2017 MBAs To Watch: Ladi Lawani, Columbia Business School

Ladi Lawani

Columbia Business School

“I am very ambitious and a people person.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Lagos Nigeria

Fun fact about yourself: At some point after undergrad I seriously considered pursuing a career as a professional soccer player.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BA Economics, Knox College

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Brand Executive, British American Tobacco

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? My Startup Company (L&L Foods- www.mrekpa.com) in Lagos Nigeria

Where will you be working after graduation? My Company

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

AVP Marketing, African Business Club

Winner, Columbia Shark Tank Competition

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I am most proud of helping organize the 2016 Columbia African Economic Forum. In the planning of this event, I was responsible for fundraising. Though the task initially seemed daunting, it ended up being one I thoroughly enjoyed. I was able to build relationships with a wide network of people, as well as challenge myself socially, which led to me learning how to become a better fundraiser. We were able to exceed our fundraising target and eventually put on what many described as a successful event.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of winning the Columbia Shark Tank New Venture Competition. Coming to business school, I had decided to be really focused on my top priority, which was building a company. In pursuit of this goal, I chose to throw optionality out the window and not pursue any summer internships or other work opportunities. Hence, it was a major encouragement and positive reinforcement to be voted the best developed stage business among all the other great startups coming out of Columbia. I was particularly honored to have receiving the award especially because of how accomplished the panel of Judges were. It included legendary venture capitalist Daniel Burstein, and top execs from companies such as Citi Ventures and  Common Bond. This vote of confidence was a big boost to my enthusiasm and commitment to the venture.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was Barry Salzberg, who retired as the Global CEO of Deloiite in 2015. I really enjoyed his class because he had such a wealth of experience to share which helped bring many of the concepts to life. He not only provided stories from his experience which were rich in depth and provided a front row seat to the job of an executive, but he also had the intellectual content and rigor to back up his practical experience. Observing an executive of such a high caliber every week gave me practical insight into how an executive at the highest level thinks and conducts himself, which encouraged me that such level of performance was attainable.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite MBA Course was Intro to Strategy. I learnt in the class that strategy is a dynamic process, and that in choosing any strategic position one has to anticipate the response it would illicit from competition and factor that in or be ready to respond in the future.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Columbia because i felt it offered the perfect mix of a great education and access to the business community, being that it is located in NYC, which is arguably the business capital of the world. i also felt it was a cultural fit for me having met some current students and alumni.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I really enjoyed learning with a purpose. In undergrad, most things i learnt where theoretical, and i didn’t have any real world experience to serve as a reference point, or have a need to apply the concepts immediately. However, with business school, I found the material a lot more relatable and applicable because it often deals with real world problems I had often encountered. Also, being that I am running a business while at school, I’m often able to get ideas and solutions to challenges that I am currently facing in my business. Hence, I find the learning is more purposeful and relevant which I really enjoy.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? Business school is a lot more collaborative than I expected and people are a lot friendlier and are genuinely interested in connecting with their classmates

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? The application process is an excellent opportunity to get to know yourself better and figure out what you want in the future as well as what your unique strengths are. My advice would be to figure out what your unique value proposition is and how it ties into your future plans, and then tell that story. In my opinion this approach gives you the best chance of being admitted. I think this is true, because the admissions team is very experienced at reviewing applications and has the benefit of hindsight and experience, hence are very good at detecting fluff

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that because Columbia is in a big city, the student community is not as close knit. I have found the student community to be very close knit. In fact, I would say being in NY offers an increased opportunity to form close bonds due to the numerous fun activities to do as a group, which helps build strong personal ties. Hence many people you hang out with off campus, self select among common interests, which leads to deeper ties. This is in addition to many events on campus and off campus which attract the wider student body.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret is not traveling more with classmates. I am very happy with the few trips I took with my classmates and wish I had done much more of that.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire Ian Krohn, because he shows such a high level of commitment to service and helping the Community. He currently runs several ventures which are socially inclined. He has also adopted four kids in Mozambique and serves in several leadership roles on campus.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I knew I wanted to go to business school when I became clear and convicted about my long term goals. After about 6 years in my career, I started to get a clear sense of what I was good at, what I was passionate about and what I could see myself doing long term. This clarity on my plans made it obvious what developmental steps were critical to helping me achieve this, and an MBA was top of the list.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be in a mid level management position in a consumer packaging goods company.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would include an entrepreneurship/Innovation class in the core curriculum

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long term professional goal is to own the largest and most loved peanut brand in Africa.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? I would like to thank the mentors at the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship centre, namely Vince Ponzo, Cliff Schorer and Murray Low. They have been very supportive of my efforts to build my company, and have provided great advice and mentorship, which has given me the confidence and focus that has been critical to helping me grow my business.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as the peanut guy who happened to be pretty cool.

Favorite book: The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Favorite movie or television show:  American Gangster

Favorite musical performer: Wyclef Jean

Favorite vacation spot: London

Hobbies? Reading & Tennis

What made Ladi such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“Ladi is the personification of everything one hopes to find in a Columbia Business School student. Ladi’s world-class corporate experience prior to Business School not only endowed him with business acumen, but it allowed him to identify a business opportunity that he since brought to life in the form of L&L Foods. In the process, he’s combined his business experience with his MBA education and his personal passion to build an amazing brand and business that is changing the lives of his fellow countrymen from thousands of miles away.

In spite of the many challenges and responsibilities, Ladi has as an entrepreneur and a full time student, Ladi is undeterred by obstacles, undeterred by doubt and undeterred by setbacks.  Most importantly, he always has a smile on his face and the time to lend a helping hand to anyone who asks or who might need it.”

Vince Ponzo ’03

Senior Director, Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center



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