2017 MBAs To Watch: Abolore (Lore) Muraina, University of Illinois

Abolore (Lore) Muraina

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Age: 27

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Altruistic individual utilizing business skills to empower people and businesses to reach their fullest potential

Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria

Fun fact about yourself: I had a short stint as a celebrity when my engagement proposal was on Linda Ikeji Blog, the most popular blog in Nigeria. I found out firstihand the downside of being “famous.” That week, I got to work very early and left very late just to avoid getting recognized. I still cringe when I meet any Nigerian who thinks I look familiar.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BSc. Geography & Planning, University of Lagos, Nigeria

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Pensions Alliance Limited (PAL Pensions) as Business Analyst – HR/Strategy

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? Ernst & Young LLP (EY), Chicago, IL

Where will you be working after graduation? Ernst & Young LLP (EY), People Advisory Services, Dallas TX.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Dean’s Fellow
  • Forte Ambassador & Forte Fellowship Recipient, Forte Foundation
  • Teaching Assistant, Marketing Management I & II
  • Course Assistant & Coursera Mentor, Marketing Management I & II
  • Program Organizer, Business Leadership Conference 2016
  • Senior Consultant, Illinois Business Consulting
  • Student Worker, Student & Academic Services

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Last year, I was part of the organizing team of four students who planned and organized the Business Leadership Conference. Before last year, the conference had a rather narrow focus on women’s leadership, which was not a necessarily bad thing, just limiting. The team decided to expand the theme to include cultural, sexual orientation, and gender identity diversity. This enabled us to expand the reach and impact of the conference to not only women in the college of business, but all UIUC students who desire to lead and manage inclusively in a changing and diverse world. Organizing the conference was challenging in several ways, including rebranding the conference and seeking out experts, panelists, and speakers capable of discussing all the diversity themes we identified. I leveraged relationships I made during my internship to obtain sponsorship and get prominent individuals as speakers and panelists. We redefined and repurposed the conference, and now it has become the pre-eminent Illinois MBA leadership conference for the most progressive UIUC students at all levels of their career journeys.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I worked in PAL Pensions, I was responsible for the company’s performance management. I was charged with creating a system that effectively identified, rewarded, and retained top performers. I managed the company’s training plan with a budget of over $300,000, initiated and managed the Management Development Program as well as the company’s first e-learning drive that resulted in savings of about $170,000 that year. However, what I am most proud of accomplishing is successfully kick-starting the “PAL Academy” –  the company’s internal training school. I am passionate about learning and self-improvement; hence, initiating the PAL Academy enabled me to support the learning objectives of other employees at different stages of their career and development. On the one hand, I worked closely with employees with poor evaluations on their performance improvement plans, identifying relevant training courses and thus empowering them on their improvement journey. On the other hand, I worked with managers to identify, recognize, and retain top performers. Thanks to this effort, there was an increase in the number of “in-plant” training with 70% more employees trained as well as identified positive impact on employee productivity and attrition rate.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I struggled with this question because I have been fortunate to be taught by many great individuals who have made positive impressions of themselves and had a great impact on my education and me personally. However, Professor Hayden Noel stands out for several reasons but mostly because he went the extra mile in and out of class. His class, Marketing Management, was challenging because of the course load and the case method. However, it was particularly challenging for me because I had a bias towards marketing and so I never expected to enjoy it. Professor Noel is an animated lecturer and his delivery made me develop an appreciation for marketing while his insistence on brevity in case write-ups helped me develop my analytical and writing skills. Most importantly, he approached me after class and encouraged me to speak up in class. I am forever grateful to him for making me more confident in my ideas and opinions. His encouragement shaped my MBA experience and continued to shape my future.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? That’s another difficult question, but if I must pick a favorite course it would be Strategic Innovation Management. The course was taught by one of my favorite professors Raj Echambadi, and the focus was on every day innovative strategy questions that leadership faces and developing a point of view. The biggest insight I gained from the course was how established companies should respond to disruptive threats. This was particularly important to me because as a consultant, I will be advising companies on how best to survive and thrive in a VUCA World—a world characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.

