Where is the next MBA talent hotspot? Many are looking beyond China and India to resource-rich Africa…and Nigeria, in particular.
Take the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. In the past year, the number of Nigerians in the MBA program has surged from zero to a dozen students. That should come as little surprise. Home to 191 million people – including 20 million in Lagos alone – Nigeria boasts Africa’s largest economy and is home to 250 languages. Even more, it produces more GMAT test-takers than any country on the continent.
“In addition to the numbers, I think the bottom line is, there’s talent here,” says Leigh Gauthier, assistant director of recruitment and admissions for the Rotman full-time MBA. “Nigeria has some incredible talent. It really is an emerging market. There is talent here that could bring some interesting ideas and great experience to the Canadian market. Canadian companies want talent. It’s just such a win-win-win for us to be here.”
Thanks to more flexible immigration and work laws, Canadian schools are reaping the rewards of more Nigerian MBA applicants, who are able to work in Canada longer after graduation. However, it is the intangibles inherent to the Nigerian people, says Oluremi Onitilo, that really make his homeland’s applicants so valuable to business schools and employers everywhere.
“I think U.S. and European schools are interested in Nigerian students because of three things: diversity of thought, ‘can-do’ spirit, and front-row stories of living in an emerging market like Nigeria,” notes Onitilo, a regional digital manager who is deciding between four programs in the U.S. and Canada. “What you find with Nigeria students is the multiplying effect they bring to the opportunities they get — a Nigerian student with an MBA is wildfire.”
First generation students endure all the hardships. Most are economically disadvantaged, with few role models to show them what to do and where to go. At the same time, few are exposed to the world beyond their communities – and the opportunities that await on the horizon.
Facing doubts from skeptics and bigots alike, these first generation students struggled to belong, often questioning whether they’d be “good enough.” However, their parents urged them to “dream big” and instilled a grit that they led them to never take anything for granted…and never take no for an answer, either. In the process, these students became models and mentors – the inheritors of America’s can-do spirit – who bore the pressure to excel and opened up possibilities to the people around them.
This year, P&Q profiled over 20 MBA students who were the first in their families to earn a college degree. They have navigated through poverty-stricken Compton, crossed the border in the back of a pickup truck, and lived in cramped hotel rooms as their parents staved off homelessness. Still, they made the brutal transition, making names for themselves at Nike, JP Morgan, and Deloitte before finding their way to Wharton, Kellogg, and Berkeley.
Their successes have afforded them the right to deliver advice to the students who follow in their footsteps. Harvard Business School’s Ashley Terrell, for one, warns against complacency: “Don’t let this “first” be your only accomplishment,” she counsels. In contrast, Xavier Vargas urges future first generation students to embrace their background…and what makes them different.
“Keep plugging,” says the MIT Sloan second-year. “The misfit feeling never quite goes away, but your toolkit and horizons expand. Pay it forward – we each are testament that it takes a literal village and a whole lot of luck. Try to push through fears of what is “expected” and “safe” versus what you may enjoy doing. You may not be able to chase your passions 100%. If you can get to 50-75%, you’ve already more than accomplished what your parents struggled through the hot desert for. It gets easier.”
The plotline seems like it was ripped out of a Franz Kafka story. An interim university president – with no education experience and a spotty track record as a fundraising executive – fires the dean of the business school. He doesn’t get to read the charges, of course. All he is told is that he failed to respond to a series of racial and gender bias complaints – the vast majority of which were never shared to him. When the complaints had merit, he responded swiftly. Now, he serves as an all-too-convenient fall guy for a university reeling from administrators who ignored bad actors from other departments in the past.
Overreach? Scapegoating? Age discrimination? A hopelessly overmatched and overzealous neophyte angling for the big chair? That should catch you up on what’s been happening at USC’s Marshall of Business. In December, Dean James Ellis was ousted over charges – in true third world fashion –he is barred from reviewing. Absurd? No doubt. Is it any wonder critics toss out terms like incompetence, cowardice, and arrogance to describe interim President Wanda Austin’s handling of the matter?
Of course, Dean Ellis has his advocates. By Christmas, nearly 3,000 people had already signed a petition for his reinstatement. That includes Lloyd Greif, a Marshall MBA who heads up a boutique M&A firm and has contributed millions of dollars to the business school. Greif’s message is simple:
“Jim has dedicated over 21 years of his life—more than half as dean and vice provost for globalization—to this institution, he wrote to the university’s advisory board. “He has done nothing to deserve this fate. Quite the contrary, Jim Ellis should be celebrated, not censured.”
Since then, Greif has been fighting tirelessly for Ellis, drafting letters and lobbying the Marshall community on his behalf. For him, his new-found activism on behalf of the ‘little guy’ has been a matter of principle. “I was brought up not to look away when you see something wrong,” he says. “I recognize there was personal risk in standing up for him. But I’ve got to sleep at night. I can’t let an injustice happen to an innocent man. I am not that kind of fair-weather friend. This is unjust.”
The MBA is famous for attracting ambitious consultants, bankers, and entrepreneurs – not to mention a large cadre of repentant liberal arts majors. But the secret service? Well, not so much.
You wouldn’t find Christopher Schildt dapped up in a tux at a Monaco casino – even though he was stationed in Europe. This is the real CIA after all, not the one from cloak-and-dagger movies. After collecting degrees at Princeton and Yale, Schildt joined “The Company” in 2002 as an economic analyst. Soon enough, he transferred to technical operations, where he headed high-risk covert actions that involved intensive planning and millions of dollars. Eventually, he was elevated to heading up the agency’s technology and integration, covering everything from cyber capabilities to mobile technologies – a role that put him in close proximity to two CIA heads: John Brennan and Mike Pompeo.
This role also exposed him to jaw-dropping technical advances in the private sector – something he inspired him to leave government service and join Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, where he was able to hit tech Meccas like Tesla and Amazon through treks to Silicon Valley and Seattle.
“The MBA has helped me realize that my time at the CIA gave me a huge amount of transferable skills,” Schildt notes in an interview with P&Q. “It was the language of business that I needed to learn. I saw the Oxford MBA as providing a perfect runway to what I want to do next.”