2023 MBA To Watch: Luther Mathews Otieno, Queen’s University (Smith)

Luther Mathews Otieno

Smith School of Business, Queen’s University

“I am a self-determined individual, who is a leader by example and a go-getter. I am highly motivated to have an impact in everything I pursue.”

Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya

Fun fact about yourself: At the onset of the pandemic, I took up playing guitar (Fender Stratocaster). Although still a work in progress, it has challenged me in ways I didn’t think possible, different from my academic and professional life. Figuring out how to play a John Mayer or a Chris Stapleton song is probably one of the most rewarding feelings, relatively speaking. I aspire to one day have a collection of vintage guitars.

Undergraduate School and Degree: I obtained my Bachelor of Science in Applied Accounting from Oxford Brookes University, my Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) from the University of Nairobi, and my Master’s in Banking and Finance (Financial Markets) from Moi University in Kenya before joining the Full-time MBA at Smith. I also have my chartered accounting qualification from ACCA.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? PricewaterhouseCoopers Kenya as an Assistant Manager, Assurance Line of Service

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? N/A

Where will you be working after graduation? N/A

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: President, Student Executive Council (SEC). One of the primary roles of the elected SEC is to provide a seamless communication channel between the class, program management, professors, and the career advancement centre (CAC) to ensure concerns are addressed timely. Some of the more memorable events organized by the SEC, with a lot of support from program management and the fit-to-lead team, included the following: two joint culture nights with the MBA and Master of International Business students, a faculty-student soccer game, maple madness at the local conservation area, and end-of-module parties, among others. At the end of our tenure, we held a transition night for the class of 2024, to provide a bridge between our class and the next.

As one of the FTMBA student ambassadors, I held multiple coffee chats with prospective students during their application process to provide a first-hand account of life at Smith and how to succeed as an MBA student once admitted. I was also an active member of the Finance Club and the Charity Gala.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During the second half of 2022, I was selected to take part in the Kearney pre-MBA diversity boot camp in Chicago and the MBA World Summit in Milan. On both occasions, I met other high-achieving MBAs from top business schools globally. We exchanged ideas on how we can use the knowledge and skills gained during our respective programs, our prior life experiences, and more importantly our newly-built networks to solve important problems facing the world.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I gained annual promotions while at PricewaterhouseCoopers Kenya and was always one of the top performers each year. This provided me with an opportunity to lead complex assignments in multiple countries across the East and Horn of Africa and shaped my view of the world. This made it seamless for me to live anywhere because of a genuine interest in people and different cultures. It was also an affirmation that embodying a client-first approach, consistently working hard and loving it, and having incredible mentors is a recipe for success.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Smith because the alumni network is unlike any other – the definition of family. Being new to Canada while starting the program, I was terrified of making any missteps while networking; I only had one chance to make a great impression. I was pleasantly surprised that anyone I reached out to for a coffee chat was always willing – multiple times over –to provide me with candid and actionable advice and resources. This helped to guide me in my academics, job search, role as president, and other extracurricular activities – These helped me integrate with ease. More importantly, I built meaningful relationships that I cherish and that will last a lifetime.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Blair Robertson. His cases covered in his fall ‘Corporate Valuations, Mergers, and Acquisitions’ course mirrored transactions executed during notable financial periods in the last three decades. In addition, Blair used his real-world experiences as an investment banker to demystify the workings of the profession to non-investment bankers looking to pivot into this space. His hands-on approach to teaching, as well as guidance during interview prep, were game-changers for Smith candidates. More importantly, his ability to motivate, technical grasp of the profession, and guidance on the skills necessary to succeed, provided clear direction and motivation to keep us pushing regardless of the odds.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Negotiations and Conflict Management, taught by Professor Shai Dubey. I found this course extremely practical because Shai broke it down to its bare bones, showing that it is in fact just as much a learned skill as it can be innate. It was an eye-opener to learn how most negotiations are lost before getting to the table or how we negotiate against ourselves by simply being unprepared or not putting ourselves in the counterparty’s shoes. Secondly, during in-class exercises, it was interesting to see the impact that different personalities, emotional reactions, and cultures can determine the outcome of a negotiation process. Finally, I was intrigued to learn how in every moment in our lives the decisions we make represent a negotiation, whether we are aware of this or not. I would retake this course any day!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The Student Executive Council organized two joint culture nights between the Master of Business Administration (MBA) and the Master of International Business (MIB) programs. Our class profile is comprised of 19 nationalities in the MBA program – and an almost similar number in the MIB program. It was great to see an appreciation of different cultures by program management, professors, career coaches, and students alike. These events reflected a genuine desire by members of the Smith community to learn about and from each other and form cross-cultural bonds reflective of the world we live in, which is commendable.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? During my year in the Full-time MBA program, I committed fully to pursuing all activities that in my eyes challenged me and hence presented opportunities for growth. In the process, I built fantastic relationships that will last a lifetime. Every experience I had, positive or otherwise, was a lesson learned that enabled my growth and got me to this point. There is nothing I would do differently – after all, hindsight is 20/20.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? My school is based in Kingston, Ontario. The town has a rich history, with a multitude of beautiful sites to visit such as the now-defunct Kingston Penitentiary or nearby Wolfe Island. Situated in the heart of the city’s downtown, you have the opportunity to immerse yourself in various activities on any given day of the school year. This ranges from attending student-organized events, to watching and cheering on the local junior ice hockey team, to cooling off on a hot summer day with a drink at any number of restaurant patios, to learning about some of the city’s darker history on a haunted walk tour. Being smack in the middle of Toronto and Montreal is an added advantage, as it gives us access to both cities in a relatively short period of time.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised by two things. First, there was the connectedness of the alumni network, and how networking through coffee chats is just as, if not more important, than any other academic or extracurricular activity. This contributes to relationship building and opportunities for desired post-MBA roles. It certainly helps when you have the Smith alumni network that you can always count on for guidance having walked this path before. Further, you can never overlook the role that having experienced program management, from the director, associate director, program manager, administrative coordinator, program assistant, and career coaches, play in the day-to-day life of any MBA candidate. The consistent success of this school, which is unmatched, comes down to their combined efforts.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I intentionally had numerous conversations with candidates in the Class of ’22 as well as those in classes a few years back. This was important because, while Smith was assessing my credentials and fit, it was equally as important for me to do the same.