Why did you choose this business school? Right from my third year in college, I knew I wanted to be a consultant and get my MBA. So, for me, the question was when and which school. Besides from school ranking, three things were critical to me – experiential learning, diversity, and a collaborative environment.

In addition to a high tuition cost, the opportunity cost of going to business school meant I wanted a school that gave me experiential learning opportunities in the two years that I would be out of the job market. Also, I had friends who had felt out of place in some schools in the U.S. and being an international student, leaving my family and the comfort of my country, I wanted a diverse, supportive, and collaborative environment. Of all the schools, I shortlisted and applied to, Illinois MBA stood out and offered me all these. Over 40% of the class is typically international students, and the Illinois Business Consulting (IBC) is the largest professionally managed, student-run university consulting organization in the country. Also, an MBA administrative staff went apartment hunting on my behalf, and the Illinois MBA Student Creed dictates that all students “…work well with others.”

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Free food, especially during exam week! But more importantly, it would be the group work, class discussions and the opportunity to learn from my classmates with different backgrounds, areas of expertise, and perspectives. I looked forward to class case discussions where I was certain that at least one person would challenge my point of view and this made me prepare thoroughly to defend my stand. I have also built a network of really smart people and formed friendships that I hope would last forever.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? There are two things. The first is how much my classmates’ experiences and class contribution contribute to my learning. Each of my classmates represents first-hand professional, cultural, and educational experiences over the span of several years. There are decades of combined knowledge, expertise and experience in one class such that we learn at least just as much as we do from one another as from the professors. The second is how many case studies, theories, and strategies we analyze and discuss, but how often the answer to business problems is “it depends.” Indeed, it depends on the context and a myriad of factors to consider before one can make an informed decision.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be yourself and have an open mind. Regardless of whether you have a clear idea of what you want to do with or after your MBA, it is important that you be yourself and be open to the different opportunities available in the MBA program and the university campus. You should not try to act a certain way to be accepted. Seek a program that accepts you for who you are. Otherwise, the two years will be miserable.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The Illinois MBA is in Champaign, Illinois, hence too rural, would be boring, and there is nothing else but cornfields. Sure, there are a lot of cornfields in Champaign, but Champaign is definitely not too rural, nor is it boring. The reality is that Champaign is as boring or fun as a student wants to make it. There are great bars and restaurants in town, and the famous Green Street never sleeps. The campus is self-contained, and the feeling of being in a predominantly cornfield city is not apparent. Also, Chicago is less than three hours’ drive from Champaign and the Illinois MBA has a Thursday night Mug Club tradition to de-stress from the pressure of course load.

What was your biggest regret in business school? My biggest regret is worrying about grades in my first year. Being a Nigerian, a lot of emphases is placed on grades, and this put a lot of pressure on me in my first year and almost overshadowed the learning experience. I am glad I got a clearer perception of what success factors would determine my destiny, and grades were only one of those factors. Others important factors were the learning experience, my personality, character, and network. Even as I made learning, gaining experience, and building my character and network my mission, I graduated top decile of my class.

 Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The Illinois MBA has given a great opportunity to interact and build a network of really smart and awesome individuals. Of all my classmates whom I most admire, Brad Miller stands out. Brad is a joint degree, PhD and MBA student, incredibly talented and inspiring. Even with his obviously busy course load and family obligations, he was actively engaged in the MBA program, the Illinois Business Consulting, and the Global Consulting/Immersion program. Like me, he was also a Dean’s Fellow, and I had the privilege of working with him on several initiatives. His dedication, leadership and work ethics was inspiring.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I decided I wanted to be a consultant. It was my third year in college studying geography but I wanted a career that was challenging and had a huge learning curve.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…working on writing my first novel; it’s still a dream of mine.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? I would encourage and develop more intercollege graduate courses where faculty members from the MBA program and departments in two or more colleges collaborate to offer a graduate course open to both MBA and other graduate students. The Illinois MBA currently has a few of these courses, such as Genomics for Business (MBA and Genomic Biology) and Technology Commercialization (MBA and Engineering), but I believe more of such collaborations will be beneficial to the good roundedness of MBA students.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate long-term career goal is to found and run a venture capital (VC) firm in Nigeria that primarily grants early stage/seed funding to indigenous and promising companies, providing much-needed capital and expertise to drive their success. In the short-term, I will be going into consulting as a means of developing diverse subject matter and industry knowledge, skills, and credibility while on my VC journey.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? While on my journey towards success and fulfillment, I am most thankful to my family for their support financially and emotionally. I am grateful to my four older sisters and fiancé for always believing in me even when I did not and for being sources of inspiration to be the best I can.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope to be remembered as someone who thrived and flourished in the two years and as Maya Angelou said, that I did so with ‘some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.’ Most importantly, I hope they would remember me for my strong work ethic, my authentic charisma, and my passion to empower others to reach their fullest potential.

