After years of being labelled ‘other’, Jairo Tavira MBA2021, has learnt not to let his environment define him. Today, the Co-Founder of marketing and consulting company Assertys shares his MBA experience so far and reflects on his role as SVP of Marketing for LBS’s Black in Business Club.
I was born and raised in Luanda, the capital of Angola. Despite my country being in the midst of a gruelling Civil War (1975-2002), I was lucky enough to have a very happy childhood thanks to the people around me. They lived every day with appreciation, which is something I’ve carried through my life to this day.
My family relocated to Lisbon when I was nine, which was when I first experienced racism. Going from my life in Angola to being one of the few Black students at my school in Lisbon was a huge shock; back then, Portugal wasn’t as accepting of minorities as it is today. Growing up in Lisbon taught me to be resilient and vocal in speaking out against discrimination, but it also helped me appreciate my African heritage even more. In many ways, being seen as an outsider was actually extremely beneficial as it trained me to build bridges and find commonalities with others without compromising who I am. Moreover, it instilled in me a deeper empathy and appreciation for those who don’t conform to society’s standards.
When I was 19, I moved from Lisbon to the UK to study chemical engineering at the University of Manchester – and found myself finally living in a more diverse city. It was liberating to be somewhere where people weren’t as prone to making judgements based on my background. Naturally some people aren’t as accepting as others, so while it wasn’t perfect, it did help me realise that a more open and cohesive environment did exist.
“Real change comes from showing future business leaders how to be better allies and where to invest their energy”
After university, I wanted to get back to my roots so I returned to Angola where I was offered an amazing opportunity to join Chevron Corporation as a Process Engineer. Angola is my home country; I hadn’t lived there for decades, so I felt a strong desire to go back.
During my time at Chevron Corporation, I was stationed in a very isolated region in Cabinda Province. But despite this, the working environment was incredibly multicultural. Thousands of people lived in Cabinda, many of them expats, so I found myself surrounded by colleagues from around the world. Being exposed to people from so many different backgrounds was an amazing opportunity to have so early on in my career; it helped me further develop a more global point of view, and realise that a diverse environment was something I enjoyed and thrived in.
After five years at Chevron Corporation, I felt the need to go beyond the technical path I’d set out on. I started to wonder how I could expand my knowledge in other business areas and serve a higher purpose in a more impactful role. This led to me co-founding Assertys, a marketing and consulting company, with a friend of mine. Assertys allowed me to make the impact I was looking for, working on projects with the likes of the Ministry of Education and Transport. There, we focused on nationwide data collection projects pertaining to internal population migration and asset prioritisation, and looked at where to allocate resources. It was extremely fulfilling working with organisations that could really make a difference to the lives of people in Angola.
I’d known I wanted to do an MBA since university, and after two years at the helm of Assertys, it felt like the right time. Starting a new business had been a steep learning curve; I had transferable skills in project management and client engagement that I’d developed at Chevron Corporation, but I wanted to sharpen my business acumen, expand my network and become a better agent of change. I knew the MBA would do that for me.
“It’s a privilege to be at LBS, and as the only Angolan on my programme, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take what I’ve learnt from my amazing cohort and the School’s trailblazing faculty and try to make a positive impact back home”
As soon as I visited the LBS campus, I knew it was where I needed to be: my immediate impression was that it was a collaborative place in which to learn and develop. It also answered my questions about diversity. After studying at Manchester and realising how much I enjoyed being around people from different backgrounds, the diversity of the LBS cohort really stood out.
As SVP of Marketing for LBS’s recently established Black in Business Club, I manage the club’s brand – generating content for social media and online platforms to promote our events and initiatives. It’s an incredibly interactive and collaborative role. I’m required to have oversight of what everyone else in the club is working on, and how we’re working alongside partner clubs to coordinate messaging and maximise engagement.
The Black in Business Club was formed in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Myself and my MBA classmates started a WhatsApp group and began discussing what we could do at LBS to advance the interests of Black professionals in different business contexts to truly promote racial diversity across the board. We quickly agreed that by forming a club, we could put our words into action and create a dedicated association that, at the time, we felt the School was missing. Real change comes from showing future business leaders how to be better allies and where to invest their energy.
To be a good ally is to consciously disrupt the status quo in a concerted and considered way. In the context of the Black in Business Club, a strong ally would be educated on the issues facing Black individuals and understand how discrimination biases manifest themselves in our society in a pervasive way. They’d be willing to step up when witnessing injustices and play their part in closing the business gap of talented Black professionals by championing diverse workplaces. Given that the School’s motto is to have a profound impact on the way the world does business, we felt we should be leading by example when it comes to promoting racial equality.
Something that’s often missed is the fact that good allies are able to create value for themselves by investing in diversity within their teams. Within business, allies are able to enhance their bottom line and expand internal influence. A recent McKinsey study showed that more racially diverse firms tend to generate greater net profits; it’s not just good for your image – it’s good for your business too.
“Being seen as an outsider was actually extremely beneficial as it trained me to build bridges and find commonalities with others without compromising who I am”
Following the events of 2020, I’ve noticed lots of companies stepping up to promote diversity and condemn racism. Immediately after George Floyd’s death, I was impressed to see the Bank of America putting aside $1 billion to advance racial equality and economic opportunity in a myriad of initiatives designed for that goal. YouTube is another great example – it’s investing $100 million to support and promote the work of Black creators and artists.
My immediate ambition in my role within Black in Business is to ensure a consistent track record for disseminating quality content for our members. Our work is key in expanding the horizons of our members and allies. It’s not just a matter of putting the club on the map; I want to ensure our content encourages my peers to reflect on the issues surrounding racial equality so they can act as agents of positive change in both the workplace and wider world. It’s on all of us to change the narrative no matter how small or trivial the situation.
One of my biggest MBA highlights so far was Tattoo in March 2020; it was an amazing celebration of what LBS stands for. It took place just before the first UK national lockdown, so it’s a fond memory of life when things were a bit more normal. That aside, it represents the School’s diversity and community spirit which is reflected in my MBA cohort. My classmates come from around the world and we’re always collaborating and working together to find solutions and make each other better business people. It’s these interactions that make LBS and the MBA programme truly unique.
My long-term goal is to return to Angola and either expand Assertys or work on another business venture that helps grow the economy. It’s a privilege to be at LBS, and as the only Angolan on my programme, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take what I’ve learnt from my amazing cohort and the School’s trailblazing faculty and try to make a positive impact back home.