Tabria Lenard

  • Degree Programme: MBA
  • Global Nationality: American
  • Profile Job Post-programme: Open Innovation Contractor at Farfetch
Spending her formative years between New York and New Jersey helped unleash Tabria Lenard’s (MBA2021) creativity and shape her understanding of the Black American experience. Today she reflects on her mission as Co-President of LBS’s Black in Business Club, her passion for luxury retail and why she chose the LBS MBA programme above all others.
“I needed a programme that would open my eyes to different cultures, countries and the perspectives of a diverse group of people. At some top US business schools, only 40% of the student population is international, whereas at LBS I knew I’d be the minority as an American, and welcomed that."

My family have always had an opportunistic mindset – it’s something that goes back as far as my grandparents. My paternal grandmother came from a family of sharecroppers in the South of the United States. She moved to the North, raising my father and his siblings in a housing project in Brooklyn. My maternal grandmother left the small Caribbean island of Montserrat in her teens, eventually moving to the Bronx to raise her children. Both moved to New York in pursuit of better opportunities for their families and themselves. Although my parents are both Black, they come from two completely different worlds, and as a result, I’ve spent many of my formative years learning how to navigate, understand and empathise with different perspectives.

I’m the product of a Caribbean, college-educated mother from the Bronx and an African-American street-savvy father from Brooklyn. Growing up, I spent my summers with my brother and cousins watching music videos, inventing games, writing and performing songs, filming skits, and shopping for our back-to-school wardrobes. Those summers shaped my cultural understanding of the Black experience in America and unleashed my sense of creativity. I was good with numbers and had a natural talent for maths, which meant that during the school year, I spent most of my time in honours and advanced placement courses studying and building a foundation to pursue a career in business. These years, both in and outside of school, were transformational for me; they gave me a balance of cultural understanding and the analytical aptitude that has helped me get where I am today.

For my undergraduate degree, I studied Business Administration at Northeastern University in Boston, where I began to formulate a picture of the career I wanted. I took on various internships, including in client services at Goldman Sachs and global sourcing at TJX. They were great customer-centric experiences that taught me early on what I wanted and didn’t want in a career. I learnt that although I was capable of doing the job, finance wasn’t right for me, and that within retail, I wanted to be involved in selecting merchandise and understanding the opportunity to create profit from it. Most importantly, I discovered that retail is the combination of analytical and creative skill, enabling me to bring one hundred percent of myself to work every day.

I’ve always been interested in being my unique self and presenting that to the world. That’s why I love retail. It’s about finding the products you identify with and using them in your own unique way to express yourself – and I think that’s so powerful. When I got into the industry and discovered I could play a role in enabling that experience for others, I was hooked straight away.

After my undergrad degree, I joined the Executive Development Programme at Bloomingdale’s. But after nearly four years there, I felt stagnant. I didn’t want to be a career buyer, but wanted to take what I learned about managing multi-million-dollar businesses and seek new ways to make an impact on the future of retail. I looked at the trajectory that I was on and decided to make a change. I knew I wanted to grow both strategically and globally – and was keen to get out of New York and experience a new environment.

“The MBA has bypassed my expectations, particularly when it comes to building my network in luxury retail. I now have contacts in key European retail hubs like London, Paris and Berlin”

The idea of going to business school had been in my head since my undergrad degree. I started going to conferences in New York, trying to learn more about different programmes and business schools. I met Katie Tobias, an LBS alumna, at a networking event, and she told me about her experience at LBS, and the Walpole Programme which sounded amazing. In January 2014, I’d taken the opportunity to work from TJX’s European office for six months as part of my third internship with the company. It was my first professional experience of London; I grew to love the city from both a cultural and professional perspective, and yearned to find my way back. When I met Katie, I instantly became more intrigued by LBS and the idea of studying my MBA in city that would be a home away from home.

After doing some research, LBS became a front-runner for me. I wanted to get a deeper understanding of the global retail industry, but my number one priority was expanding my global network. I needed a programme that would open my eyes to different cultures, countries and the perspectives of a diverse group of people. The international student population was the first thing I’d look at when researching schools. At some top US business schools, only 40% of the student population is international, whereas at LBS I knew I’d be the minority as an American, and welcomed that. There was no competition; I knew LBS was where I needed to be.

