Having spent four years working as a behavioural economist, Jamie McGraw decided he wanted to broaden his skillset, making the MBA the perfect choice to help him elevate his career. With a passion for tech and entrepreneurship, he is already seeing the benefits of the programme in helping him achieve his goals.
I’m from South Africa and I studied for a Bachelor of Economics and a Masters in Economic Science at the University of Witwatersrand. I’ve since spent the last four years working across numerous different African countries. I started work as a behavioural economist, working in specialised management consulting across financial services and public health, working in Kenya and Rwanda. I then moved to Standard Bank, Africa’s largest bank; the bank had been a long-time client of ours and they asked me to come on board as their West Africa manager. This included four different countries: Nigeria, Angola, Ghana and Namibia.
As a behavioural economist, I came from a very specialised background, and I reached a point where I felt I needed to either specialise even further, or take the opportunity to switch to something more general. I wanted my behavioural background to be a part of my toolkit, but I didn’t want it to be everything I did in my professional life. I knew it would be hugely advantageous to know about, whatever I went into, but I wanted it to be a smaller part of my overall skillset.
The MBA was the perfect way to expand my skillset and get a more generalist position, even within specific industries. For example, with tech, I’m recruiting for generalist business roles, but within a particular company, and that’s exactly what I wanted to get out of the MBA. I’m very passionate about tech. On a personal level, I have a Google speaker, a robot vacuum, WiFi enabled light bulbs, a WiFi kettle, and so on, so I’m a bit of a nerd!
There were a couple of things that attracted me to London Business School. The first thing was the internationalism of the programme, which means you learn as much from your peers as you do from your lecturers; you’ve got 65 different countries represented in your class, so you can learn even more from their international experience. I also knew I’d be living in an international city if I went to the School.
The option for doing an international exchange was also a big win for me; I felt I could get exposure to another country and a taste of more than one MBA at the same time. I’ve been placed at MIT, and getting accepted to go and study there has been one of my highlights of the programme so far. It was a really competitive spot; there were only two of us placed there, so that was a big thing for me. I’ve got a small e-commerce company that focuses on selling and promoting African artists, and that’s something I’m hoping to get more advice and guidance on through the classes at MIT; they’re really well known for entrepreneurship.
The second thing that attracted me to London Business School was that it’s increasingly built up a reputation for tech in particular; coming into the programme, I was specifically interested in Big Tech and FinTech. The School has a really good reputation for people going into those areas post-MBA, so I was really enthusiastic about my post-MBA career prospects.
Finding out I’d been awarded the Mary Ferreira Scholarship was a great moment for me personally. I’d already been accepted into the School and I was really excited to go, but the programme was a huge investment so I was incredibly grateful to the School for the award. That’s the core thing for me; it was such a vote of confidence from the School.
Another of the highlights of my time at the School so far has been the number of travel opportunities around London, which you do with your classmates. So you spend time in class and then you get to socialise a bit more with each other. One of the first things we did was the Three Peaks challenge across the UK, climbing the three highest mountains in each nation. I’m not much of a mountain climber, but there’s something about the energy in the MBA class; you’re all so excited to meet each other that you start doing things you wouldn’t normally do, which pushes you outside of your comfort zone.
The strategy classes have been my favourite so far; it’s one of the subjects that’s a lot more business specific. It was fun because very few of us had actually had any formal training in strategy, so it’s much more open ended; there wasn’t necessarily a right answer, and everyone was contributing equally to the class. When you come into the MBA, what you imagine about the case method is strategy; it was a very typical MBA experience. I really appreciated the diversity of the class; the strategy cases that you learn about are from all over the world. Inevitably, if we did a case from Peru for example, there would be two Peruvians to chip in on the context there. Or if we were studying chip-making in South East Asia, there would be someone who has literally done chip-making in South East Asia. So that level of diversity really paid off and it was a massive highlight for me.
Next, I’m looking forward to taking a technology and analytics concentration. My electives are all geared towards tech, and I’m already taking a module called information in the modern economy. I’m also going to be taking a bunch of different courses that are going to quickly bring up my skill level in the tech industry in general, which I’m really looking forward to doing, such as a digital strategy course and an analytics course for financial reporting.
I’m a member of the Tech and Media club and through that I’m currently enrolled on sessions for an event series called Product X. The club organised an event late last year called Product at LBS, where people interested in doing product management as a career choice after the programme can go to the conference and listen to presentations from the School alumni about their experiences and how to get into the industry. Product X is essentially a deep dive into that. We have people coming in and doing lectures on Monday and Tuesday evenings, so I’m really looking forward to learning more about very specific areas in tech. We’ve also got an event called Tech and Innovation in Africa Trek coming up soon, which I’m really looking forward to. It’s focused on the tech scene in Africa as a continent, and I think it’s really cool that you can get that at London Business School.
I’m also a member of the Africa Club, currently focused on recruiting efforts. We’ve had some candidates coming in and I’ve been giving them a bit of guidance on that. We’ve had a number of social events throughout the year so far.
I’m also a student ambassador for the School, which is mostly attending recruiting events and talking about my experience. A big passion of mine is helping students from Africa apply, because diversity is a big part of the London Business School experience, and I think Africa is a little bit underrepresented at the moment. I’ve taken four to five people under my wing and I’m helping them through the recruitment process.
My advice for people applying to the MBA is to put your best foot forward and give yourself time to do that; it’s an intense process and London Business School is quite competitive. If you’re unsure about whether to apply, you can go onto the School’s website and read their employment report, which tells you what percentage of people get offers, in what industry and where in the world. I found it incredibly helpful as it gives you an idea of what your life could be like after the MBA. More generally, don’t feel like you have to fit into a certain mould to do the MBA. The most important thing is to think through your goals and decide where you want to be five to 10 years from now, and align that with whether the schools you’re applying to are known for helping people go in that direction.
For my next career steps, I would ideally like to be working in Big Tech in a strategy or operations role. If everything goes to plan, I’d like to do that for the next two to three years, specifically in London; it would be great to get international experience at one of the best companies in the world. After that, I’d like to explore my genuine passion, which is for entrepreneurship.