Favorite book: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie

Favorite movie or television show: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit because it encourages but also challenges me to fight for justice for the marginalized.

Favorite musical performer: Emeli Sandé

Favorite vacation spot: For now, Kenya, I enjoyed the Safari.

Hobbies? I love adventure travel, road trips, and watching forensic and investigative series.

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

“I had the distinct pleasure of having Abolore (Lore) Muraina as a student in two of my marketing classes during the Fall 2015 semester at the University of Illinois’ MBA program. I have made a concerted effort in my classes to get to know my students, and since my classroom sessions are highly interactive, I believe I can comment on Lore’s academic and overall professional potential.

I am not one to speak in superlatives, but without question, Lore has been one of my best students in my ten years of teaching in the MBA Program at the University of Illinois. She has demonstrated outstanding leadership within her student group and consistently attended my class with a clear sense of purpose and an insightful, thought-provoking viewpoint of the material. She was also keen to involve other students in the discussion and make sure all views were heard. Needless to say, Lore’s academic performance has been outstanding. Lore demonstrated an unwavering commitment to learning, and I could always depend on her to present the class with innovative ideas.

Lore also adjusted to the rigors of the University of Illinois demanding MBA program. She quickly learned to manage her time and control work in group situations under strict deadlines. More importantly for me, she has shown a maturity that is an asset to any professor teaching at the graduate level. If I needed it, Lore was someone from whom I could obtain feedback regarding best practices for the classroom. This feedback enabled me to become a more competent instructor. Fittingly, as the Academic Director of the MBA Program, I appointed her to my Student Academic Advisory Committee. In this capacity, along with four other students, she provided me with feedback on the MBA curriculum, advice on how faculty could engage more proactively with students and tips on improving learning outcomes.

Lore also holds several leadership positions in our College. She is Dean’s Fellow, and she is a Forte Fellowship Recipient. This fellowship is offered to outstanding female scholars. Given her impeccable academic credentials, Lore became one of my most trusted teaching assistants. She has held a lead role for the Full-Time MBA as well as iMBA (online) marketing classes. She is also a Senior Consultant for our Experiential Learning Center – Illinois Business Consulting. This is the largest professionally managed student-run university consulting organization in the country. In addition, Lore was also one of the main organizers of the Illinois Business Leadership Conference in 2016.

These statements may sound like hyperbole, but Lore’s commitment to the MBA Program and her service to the College is truly nonpareil.

In addition to her outstanding academic performance and her leadership in the classroom, Lore has also demonstrated her strong social conscience and is involved in community mentoring programs.

Honestly, we speak of the three pillars of academia – research, teaching, and service. But during the past two years, Lore has become another “pillar” in our institution. She helps drive our MBA Program and exemplifies all that we stand for – honor, integrity, and excellence. She is indeed what any institution would desire in the perfect MBA candidate.”

Hayden Noel
Assistant Clinical Professor of Business Administration
Academic Director, MBA Programs
University of Illinois

 

DON’T MISS: MBAS TO WATCH: THE STORIES OF 100 EXTRAORDINARY GRADUATES FROM THE CLASS OF 2017