My Story: From Zimbabwe To A Stanford MBA
It’s tough being a chartered accountant when your country is battling an inflation rate in the billions. At the height of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, 100 trillion dollar bills could scarcely buy a loaf of bread – hawkers sold them as tourist novelties to turn a profit. But for Faraimose Kutadzaushe, 29, a native of Harare, the capital city, his country’s economic meltdown and near collapse was a learning opportunity and a testament to Zimbabweans’ resilience.
After joining a work/study accounting program with Deloitte straight out of high school, Kutadzaushe qualified as a chartered accountant in 2007. The economic crisis came to a head in 2008 – inflation soared, imports dried up and shortages abounded. Undaunted, Kutadzaushe was inspired by the spirit of microenterprise he observed all around him–small businesses popped up as multinationals pulled out. He knew he wanted to be a part of rebuilding his country’s economy.
The wider economic issues took a deeply personal turn when Kutadzaushe’s father was diagnosed with chronic renal failure in 2008. The family couldn’t pay for treatments using Zimbabwean currency. Kutadzaushe took a consulting job with Deloitte in South Africa to earn the funds. The experience proved a formative one that would shape his future plans.
Kutadzaushe returned to Zimbabwe in 2009 armed with connections, new business knowledge and a conviction that he could help bring basic necessities back to his country. He teamed up with a few friends to launch Soft Touch, a toilet paper manufacturing company, in 2009. The same year he and his family started a business importing spare auto parts. Kutadzaushe had found his niche in entrepreneurship, but he needed critical skills to really make an impact – that’s where Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business came in.
After graduation the second-year Stanford MBA will join an investment bank on Wall Street. But long-term he aims to return to Africa and help develop the continent. He’s already made plans to co-lead a 36-person trip to South Africa in 2014. Dubbed Africa’s Emerging Giants, the tour will meet with leaders of multinational corporations to understand the motivations and challenges of business expansion on the continent.
One of my friends completed his MBA in the United Kingdom. We worked together at an informational financial institution in Zimbabwe, and I realized we were operating at two different levels. He had this network of people he could contact for mentorship and fundraising. We pretty much had the same background except for the MBA, and it made such a huge difference in the way we operated as small entrepreneurs. He constantly challenged me to start thinking about an MBA.
I also volunteered as a mentor for students at the African Leadership Academy, which was founded by a Stanford business school alum. We got to know one another, and he invited me over to discuss his business school experience and my future plans. It was just supposed to be a coffee chat but it lasted for hours and hours. I left his place convinced that Stanford was where I wanted to do my MBA.
I applied to Harvard Business School too, but that was it. I was interested in applying to an entrepreneurial-focused school, and that’s the sense I got from Stanford. Plus, it’s in the heart of Silicon Valley, and I felt that ecosystem would have a contagious effect on the school.
In my admissions essay I wrote about my country and my continent. I’m an Afro-optimist, by that I mean I’m really optimistic about the prospects for Africa’s future. We’ve faced some challenges as a continent, but we always seemed to find a way to continue living and moving forward.
The main theme of my essay was really about how I was motivated by the people in Zimbabwe, who kept trying to form successful businesses. Even if they failed over and over again, they would try until they hit something. Witnessing their successes and failures helped numb me to the fear of failure – that psychological barrier to entrepreneurship.