These conversations were productive as I was able to craft better application materials and perform considerably better in my interviews because they painted a clearer picture of life as an MBA student at Smith – the positives and the challenges. Eventually, it was an easy decision to pick Smith over other business schools, and I’m forever glad I did.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Conor Malachy Crump. Out of everyone in our cohort, Conor embodied a learning mindset from start to end and objectively performed best, while engaging in all extra-curricular activities with a great amount of zeal. Coming from an engineering background, it was truly inspirational to witness him defy all notions about needing prior business-centric experience to do well in an MBA program. He was the de facto go-to person when anyone was figuring out how to do M&A cases or any other type of case. Even for the finance-leaning students, he demonstrated great knowledge and a logical approach to the concepts which was refreshing. It was equally impressive that he was always calm and composed, and knowing the right thing to say to motivate whomever he was speaking to at the right moment.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? In the next decade, I will be diligently working to achieve a steady rise through the ranks to the managing director level. Progress is a metric and loyalty is a value that I hold dear and will always gravitate towards.

Second, I look forward to being part of a big organization that has great CSR initiatives and offers an opportunity to either drive social impact activities that align with its values or actively participate in already existing initiatives that have a measurable impact. I am passionate about and keen to explore activities focused on educating the less advantaged in society, in Kenya, the rest of Africa, and beyond, as that is the greatest equalizer in life. It certainly changed mine.

What made Luther such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Having the good fortune of teaching Luther is one of the absolute highlights of a 5,000-student teaching career. His personal story is beyond inspirational. His incredible passion for learning and even more incredible work ethic and determination have become legendary among the students and the faculty in the Full-time MBA Program at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

Not only did he excel in an academically challenging program, but he also provided inspirational leadership as President of the Student Executive Council; he was an analyst in the demanding Queen’s University Alternative Assets Fund (QUAAF), and he even found the time to be the first MBA in recent memory to TA an undergraduate Commerce finance course. He is also deeply passionate about providing access to education to those whose socioeconomic constraints make this substantively challenging. But I will probably remember most that he did it all in a three-piece suit with a ubiquitous smile on his face that not only lit up the room but the whole school.

He will be deeply missed at Smith, and I do not doubt he will achieve anything he sets his mind to. Wherever his journey takes him, those lucky enough to be in his orbit will undoubtedly be forever changed for the better.”

Blair Robertson
Adjunct Lecturer

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