Runya Dengu

  • Degree Programme: MBA
  • Global Nationality: Zimbabwean
  • Profile Job Pre-programme: Chief of Staff at Global Emerging Markets, Zimbabwe
After moving to the UK as a child, Runya Dengu found himself the only Black student in his year at school. Today, as an MBA2021 student and Senior Vice President of LBS’s Black in Business Club, he explains why he’s so passionate about promoting racial diversity in business.

Runya Dengu was a recipient of the MBA African Scholarship

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I was born in Zimbabwe and had a very happy childhood. I’m the youngest of three brothers, and we all loved being outdoors and playing football, cricket and rugby. When I was five, my father, who worked at Urban Development Corporation, was offered the opportunity to move into the banking world and join PTA Bank in Kenya – so we moved to Nairobi for two years and I started school at Pembroke House, a British boarding school in a town called Gilgil, outside Nairobi.

My family relocated to Amsterdam when I was seven – but I never spent much time there as my parents were keen to keep me in the British schooling system. Shortly after moving, I came to the UK to join Clifton College, a boarding school in Bristol. Even in Nairobi, my school was predominantly white, so being in the UK wasn’t a huge culture shock. The added advantage of being so young meant it was easy to make friends and find my feet.

I studied International Relations at Edinburgh University, and it was at university that I first experienced what it was like to be around people that looked like me. I loved school, and met some of my very best friends there, but being the only Black person in my year, from seven to 18, definitely takes its toll. At university, I was finally free to go to the clubs I wanted to go to and no longer had to lie about the music I liked; I met likeminded people who shared similar interests. In school, as is the case in most British public schools, there were few people who looked like me and shared my interest in hip-hop music and culture. There was always an element of suppressing who I really was – but at university I had the confidence to be myself unapologetically.  

“Championing racial diversity in business is not a choice but an obligation”

Despite my father having had a successful development banking career, banking was a sector I became interested in independently. I joined Edinburgh in 2008 during the financial crash when news of Lehman Brothers’ demise dominated the headlines – so subconsciously I was learning about the world of finance and becoming interested in it. From there, I joined Edinburgh University’s Finance Society (the Edinburgh University Trading and Investment Club) and met lots of people who wanted to go into banking after graduating, which inspired me to do the same.

At Edinburgh, I took the opportunity to do two ‘spring weeks’, which sparked my interest in banking. ‘Spring weeks’ are week-long programmes for students that often lead to an internship and in some cases a full time job. I did two, at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Citibank, both in London. Although neither led to a permanent role, they helped me realise that banking was an area I was definitely interested in.

The experience I gained at Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Citibank laid a great foundation for a career in banking. After taking 18 months out following university, I moved to London to join Jefferies’ equity capital markets team as an analyst. I was there for two years and did everything from creating pitch books for potential IPOs to executing equity transactions across all sectors in the EMEA region. Following banking, I decided I wanted to move closer to the equity industry and secured a role at Asante Capital, where I focused on fundraising for funds and deal-by-deal transactions. I then moved back to Zimbabwe and joined Global Emerging Markets as their Chief of Staff for 18 months, before deciding an MBA was the perfect next step.

“I’m tired of trying to persuade someone of the benefits of having a racially diverse group, be it at school, work or socially”

I believe that your career is what comes after business school, and that anything before business school is a learning experience. That’s why I chose to do an MBA at LBS. I hadn’t studied business or finance previously, despite having worked in banking, and I thought the programme would be a great chance to brush up on the academic knowledge I was missing while refreshing and developing what I’d already learnt so far.

One of the best things about the MBA programme is the people. You’re surrounded by an incredibly accomplished and successful cohort who are extremely collaborative and always willing to help. When I started the programme, I struggled with the data analytics course, but found that many of my classmates were willing to act as tutors and bring me up to speed.

What I like about LBS is that it’s a school that doesn’t ‘belong’ to anyone. It might be based in the heart of London, but it’s by no means a British school. A lot of my friends went to business schools in the US, where you’re more likely to get an American MBA programme with a few international students. At LBS, there’s no one who can put their hands up and claim ‘this is our school and you’re just guests’. As one of two Zimbabwean MBAs, I feel just as entitled to be here as anyone else, which is testament to LBS’s diversity.

London is incredibly international, which makes it one of my favourite cities in the world. I’m a huge sports fan and a big Arsenal supporter, so it’s great to have the Emirates Stadium a short tube ride away and Lord’s Cricket Ground a stone’s throw from campus. I have a lot of friends here, so the social side – grabbing a pub lunch with a mate – is what makes me feel more at home here than anywhere else. 

In June, I was fortunate enough to land an internship at Emerging Capital Partners (ECP) – one of the world’s largest African private equity firms. It helped me realise my passion for doing something that involves Africa, investing in growing companies that focus on the growth of the middle class on the continent.

“I’m a huge sports fan and a big Arsenal supporter, so it’s great to have the Emirates Stadium a short tube ride away and Lord’s Cricket Ground a stone’s throw from campus”

During my time in banking, I’ve noticed several organisations leading the way in racial equality. Citibank and Goldman Sachs have made concerted efforts to create a more diverse workforce, and McKinsey & Company have a large cohort of Black employees and a diverse and inclusive working culture. However, there is so much more work to be done.

I’m Senior Vice President for the recently established Black in Business (BiB) Club, which grew organically from a group WhatsApp conversation. My fellow MBA students and I saw that there wasn’t a designated club for Black people at LBS and wanted to get to know one another. We started organising dinners and casual outings, but felt there was more that could be done to turn this into an official association. This then quickly progressed into the formation of the Black in Business Club.

In my role for the BiB Club, I’m responsible for liaising and coordinating with other clubs to ensure there’s no crossover in activity. The Africa Club have ‘The Africa Speaker Series’, and the BiB Club will be running something similar in the future. It’s my job to make sure we’re aligned on which speakers will be appearing where and the context and content of the events to ensure the BiB Club provides its own distinct offering.

With the Black in Business Club, we wanted to create a club that was explicitly focused on Black issues. Many European business schools are guilty of lumping clubs like BiB in with the Africa Club, which is a lazy approach. As an African, I’m extremely passionate about my heritage and the club that represents that. But the Africa Club is not the right setting to discuss issues that directly affect Black people; this assumes that being Black is synonymous with being African.

As Senior Vice President for the BiB Club, there’s a lot I want to achieve. We want to appoint a board of directors that includes alumni, staff and faculty to create a link between them and the student body and enable this group to act as sponsors to the outside world. The idea is that we’ll enlist professors with strong business connections who can help us with career concerns or alumni who can share their own LBS experiences and advice on how to make the most of the opportunities the School offers. I’m also conscious that we need to pass on the culture and coordination of how we work to the next generation of LBS students. This will mean that others can seamlessly take over and continue promoting racial diversity in an equal and efficient way, alongside the likes of the Africa Club.

Racial diversity is about doing the right thing – personally, I’m tired of trying to persuade someone of the benefits of having a racially diverse group, be it at school, work or socially. Black people are as capable as anyone else, and we need to move away from the narrative that there’s a lack of quality candidates. If LBS purports to be the leadership finishing school the world believes it to be, it should be leading the charge in this regard. Championing racial diversity in business is not a choice but an obligation.

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To learn more about or get involved with the Black in Business Club, please contact: blackinbusiness@london.edu.