Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management 2020 MBA Dennis Obigwe grew up in Nigeria, where he witnessed the impact of the country’s lack of technological infrastructure on business. It had a profound effect on him.
“The bulk of Nigeria lives in poverty, and 30 million businesses don’t have access to the right technology that they need to succeed,” Obigwe says.
Fascinated by how technology can impact the economy, he began his academic journey with an undergraduate degree in finance at the University of Nottingham, in the UK. Upon graduation, he began his career as a KPMG technology consultant for clients across West and East Africa, including major banks, insurance companies, and mortgage companies. There, he advised clients on how to improve their operations and serve their customers better using tech.
“As I got more interested in tech and how it can be used to disrupt industries, I became curious about how we could use it for societal good and to help promote financial inclusion from the bottom up,” he says.
“Africa needs tech infrastructure that can help millions of individuals and small businesses use it.”
PROMOTING FINANCIAL INCLUSION: THE DREAM
Obigwe explains that only a small percentage of people have access to financial services and healthcare in Nigeria, and that the tech landscape in Africa is not fully developed yet. He believes that building better tech infrastructure is the best way to make it easier to increase this access, which is why his dream is to become a tech entrepreneur to promote financial inclusion.
“A lot of people in Africa are closed out of the financial system because they don’t have a track record. The bulk of the population uses cash and don’t have access to credit because they don’t have a credit score that’s built over a period of time within the financial services industry. This means that many people don’t have access to money that helps them build their small business,” he explains.
Realizing the work it will take to promote financial inclusion, Obigwe decided he needed to gain exposure to tech on a global scale. This led him to Kellogg’s MBA program. “America is home to where technology also meets social impact. That’s why I came here,” he says.
WHY KELLOGG SCHOOL OF MANAGEMENT?
Obigwe chose to get his MBA at Kellogg due to the school’s tech-related resources and opportunities.
“A key selling point for me coming to Kellogg was that I wanted exposure to both emerging markets and advanced markets,” he says. “I signed up with the Global Initiatives in Management program at Kellogg and went on a trip to Brazil and Argentina where I met with politicians and business leaders. My team was focused on understanding the fintech landscape within these countries. We interviewed some of these business leaders to see how they’ve used emerging technologies to create or disrupt industries; learning some of the opinions of CEOs and having collaborative discussions with my teammates helped me understand how some of these new technologies could help impact the lives of people.”
Not only did the Global Initiatives in Management program help him to prepare for a career in tech, so did Kellogg’s San Francisco Immersion Quarter. In this immersion, he was able to spend a whole quarter in Silicon Valley where he got to work with like-minded people in tech startups and network within the Bay Area ecosystem.
He also joined several Kellogg clubs that helped give him experience in tech, such as the Tech Club, the Data Analytics Club, the Fintech club, and the Social Impact Club. Plus, he went through the Technology Pathway, which is a cross-department suite of courses that prepare students for a career in tech. He says his most impactful classes in the Pathway were Launching and Leading Startups and Product Management for Technology Companies. Other resources, such as those provided by the Career Management Center, helped him to feel confident in recruiting; he received help polishing his resume and LinkedIn profile to ensure that he created a great first impression for external recruiters.
Obigwe advises that MBA students who are interested in tech should expose themselves to as many disciplines within tech as possible. “Take as many tech classes as you can and join tech clubs and associations. This will help you understand where your core interests live. Network within and outside of school and speak to your school’s career centre; they’ve spoken to tons of people in your shoes and can help do an assessment check to see how you’ll fit across various roles within certain companies and countries.”
LANDING HIS DREAM JOB
While Obigwe’s ultimate goal is to return to Africa to become a tech entrepreneur and promote financial inclusion, he first wanted to work in the industry as a program manager to gain more experience in the industry.
According to Obigwe, the recruiting process involved a series of interviews. To help ease the nerves of these conversations, he joined Kellogg’s interview prep groups, where second-year students coach first-year students in an informal setting. This allowed him to practice answering questions and gain confidence. Plus, it helped him land two tech-related internships; One was at a social healthcare consulting company in California where he worked with Silicon Valley experts to provide consulting services to social tech entrepreneurs in Africa and Latin America. The other was at a meta intelligence analytics company where he worked in business operations and project management. Both experiences helped him to translate what he learned in class to a real-world environment, as well as land his dream job as a program manager for Amazon Web Services upon graduation in 2020.
“At Amazon Web Services, we help businesses across different industries create more efficiently. I think that’s what’s needed in sub-Saharan Africa — for companies to build on tech infrastructure and become more agile and innovative,” he says. “I believe the exposure I’m getting in my current role will help me one day achieve my longer term goals of going back to Africa.”
THE BASICS OF WORKING IN TECH
According to Obigwe, there are a few common roles in the tech space: program manager, product manager, and product marketer.
As a product manager, you act as the CEO of a product and interact with customers to ensure that the product is a success. If you’re a program manager, you’re focused on the business operations of the company, such as running all of the processes, interacting with stakeholders, and making sure that people are performing their jobs optimally. Product marketing managers have a more customer-facing role, and their job involves getting customer insight and communicating the product’s value.
Most people recruiting for those tech roles right now will be starting their jobs virtually — like Obigwe did. He stresses the importance of taking initiative in that first couple of weeks to meet as many people as you can.
“For the first few days of my job, I was on my own because I had onboarding assignments to do. But then I filled up my calendar with one-on-one meetings with my team,” he says. “Try to go outside of your comfort zone and meet as many people as you can through networking. Showcase the value that you bring to the team. It’s even better if you can identify a mentor or informal advisor who can brainstorm with you and share resources.”
Before he begins his tech entrepreneurship journey in Africa, Obigwe is focused on getting more experience within his current role to gain an understanding of emerging technologies and network with people within the industry. For now, he resides in Arlington, Virginia — the home of one of Amazon’s headquarters — where he is making steps towards his dreams.