complete sense for me.
Returning to studying and juggling work/life
After being in the world of work for a period of time, you get used to a certain pace – and I came from a very busy work environment, working very long hours. I think the adjustment to being a student again, where you have a little more autonomy over your time, and being in a position where you need to make more choices about how to prioritise your time, was initially challenging. What works best for me is treating the MBA like a job, so working really hard and being disciplined with my time during the week, and also being quite clear in my mind about the time I set aside to disconnect and be with my family and friends.
When you are studying, you always feel like there is something you could be doing. But what works for me is making that separation in my mind so when I am studying or on campus I can truly put 100% of my energy into that, and when I am home I can just switch off. It took me a little while to really put that into practice, but it has been very helpful and it has certainly allowed me to enjoy the MBA. I have also been lucky to have a very supportive partner and friends who are understanding of how demanding the MBA can be. For anyone who does an MBA, this is going to be a factor that will certainly make a difference.
Advice to prospective students
I would advise prospective students to attend as many information sessions and talk to as many alumni, current students, and admissions staff as possible. Have a look on campus if you can and try to get a real feel for the place to see what distinguishes Imperial. That way you can be sure that you are making the right choice for you. Equally, if you are applying for an MBA, you are probably considering other schools. But it is important to get a feel of not just the subjects on offer or the structure of the programme, but also what your year is going to look like and who you are going to spend it with. In my view, who you make the journey with is an incredibly important and enriching part of the MBA.