Ken Saito Hanawa

  • Degree Programme: MBA
  • Global Nationality: Peruvian
  • Profile Job Pre-programme: Business Development Director, Acurio Restaurantes
  • Profile Job Post-programme: Global Innovation Director, VML

Education and experience

Ken has a broad range of experience across the technology, entertainment, hospitality and fine dining sectors. Prior to his MBA he focused his career on the development of innovative fine-dining concepts, working with world-renowned chef, Gaston Acurio. Ken holds a BBA from Universidad del Pacifico in Peru.

The brightest minds

When I joined London Business School I was working as a director of business development in a global fine dining / hospitality group. I come from a family of artists, but with an undergraduate degree in business I didn’t necessarily require an MBA to learn business theories. What I did want, though, was the experience of sharing a classroom with the brightest minds from right across the world. 

I looked at a number of the top MBA programmes but what drew me to London Business School was the fact that there was no single dominant nationality in the class. The programme offered me a spontaneous and collaborative vibe, and its innate international calibre meant that opportunities to network and meet people from different cultures were vast. Location was also key; travelling is central to my life, and London is superbly well-connected. I eventually visited more than 20 countries in five continents during my MBA, something I couldn’t easily have done if I had studied in the US.

Innately global

London Business School’s brand speaks to the international nature of its community, and it was absolutely central to my own experience. Born in Peru of Japanese descent, I completed my pre-MBA experience in Latin America working closely with world-renowned chef, Gaston Acurio. During my MBA I lived in London, did my internship in Bangkok with a beverage company and went on international exchange to Tokyo. I was lucky enough to do my Global Business Experience in South Africa, and I secured my post-MBA role in New York. 

My cohort was innately global, and sharing a classroom with a cross-section of engineers, economists, architects, medics and lawyers was the best training I could have had to learn how to motivate and lead international and professionally diverse teams. Working in advertising in New York is a bit like playing football in the UEFA Champions League – you need to manage big personalities in an intelligent way. My MBA was the same, simply because everybody was so smart. It taught me to communicate effectively to a diverse audience, to listen first, talk second, and to be very respectful of other people’s opinions.

New opportunities

One of the areas I was interested in post-MBA was the intersection of tech and media – specifically Internet companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter. WPP was the only company that offered a rotational MBA executive level programme, but in the year I applied there were around 1,200 applicants chasing five spots. Career Services were helpful throughout the application process. I met with a personal coach before my interviews, reviewing likely questions, and working through a mock interview scenario. It was useful to get feedback not just on content, but also on how best to showcase my attitude and personality.

Long-term gains

During my MBA I worked on a long-term plan to create nine different casual dining businesses, and have identified an array of original concepts that can be franchised globally. My friends and I visited different restaurants weekly – I had a food focus group consisting of an Italian ironman, a Japanese football junkie, a Canadian street foodie, an Argentinian entrepreneur, a California golfer, a Chinese HR specialist and a Lebanese consultant! A lot of people concentrate on the material gains of an MBA. I certainly couldn’t have made my career shift without the MBA, but for me, it wasn’t all about business. The intensity of my MBA experience created bonds equal to those I have with people I have known for decades. The best thing I took away from my MBA is the group of true friends with whom I can discuss football, challenges, problems and successes, and that I will value for life.