Meet IE’s MBA Class of 2017


Zayne Imam

IE Business School

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: The entrepreneur that used technology to get people off their phones and meeting up face-to-face!

Hometown: Cape Town, South Africa

Fun Fact About Yourself: Once upon a time as a 16-year-old travel journalist, I tried to get into Iraq through the border it shared with Turkey, so that I could say I was one of the first South African journalists who got into the country after the US invaded. While I never succeeded — I got very close —

it was a very exciting story that set up my career as a travel journalist for a few years and started a love affair for me with exploring the world. Nothing has taught me more about why taking a risk to move out of your comfort-zone is the only way to truly grow.

Undergraduate School and Major:

University of Cape Town – Bachelor of Commerce in Financial Accounting

University of Cape Town – Bachelor of Commerce Honours in Financial Analysis and Portfolio Management

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation:

Allan Gray Limited (asset management company) – Call centre agent

Bukhara (Indian restaurant) – Waiter

McKinsey and Company (global strategy consulting firm) – Management consultant

Rethink Education (ed-tech start-up) – Chief Operations Officer

Five-Oh-Two (food-tech start-up) – Co-Founder and CEO 

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I am proud of certain major pinnacle experiences littered through-out my career (e.g., having my content be taken to the World Economic Forum and presented to the audience by one of the Nigerian Ministers, or leading the charge on major capital savings, in excess of $100m, in the Oil and Gas industry in the Pacific Rim area). However, my proudest moment is actually the fact that I was brave enough to break the mould of feeling like I needed to have a job over the last 18 months, and instead leave all stability behind to embark on an entrepreneurial adventure.

I truly believe that, as human beings, we only become aware of what we are actually capable of when we’re forced to make things work because we don’t have a choice… And once you’ve put yourself in that space, and you’ve allowed yourself to flourish, you’d be amazed at what you’re able to do. For me, that was taking out some time out to understand what it was I really wanted to achieve with my life, which led to me creating my food-tech start-up Five-Oh-Two and developing the idea into a globally replicable concept (that is still in the process of being built).

Looking back on your experience, what advice would you give to future business school applicants? I feel like a large number of business school candidates spend a great deal of their time ensuring they build up what looks like the right profile to get into what seems like the right school. But I feel like the more rewarding approach would be for each candidate to live as authentically as they possibly can: To be true to one’s self, to understand and appreciate one’s self unapologetically so. When you’ve had the opportunity to interact completely, I feel like the tables seem to turn. You’ve now shown who you are, and developed into your best-self for yourself. Then, it becomes a question of which business school is the best fit for you and what you want to achieve. I think that if you can turn the narrative and have the various business schools competing to offer you a spot — that’s when you’ve achieved optimal balance, and things like preparation for the GMAT, writing essays, etc. become a pleasure to undergo as they sharpen your understanding of yourself.

What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? At the risk of sounding like a terrible cliche, I feel like this programme found me. Like most of my ex-management consulting colleagues. I always knew I would do an MBA, but the question was where. After a trip to the US to determine if that area of the world would be a good fit, I got back to South Africa and concluded that I’d prefer to complete my MBA in Europe. At that point I shifted all my attention to the most entrepreneurial option I could find in Europe.

A friend told me about her admissions process and I initially felt very attracted to how much flexibility IE allowed me to represent myself in a very authentic manner with their unique admissions options. The admissions process truly made me feel like I was constantly just being introduced to a new friend that I had a great deal in common with. By the end of my interview with IE (an interview with one of the Spanish representatives they managed to arrange to happen face-to-face in Johannesburg because I was adamant about not doing a Skype interview), I knew that I was going to end up at IE. Whether it would have been this intake, or some other future intake – I found the school’s culture, its teaching philosophy and its location to each be a perfect fit for what I wanted to achieve in the new few years personally and for the company.

Tell us about your dream job or dream employer at this point in your life? I guess I already have my dream job, at least by title. I am very proud to call myself the Co-Founder and CEO of Five-Oh-Two. It’s more about evolving the company one step at a time and thus evolving the role I play in it as its leader.

Right now, we’re a post-revenue, experimental food-tech start-up. With very few employees, low profits and a low “reputation-risk” when we make mistakes – and thus this is a wonderful time to learn. But from a growth standpoint, we want to begin maximizing the value we contribute to the world we need to start taking on more risk and growing. This would mean beginning to take on initial seed funding to expand our operations and asset base.

In a decade from today, I want to be the Co-Founder and CEO of Five-Oh-Two as a multi-national food-tech giant — a leader capable of carefully navigating the risk we take on to deliver pioneering value to our clients and investors. I want to change the way the dining industry works. I guess I just have to build the role I’ll need to do it.

What would you like your business school peers to say about you after you graduate from this program?

I’d like my business school colleagues to get to know me as authentically as possible:

(i) That I have adopted an appreciation for the opportunity to make mistakes that allow me to learn and grow;

(ii) That while navigating unchartered territory is never an easy task, I’ll always at the very least find a way to strategically position myself to do the best I can with all the resources I have at my disposal and;

(iii) That at the core of it all, my motivation to push hard to achieve my dreams is so that one day I can be a proud example to my children about what can be achieved if you truly put your mind to it.

By the end of the business school experience if my peers can say that they witnessed me having remained true to myself; made some real friends; created some brand new opportunities to add value to the world; and had a ton of fun doing — then I think I’ll be happy with the outcome.

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