Pursuing an MBA at the Wharton School is challenging enough. Along with my MBA, I am also earning a Master of Arts (MA) in International Studies, concentrating on French Africa at the Lauder Institute. Interested students looking to apply to the Lauder Institute must write one additional essay apart of the Wharton School application and indicate their preference to study one of six global regions. Additionally, prospective students will take language classes or should enter the program having achieved a Superior rating of a foreign language, outside of English. At Wharton, dual-degree master’s programs are common, and students have several options, including the Master of Public Health, Juris Doctor, and Master of Public Administration. I even have several classmates who are in the process of applying to be dual degree candidates at Wharton and the Harvard Kennedy School.
I was attracted to the Lauder program after learning about the summer immersion, professional leadership training, and international business exposure through various research designs. The program is tailor-made for students with a global mindset and a desire to learn within interdisciplinary frameworks such as history, politics, and macro-economics. I aspire to live in Africa. As I embraced my long-term goal to become a marketing professional within retail and e-commerce, the Lauder program has been pivotal in helping me realize my path forward.
Lauder has helped me professionally with a dedicated career advisor, and she has been more like an auntie and therapist for me. Further, the global alumni are phenomenal with their willingness to share their time and career insights. I really appreciate the research aspect of the program to help me hone my regional knowledge of Africa and frame my business approach for the textile industry. My favorite element in the Lauder program is the student community. As a first-time entrepreneur, my classmates are an asset as Wilglory Tanjong and I build a transnational company.
LAUDER INTERCULTURAL COMMUNITY
In any environment, the people make a world of difference and that is certainly true for the Lauder intercultural community. The students have organized a Founders Circle with monthly meetings for entrepreneurs to connect, share resources, innovate on challenges, and strengthen the business community. Entrepreneurs face internal challenges including rejection, extreme stress, and financial instability, not to mention external issues like market sizing, brand discovery, and business model efficiencies.
It is important to surround yourself with like-minded leaders who persevere and evolve in adversity. I recently met with another founder to discuss how he sourced free interns at his company through a Wharton entrepreneur program. Now, Anima Iris, our technology-enabled high fashion brand, will be leveraging this resource to support rising undergraduate students who are interested in e-commerce in Africa.
Beyond the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Lauder, my classmates are extremely generous and knowledgeable. When Anima Iris, needed more storage space, a Lauder classmate that I met four months ago volunteered her basement for our startup team to use as long as we needed. When our company had too many orders to fill, other Lauder and Wharton classmates helped the team with packing and product distribution. I would be remiss if I did not mention how often classmates would encourage us and offer moral support and kind words during tough situations.
GLOBAL CAREER ADVISOR
Changing careers is tough as it is, but pivoting careers during a pandemic with frightening unemployment rates adds another layer of apprehension for any student. During my summer recruiting experience, I started connecting with the Lauder dedicated career advisor, Kim Conroy. Kim only works with Lauder students and the program has less than 140 students. Her style of question-led engagement coupled with her own career experience in investment banking and investment management for emerging markets, is both influential and encourages self-reflection.
She naturally became my therapist when I had to make a tough decision between two summer internship offers. Kim helped me realize that I was selling myself short as a global marketer and that I should open my career search to global companies that have a leadership rotational program to become more well-rounded. Kim consistently supports me as an entrepreneur by offering up alumni connections that work in similar regions and industries.
For students looking to have a global career, this individual attention and perspective help you understand a detailed vision forward including your necessary skill set, salary considerations, and long-term career mobility. Kim knows every Launder student personally and maintains a comprehensive list of Lauder Alumni across several industries for any regional or functional job search. It is valuable to make connections with “boots on the ground” to aid your career transition, particularly since the pandemic prohibited international travel.
Lauder Love is a term of endearment for the amazing alumni within the Lauder program. Kim connected me to an alumnus from C’15 who lives in Kenya at 7 a.m. his local time and 11 p.m. my time to discuss his role at Mastercard and family dynamics. When I visited Senegal, I met with an alumnus from C’93 who introduced me to a notary and an accountant, and is helping the Anima Iris team with filing for residency status to enable movement across West Africa.
Senegal’s legal and business proceedings follow the French system. Having both a notary and accountant in Dakar allow Anima Iris to legitimize the business and pay local taxes accordingly. There is also an alumnus who offered to help us build out the go-to-market strategy for the Asia Region through a Wi-chat marketplace. The list goes on, and the alumni I encounter add value at every stage of the business.
MBA students are alumni longer than they are current students, so this extended network gives Wharton grads an intangible edge during career transitions, new business ventures, and are fantastic mentors. There is so much to learn about an international business mentality and the Lauder program has elevated my entire career trajectory for working in Africa.
TARGETED RESEARCH PAPERS
MA programs are research and writing-intensive and the same is true for the Lauder program. Students have free range to curate their research topics and the faculty and senior global advisors are a wealth of knowledge when narrowing down the topic and research models. Each semester, I have a 12-page paper due, as well as a 25-page graduating thesis, and an 80-page team paper. During my time at Lauder, I have chosen fascinating topics such as the youth bulge in Kenya, the implications of the ECO, a proposed shared West African currency, and the textile industry in Europe.
Given my global career ambitions, it is extremely important to understand the business and political history across Africa, in addition to the current state of affairs. While there is tremendous value in reading scholarly articles and applying global phenomena to your regional concentration, there is no substitute for an in-country immersion. This is where the rubber meets the road, and the research theories are validated against the actual business reality. I appreciate the long-term value of this research and its ability to give my key insights to become a successful businesswoman in Africa.
Additional coursework in the Lauder program consists of academic readings, attending lectures and leadership panels, and targeted language classes to learn about local culture. The sum of these academic components gives me the confidence to negotiate business deals in Senegal, respect the local customs, and expand my strategic decision-making in operations.
The product logistics network in Africa looks nothing like shipping materials within the states and I am leveraging my classmates and other Dakar connections to find solutions that are not time and capital-intensive. While I am most passionate about business development across Africa, the Lauder Institute does provide global exposure to other regions through the Learning Intercultural-Ventures (LIVs) and other cultural-based learning simulations.
While the global pandemic canceled the regional and global immersions for the Lauder class of 2022, I am making the most of my experience. I have incredible classmates, alumni, and a career advisor who have made the additional dual degree obligations more than worth it! Further, it is very important to navigate these enhanced program components to translate into a life-long network for business opportunities. Remember to critically evaluate the student community, alumni engagement, and academic components that will become the competitive advantages of your personal brand. I hope to see you “Living on Locust”, considering a dual degree program with soul, purpose, and a spirit of collaboration!
Azline is from Waterloo, IA, and became a National Gates Millennium Scholar in 2009. She studied International Studies and French at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, and graduated Cum Laude in 2013. During her undergraduate tenure, she studied abroad in Fort-de-France, Martinique, and Geneva, Switzerland, and also interned at Black Entertainment Network and Google, Inc. Azline worked for Delta Air Lines for seven years before starting a dual-degree MBA/MA program at the Wharton School and the Lauder Institute.