MBAs Doing Great Things: From West Africa To Pro Basketball To Becoming One Of Europe’s Elite MBAs

From West Africa To Pro Basketball — He's Now One Of Europe's Elite MBAs

Mouphtaou Yarou played college basketball for Villanova before turning pro in Europe. Villanova photo

“As early as I can remember, I was always thinking about business and finance,” Mouphtaou Yarou says. During his childhood in the West African country of Benin, Yarou was exposed to the power of entrepreneurship through his mother, a single mom who made and sold clothes and other products to support her family. “She was selling everything to keep the lights on, to keep us well-fed,” he recalls.

Yarou always wanted to make a name for himself in the world of finance — but first, his athletic talent led him down a different path. After a successful college career in the United States, he played basketball professionally for many years on a number of French teams. He also became a husband and a father, and started a foundation to support Beninese kids.

Through it all, he held on to his vision of a career in business. He eventually left the court for the classroom; in January 2024, he will graduate with an MBA from HEC Paris, one of Europe’s top business schools.


From West Africa To Pro Basketball — He's Now One Of Europe's Elite MBAs

Mouphtaou Yarou: “I had a chance to be in a good situation and go to a good high school,” he says. “When you work hard and you are with the right people, the right coaches, great things happen.”

When Yarou entered HEC Paris in September of 2022, he was set on a career in finance and ready to step away from sports completely after 15 years on the court. However, conversations with others in his cohort opened him up to other possibilities, including pursuing a career in the business side of sports.

Before starting his MBA, Yarou says he had “tunnel vision — one way of thinking.” His classes and the people he’s met at HEC Paris have changed his mindset and made him more open to other perspectives, not just about business and his own life, but about the world as a whole. “That’s what an MBA is for, right?”

Though she never got the chance to go to school herself, Yarou’s mother instilled in him the importance of education. Yarou explained that his family is from a small village where economic opportunity is scarce. His mother worked hard to give him and his siblings the opportunities she didn’t have, including sending them to private schools: “We didn’t know how she paid for it,” he says, “We knew it was very hard … And she made it happen.”

She impressed on Yarou the value of surrounding himself with the best and brightest, encouraging him to pursue an education at prestigious institutions outside of Benin.

“That was one of her dreams and it became one of mine,” he says. For Yarou, now 33, studying overseas felt like the key that would unlock the educational and career opportunities needed to find success in the world of business and finance. But with five children to support, his mother couldn’t afford to send him to a school abroad. “Growing up in Benin,” he says, “my dreams of pursuing education abroad felt distant but never faded.”


Yarou wasn’t a serious basketball player growing up. His older brother, Khader, was the basketball “superstar,” Yarou explained. When Yarou was a teenager, a recruiter came to Benin to try and recruit his brother to play in the United States, but Khader was already studying at university in the capital of Benin and didn’t want to travel abroad for basketball. Khader told the recruiter to instead consider his younger brother, who happened to be visiting in the capital at the time. It was a moment that would change Yarou’s life.

Though Yarou had little basketball experience, the recruiter was impressed by his 6-foot-9 height and natural talent. It was enough to get him a scholarship to a private high school in America. “I had a chance to be in a good situation and go to a good high school,” he says. “When you work hard and you are with the right people, the right coaches, great things happen.”

Through basketball, Yarou was able to get the educational opportunities he’d always dreamed of. A top-ranked recruit by the end of high school, he went on to Villanova University, graduating in 2013 with a bachelor’s in business administration and a total of over 1,000 points scored for the Wildcats.

After college, he played professionally in Serbia for a year and then on various French teams for nearly a decade. Success at the professional level allowed him to fulfill another lifelong goal: giving back to kids in his home country.

In 2018, he launched his nonprofit, MYBARIKA. Yarou said his mother taught him the importance of altruism, and it was her story that inspired his foundation. Like many in Benin, she got married and had her first child as a teenager, and didn’t have the chance to go to school. MYBARIKA helps Beninese kids and teens stay in school and achieve their goals through educational programs, sports camps and tournaments, and a new scholarship and mentorship initiative. It also provides support and donations to orphanages in the country.

One of Yarou’s proudest moments was seeing the first MYBARIKA participant preparing for his first day of university. “It’s a testament to the transformative power of education and mentorship,” he says. The organization is expanding to more West African countries. Yarou says MYBARIKA already has two participants in Burkina Faso; next year, he plans to increase that number tenfold and expand into Togo as well. “I have a great team and all of them, working all over the world, went through the same struggles so they know what we are trying to achieve,” he says of the organization’s staff and volunteers.


From West Africa To Pro Basketball — He's Now One Of Europe's Elite MBAs

Mouphtaou Yarou scored more than 1,000 points for the Villanova Wildcats while earning his bachelor’s in business administration. Villanova photo

Yarou always planned to transition from basketball to business school, but leaving the sport he excelled at wasn’t easy. “Every time I decided to stop playing, I would have a great season and offers were on the table,” he explains, “I didn’t know I was going to play for this long.”

Yarou says his years of basketball taught him valuable lessons that have served him well in business school and his work outside of it — namely the importance of patience, “a great attitude,” and asking the right questions.

He also gained business experience from his career as a professional athlete. Every year he had to compare contracts and weigh a variety of factors to make his choice.

“It’s always good as athletes to be able to discern and know what’s good for our future because we won’t play sports forever,” he says. “That’s what I was doing, making tough decisions.”


In 2019, an Achilles tendon rupture sidelined Yarou for the rest of the season. The injury “forced me to confront the reality of life after sports,” he says. During his recovery, he started looking into HEC Paris and learned about former professional athletes who had gone on to study at the university.

“The injury, which initially appeared as a setback, became a turning point in my life,” he says.

Yarou wanted to leave basketball on his own terms, he explained, so he returned for the 2020 season and worked to get back to where he was before his injury. He then signed on for one more year knowing that the 2021 season would be his last. “I wanted to go out on my own terms, and that’s what I did. And I’m at peace with that decision,” he says.

Yarou is now exactly where he wants to be, surrounded by people from all over the world who share a passion for learning and a drive to do great things. “I feel like I chose the right time to do my MBA. The cohort is perfect,” he says.

Yarou wants his journey to serve as an example for the kids in MYBARIKA, and said this motivates him as he works toward his goals: “Me going through the MBA, trying to find the right work for me, trying to discover who I am … I’m showing them there is life after sport and they can do whatever they want if they work hard enough.”


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