Growing up in France with Senegalese and Beninese heritage and spending part of his formative years in India, Norway and South Africa, Axel Tagnon’s (MFA2022) interest in global business and commitment to promoting racial equality was sparked early on. Here, he reflects on the experiences that led him to choose LBS, his work with the Black in Business Club, and what promoting racial diversity in business means to him.
I was born in Paris and my primary education was spent at a private Catholic school. The pupils were mainly French, and it wasn’t a very diverse environment. From the age of 10, due to my parents’ work, we moved a lot, to various countries around the world. This meant that I experienced more diverse environments and met classmates from a variety of backgrounds, cultures and nationalities. Having been immersed in such a variety of cultures and environments truly made me appreciate the meaning and the value of diversity – and it’s shaped the person I am today. When I was at an American school in Chennai, India, I improved my English a great deal, and I also spent some time in Norway and South Africa, before returning to France to study for my Science Baccalaureate.
When I was around 16 years old, I attended The African Leadership Academy’s Global Scholar’s Programme. I thought it would be a good experience to reconnect with my African roots. I visit Senegal every Christmas but had never lived in Africa and my experience of it was very different from children that grew up there, so it was really enriching to be involved in the Academy. After some leadership classes, which focused on theory, we were put into small groups and paired with business owners in Soweto. My group was assigned to a woman who was launching a jewellery brand; she had the craft skills and passion for making jewellery but needed some help on the business side. Although we were all 15 and 16 years old and didn’t have the experience of running a business, with the help of mentors we were able to work with her on developing international shipping strategies.
I first came to London to pursue my business ambitions by studying for an undergraduate degree at UCL in Statistics, Economics, and Finance. When I was researching business schools, I always thought I would want to study at one of the top business schools in France. Having grown up in France, much of my family associated some of these schools with a level of excellence that could perhaps only be compared to going to Harvard in the US. To them it was inconceivable to turn an offer down from those schools. But when I received my offers from those schools, I took a step back to think, and I realised that the French system wasn’t going to offer the kind of culturally diverse environment that I need to thrive; one that embraces tough conversations instead of sweeping them under the rug.
Deciding on the MFA at LBS has meant that I’ve had the opportunity to talk about what it’s like being a Black person in business in 2021 and to work with the LBS Black in Business (BiB) club – the first of its kind in Europe. I was fortunate enough to take part in an interview with Tabria Lenard (MBA2021) who co-founded the club, for an LBS website feature as part of Black History Month, and we discussed all these subjects and more.
The BiB Scholarship completely differentiates LBS from other schools. The School valued me for what I could bring, beyond my academic achievements; they saw that I could have an impact on the community. I think that also made me believe in the positive impact that I could make too. Before coming to LBS, I found it difficult to talk openly about the struggles of being a Black person in business and some of the challenges I faced growing up in a predominantly white environment as a Black person.
Even before I studied at LBS, I wanted to set up a social enterprise to help create more opportunities for Black students. I gained a lot of knowledge and opportunity through the 10,000 Black Interns programme last year, which enabled me to secure an internship at Castlelake: a global private investment firm. It’s a UK programme that aims to provide 2,000 internships to Black students every year, for five years. I was also conscious of the lack of Black people represented in postgraduate business studies and wanted to change that. I’m working on setting up a mentoring programme to connect current students at LBS and other top business schools with prospective applicants of Black heritage, to support them in their applications.
As Vice President of careers in the Black in Business Club, I’m working with Ayoyinka Johnston (MBA2022), the Senior Vice President for careers, to develop partnerships with some of the corporations and companies that the Black students at LBS want to work for and help them with the careers they want to pursue. One of BiB Club’s biggest initiatives this year has been creating a Black CV book, which features talented Black individuals. Companies often say they don’t know where to find Black or diverse talent, so we created the book to help companies find the right people. So far, we’ve sent the book out to companies such as JP Morgan and Bain & Company.
When I came to LBS, I thought I would work in investment banking positions for a few years before transitioning to an investing position. However, LBS has given me the tools and the network to enter the buy-side straight out of school. Over the summer I’ll be interning at Bain Capital, working in the private credit sector, which I'm really keen to explore.
I’m really looking forward to some of the practical components of the MFA, like London Business Challenge Week. It’s a project where teams of five or six people work on a live business case for a London-based company. You get the type of exposure you might not get on a purely academic business course.
The main highlight of the MFA so far is the network this programme gives you. I think the main difference of the MFA cohort is that everybody is here with the same goal. People might think that it is competitive, and in many ways, it is, but people are here to support each other; it truly is a community.