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After working in Africa’s diamond mining industry for more than 10 years, Malebogo Mpugwa (EMBALJ2020) left Botswana to take on a new challenge in HR. Here, she reflects on the impact of the EMBA programme and how it helped her take on a bigger leadership role in London.
I’m originally from Botswana, a small, landlocked country in Southern Africa. Around 30% of the country’s GDP comes from diamond mining – an industry I’ve worked in for many years. I started my mining career in 2000 at the Debswana Diamond Company as Human Resources Officer and left in 2011 as Group Head of Talent to join Standard Chartered Bank Group. There, I was responsible for managing human resources for the retail business in the Southern African region. In 2012, when De Beers migrated its diamond rough sales trading business to Botswana, I joined them and spent six years as Head of Human Resources.
In 2018, I reached a point in my career where I couldn’t go any further at De Beers Group in Botswana. I knew I needed to leave Africa to gain exposure to a more international environment and move into a broader leadership role. De Beers Group is part-owned by Anglo American, a multinational mining company – so in 2018, I joined their London office as Head of Talent.
Leaving Africa for the UK was a landmark decision for me. I left my family behind, which was definitely the biggest sacrifice. Leaving my husband, two young children and an established career in Botswana to move to a new country alone and start a new life was a difficult decision, but ultimately something I knew I had to do for my career.
Having joined Anglo American as Head of Talent, I immediately began looking into master’s programmes on offer in the UK. I wanted to gain experiential learning through my role while also benefiting from a world-class education system; ultimately, I was looking for a programme that would help me pivot into a more general business leadership role. The EMBA was the perfect fit.
I’d studied at LBS before, so it was natural consideration for me. In 2007, while working at the Debswana Diamond Company in Botswana, I completed the Leading Teams for Emerging Leaders programme. To this day, I remember it as an amazing experience that really stuck with me. I knew what LBS could offer from an Executive Education perspective, and this made me think that the EMBA was likely to exceed expectations, and I was right.
LBS’s focus on diversity really resonated with me. Having moved to the UK as a young African female from a developing country, I didn’t know what to expect. After the emotional turmoil of leaving my family behind and starting a new job in a new environment with no family or close friends, I needed to find a place where I could gain a real sense of belonging. Unless people truly feel like they belong, regardless of how diverse their professional community, they’ll never realise their full potential. The LBS community isn’t just about encouraging diversity and inclusion – it is, by design, about belonging, and is a place where differences are embraced.
Thanks to the EMBA, I developed the broader business knowledge I needed to take on a bigger leadership role at De Beers Group in London. My background is in HR, so I didn’t have a lot of business knowledge and commercial understanding prior to joining the programme. Now, when my team puts financial statements in front of me, I know where to focus and how to ask the right questions. It takes several weeks for a diamond to go from being mined to reaching a retail store. I now have the operations management skills to understand flow and bottleneck in our supply chain – and can challenge the team to see if we can shorten the process in a much more informed way.
Thanks to the EMBA, I managed to stay level-headed during the uncertainty of the pandemic. Working for a retail-focused business meant I initially had concerns around our performance and how we’d fare during lockdown. Despite the impact of COVID-19 in our business, I’ve remained balanced by focusing on the fact that because of the EMBA, my knowledge and skills are diverse and easily transferable; I’ve invested in transformational assets and skills that will always stay with me.
Studying part-time means you immediately apply what you’ve learnt in your current role. Things can change quickly in business; by putting your learnings into action, you’re reinforcing new skills immediately. It’s exciting to know that you’re not going to have to wait until you graduate and find a job to use your learnings in a real-life context. You, and everyone around you, instantly sees the programme’s impact.
The EMBA meant I stopped seeing my career in a linear way; I’m now more open-minded about where I might end up. Before the programme, I’d never have contemplated becoming an entrepreneur – but after my Social Enterprises elective, I discovered that social entrepreneurship is a field I’m really interested in. With this realisation and my newfound business knowledge, I’ve created optionality around my long-term future. One day, I’d like to start my own venture and have a positive impact on the world around me; without the EMBA, I’d never have considered this as even a remote possibility.
Joining the EMBA programme is the most transformational thing you can do for your career. You’ll build a foundation of business knowledge that means you thrive in any type of organisation, develop personal skills you can’t learn anywhere else, and build an unrivalled network of faculty, colleagues and business connections. As leaders, we focus a lot on developing future possibilities and investment opportunities for our organisations. But we don’t do that in our personal lives. I now know that the EMBA programme really is the best way to invest in yourself. To use the words of Derek Bok: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” An investment in knowledge definitely pays the best kind of return.
Learn more about our EMBA programme.