Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Tsepo Serakalala, London Business School

Tsepo Serakalala

London Business School

“Extroverted introvert with a penchant for progress. Strong believer in balance.”

Hometown: Makhado, South Africa

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’m a road hog, and by road hog, I mean avid roadrunner. During a “normal” year, I would run up to 30 races a year, but COVID-19 has made sure that won’t happen this year. Being London-based, I’m looking forward to logging even more kilometres across Europe.

Undergraduate School and Major: BSc Chemical Engineering at the University of Cape Town

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Total SA, Corporate Strategy Analyst

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? The flexible programme structure and the opportunity to spend some time on exchange at another international school were big draw cards for me. Unlike most similar programmes, LBS gives you the option to complete your degree after 15, 18 or 21 months. This is because the 2nd year of the MBA is solely focused on electives, allowing you to take as many of the classes as you deem important for your career aspirations. It’s also during this time that you have an opportunity to spend a semester abroad. Coming from South Africa and having spent almost all my schooling and working life there, doing an exchange will allow me to develop an even more global perspective while getting to make all kinds of new connections and friends.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Based on my experience so far, I’d say the quality that best describes my classmates is kindness. I haven’t met most of them in person yet, but every Zoom call, Telegram message and “FYI” email has been characterised by kindness and a willingness to help. From the team that created an exclusive online platform for the class from scratch (Socius.MBA), to the team that’s been organising the QuaranTEA and other related networking and peer-learning sessions, everyone has been acting from a place of kindness and generosity. I’m very proud to be part of such a community.

What makes London such a great place to earn an MBA degree? Aside from just being an all-round exceptional city, of the major international business hubs, London is the one with the closest business ties to Africa. Through my career journey thus far, I’ve learned that those who control capital have the potential to make the biggest difference. Being in London provides one with unique access to companies and people who oversee large Africa-focused projects and investment funds. My long-term career ambition is to provide safe and sustainable energy across the continent, and being in London will offer me the network to help make this dream a reality.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In 2017, I was appointed to lead a team to prepare an investment proposal to the National Treasury on behalf of one of the national scientific bodies, for their largest ever project (over $2bn). Being entrusted with such a critical task was a highlight in my career. By successfully convincing our government to invest in this project, I was able to kickstart an initiative that has potential to result in multiplier benefits of over $40bn over 20 years.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Looking at my long-term goals, I figured that to become a more effective investor, I’d need to develop a more holistic set of business skills. I’d gone from being an engineer to becoming an investment banker to working in a strategy role. Although these roles gave me a good grounding in their respective areas, I wanted to take time out to build on my management and entrepreneurial skills, along with developing frameworks to manage business complexities, and an MBA felt like the perfect bridge to get me there.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? LBS was my first choice, which is why I applied early in Round 1. I also looked at applying to Wharton and Chicago Booth, but the uncertain climate for international students in the US caused me to reconsider those options.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? I’d say it was the essay question “Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School?”. Not only was this question super open-ended, but it was also an optional essay. I spent weeks agonising over how I’d answer it, or if I would answer it at all. Ultimately, I focused on explaining how I would contribute to the community. I structured the response in such a way that I was able to share more about my story and who I am, while also practically outlining how I plan to add value to the community.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Location, programme flexibility, and brand were the three primary factors I used when deciding. I knew that I wanted to attend a school in a cosmopolitan city, with a rigorous, yet flexible curriculum that would support my career goals, and a brand that would provide access to people and companies that I otherwise wouldn’t have access to. I spent over a year doing my research, which included reading blogs (like P&Q), speaking to people who’d also done an international MBA ,and watching lots of YouTube vlogs and interviews to get a flavour for culture. LBS ticked all three boxes, and that’s why I didn’t hesitate to apply.

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? Unlike many of my classmates, I’ll be working until the very last day before I leave for London. However, my employer (Total SA) has been very supportive, not only in allowing me time to prepare for my move but also in staffing me on challenging, strategic projects that will allow me to make a rich contribution in the classroom. I’ll continue working on some of these projects while studying, which will give me a chance to put some of the things I’ll be learning into practice.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? My defining moment was moving to Cape Town after spending my childhood in a village and small town. I’d lived a very typical, secluded small-town life before that. Moving to the big city for my studies caused such a major shift in my world perspective. Being exposed to people who were thriving and being in a university that encouraged us to think big, truly increased what I thought was in my realm of possibility. It instilled in me the confidence to believe I could change the world. It’s through that confidence that I have come so far in my career, and it’s that confidence that will guide and carry me through this business school journey.

DON’T MISS: Meet London Business School’s MBA Class Of 2022

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