Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Siya Xabanisa, IMD Business School

Siya Xabanisa

IMD Business School

“From humble beginnings in South Africa; an empathetic leader and conflict resolver who’s passionate about cooking.”

Hometown: Cape Town, South Africa

Fun Fact About Yourself: Cooking is incredibly therapeutic for me, and there’s nothing more fulfilling than witnessing people genuinely enjoy the food I prepare. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic there were countless livelihoods, especially in the hospitality industry, being affected. During this time, I found a way to put my passion for cooking to good use.

A renowned celebrity chef and restaurateur launched a home cooking competition aimed at raising funds for those impacted in the hospitality industry. Surprisingly, I decided to take a leap and enter the competition, and to my delight, I made it to the semi-final round!

This experience reinforced my belief in the power of cooking to bring joy and make a difference in the lives of others.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Cape Town, Bachelor of Business Science – Marketing

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Calulo Investments, Investment Officer

What has been the best part of being in a small class with this group of classmates, known for their talent and versatility? While it is often described as a small cohort when compared to other business schools, I prefer to think of it as the perfect size. Our cohort has provided unique opportunities to connect with individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures, while also allowing me to build meaningful connections with most of my classmates. The richness of diversity within the group has exposed me to a wide range of skills and knowledge that each team member brings. This, in turn, has contributed to our collective excellence in various aspects of the learning environment. I genuinely appreciate the unique opportunities this cohort has provided for personal growth and development.

When we gather as a class, it feels more like a close-knit family gathering rather than a formal conference. It’s akin to the warmth one experiences at a small wedding celebration. The MBA program’s structure, with its emphasis on rotational group work, further encourages engagement with each member of the class throughout the year. This approach has enabled me to forge intimate connections with my peers through various collaborative activities and projects.

Additionally, the accessibility of our professors sets our business school apart from larger institutions. In contrast to the challenges one might face in establishing personal connections with professors in bigger settings, our close-knit environment facilitates regular interactions with these experienced mentors. Their guidance and support have been instrumental in shaping my academic journey.

Undoubtedly, the ability to form meaningful relationships with both my peers and professors has been the most enriching aspect of being part of this smaller yet diverse cohort. The genuine sense of community and support within our class has made this experience truly exceptional and something I cherish deeply.

Aside from classmates, what part of IMD’s MBA programming led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you?

Leadership Focus: IMD understands that self-awareness is a crucial foundation for effective leadership. Through their comprehensive approach, I have had the privilege of experiencing one-on-one sessions with an analyst, a leadership coach, a career counselor, and a mentor. These sessions have been instrumental in fostering my understanding of both my strengths and areas for improvement, enabling me to develop as a well-rounded and self-aware leader.

Sustainability Focus:The emphasis on sustainability at IMD goes beyond being just another course; it’s deeply ingrained in the ethos of the school. I’ve noticed how the theme of sustainability permeates all aspects of our education journey, from classroom discussions to extracurricular activities. Through this immersive experience, I’ve gained a profound appreciation for how vital sustainability is in shaping responsible business practices.

Slightly Older Cohort: I am unashamedly the older candidate in the class. As a 35-year-old entering the program, I initially had some concerns about taking such a step in my career. However, those worries quickly dissipated as I embraced the enriching environment the older cohort brings. Learning alongside both my younger peers and those within my age group has been an unparalleled experience.

IMD is known for academic rigor. What is one strategy you used that would help a future IMD MBA better adapt to the workload early on? I don’t have to know everything. I have realized the importance of being comfortable with not knowing everything. It’s essential to recognize that everyone comes from diverse backgrounds and experiences, and it’s perfectly normal to have knowledge gaps. Embracing this fact and understanding that others in the class may feel the same way fosters a collaborative and supportive learning environment where we can all learn from each other.

Some of the most profound learning experiences occur outside the lecture room, through meaningful discussions with peers. Don’t hesitate to ask questions and engage in intellectual conversations, as this will enhance your understanding and perspective on various subjects. In addition, leveraging the diverse skills and knowledge of each team member ensures that we can collectively excel in different aspects of group projects and manage the workload more effectively.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: One of the most gratifying moments in my career so far has been successfully leading a divestiture project, despite lacking financial qualifications. This endeavor pushed me to step out of my comfort zone, and I wholeheartedly dedicated countless hours after work to learn core valuation techniques.

Throughout the project, my interpersonal skills played a pivotal role. I found myself navigating complex situations with ease, empathizing with diverse perspectives, and aligning the team towards a common goal. The result of our collective efforts was truly rewarding, as the organization experienced significant cost savings on the divestiture, exceeding expectations. This accomplishment not only allowed me to upskill myself in financial valuation but also showed me the immense power of leveraging my ‘softer’ skill set in tackling something that initially seemed highly technical.

The IMD MBA has been transformative, providing me with a unique combination of leadership development and financial knowledge to be able to lead more projects of this nature.

Describe your biggest accomplishment at IMD so far: Coming from an informal settlement in Cape Town, South Africa, and embarking on an MBA journey at a top-tier business school in Europe is a dream come true. However, what truly stands out as my proudest accomplishment so far is being chosen by my peers as one of the Ombuds representatives for the class of 2023.

At IMD, the significance of Ombuds individuals was emphasized by our Dean, Omar Toulan. With our diverse class, having individuals who can bridge the gap between students, the MBA office, and the Professors is crucial. The selection process began with an election, and the fact that my classmates put their trust in me to advocate for their needs and concerns is deeply meaningful.

Where is your favorite hang-out in Lausanne? Why do you (and your classmates) gravitate there? The Lacustre is a fantastic place to unwind and enjoy a great time. The fact that it’s situated on the serene shores of the lake adds a magical touch to the experience. I’ve had the opportunity to spend some wonderful evenings there, watching the sunset over the water while engaging in meaningful conversations with my classmates.

One of the aspects I truly cherish about The Lacustre is the mix of music played there from across the world. It’s like taking a mini world tour through music while enjoying the enchanting backdrop of the lake. Whether it’s Afrobeat tunes, Indian songs, or Latin vibes, the diverse selection of music adds a unique touch to the whole experience.

What do you hope to do after graduation? I am eager to reconnect with my family and friends, expressing heartfelt thanks for their unwavering support throughout my demanding MBA journey. Their encouragement and understanding have been instrumental in my success.

Regarding my career path, I am considering opportunities in corporate strategy and investments within my related sectors. Whether contributing to decision-making processes or supporting promising ventures, I am eager to embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. With the knowledge and experiences gained during my time at IMD, I am excited to apply my skills and make meaningful contributions to the business world.

What has been your best memory at IMD thus far? My best memory at IMD thus far has undoubtedly been the Mountain Trip we had during the winter months of the MBA program. This trip not only brought our class together, but also provided a profound experience of immersing ourselves in the beautiful snowy Swiss mountain range.

The importance of this trip goes beyond just having fun in the snow. It served as a powerful reminder of the urgent need to address environmental challenges. Witnessing the snow-covered landscape was a stark reminder of how climate change is impacting our world. It gave me a firsthand appreciation of the fragile beauty of nature and the importance of taking action to limit our environmental impact.

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