The MBA has bypassed my expectations, particularly when it comes to building my network, which is so important in luxury retail. I now have contacts in key European retail hubs like London, Paris and Berlin. It’s also given me amazing opportunities to further my career. I landed my current role in Open Innovation at Farfetch through an LBS alumna and my mentor, Nina Patel. I’m now working on a project focused on the fashion tech startup space, looking at how we can advance the future of luxury retail. It’s a role that’s perfectly aligned with my career ambitions, and was made possible purely through the collaborative nature of the MBA programme, and the amazing people at LBS.

Before joining LBS, I never thought I’d form a club, especially one as impactful as the Black in Business Club. Racial equality is always on my mind and I never quite understood my role in being part of the solution. When I joined LBS, there were 11 Black MBA students out of 500 in my cohort. We naturally came together during our orientation and built a community of our own. This is something that Black people have to do in general – seek opportunities to build community. All 11 of us, ranging from Zimbabwean, Angolan, Nigerian, South African and Kenyan to British and American, were able to bond over the fact that we were so used to being ‘one offs’ once we’d reached certain levels in business or educational environments. It’s something that others are able to take for granted while we’re forced to face this reality on a daily basis.

After the death of George Floyd in 2020, we knew we needed to take action. We put together a deck outlining the current gaps in racial inequality and diversity at LBS and how we could address this, reaching out to other programmes to bring a diverse group of Black students on board. At the time, I was the only African-American woman in the entire group, so my fellow club members encouraged me to be the one to present our ideas to the Dean, alongside the club’s other Co-Founder, Cole Agbede. I shared my experience of what it was like to witness what was happening in the world, and my perspective as a Black student at LBS. Straight away, it hit a nerve with Dean François; he was blown away at the thought of me being the only African-American woman within my MBA class. We thought the initiative should be driven by the School but supported by students as clubs are one of the best ways to build community and drive change. And so we officially formed the Black in Business Club almost overnight, focusing exclusively on representation, wellbeing and the professional advancement of people of Black heritage.

As Co-President, it’s my job to build a foundation to ensure the Club’s longevity. We’re working with LBS faculty, staff, students and our corporate partners to build relationships and create an ecosystem of allies that will continue to support our vision long into the future. One of our first orders was to create an executive committee, which is key for creating a dialogue between first- and second-year students across programmes. Black in Business has the power to be a leading club within Europe, changing the narrative and leaving an impact on the global business world.

After starting the Club, other business schools across Europe have followed suit – like Esade in Barcelona and HEC in Paris. There’s strength in numbers, so we’ve supported their establishment, and are now connecting with them to collaborate, lean on each other and see what we can achieve together. As the first leading European business school to found a Black in Business Club, and with London being a city known for its diversity, it makes sense for LBS to lead this movement. After graduating, I’ll be joining the Black in Business Club’s advisory board; we’ve all put so much time and energy into this and have a solid vision of how the club will evolve over time, so I’ll definitely be playing my part to ensure it’s achieved.

When it comes to promoting racial equality in the business of fashion, I don’t think any particular company is getting it right. We’ll have a better idea when initiatives are driven from the top down, rather than by employees of colour, or by external organisations borne out of need. Examples of these include Aurora James' 15% Pledge, which urges major retailers to commit at least 15% of their shelf-space to Black-owned businesses – or Sandrine Charles and Lindsay Peoples Wagner’s Black in Fashion Council, which focuses on the advancement of Black individuals in the fashion and beauty industry. We’ve seen businesses get on board to support these initiatives, yet it’s nowhere near enough to fix centuries of systemic racism. There’s still a long way to go.

“I spent my birthday in South Africa, went travelling through Kenya with my Zimbabwean friend, and even went to Russia for the first time – all with people I’d met at LBS”

Mentoring has always been important to me; I believe that sharing knowledge can have a huge impact on others. Even before forming the Black in Business Club, I’d signed up to be a mentor through the North America Club and the Africa Club. When you’re a year or so out of undergrad education, you’re often still trying to figure out what you want to do and what impact you want to have on the world. I was fortunate to have built that self-awareness on my own, which served me well in my early career, and I want that for others. With everything that I do, it’s not enough to succeed on my own – I want to bring others along with me too.

The LBS community is so diverse that there are endless things to connect over. For me, travel has been my way of getting to know people. I’m quite an outgoing person, so much so that when I overheard a group of students planning a trip to Copenhagen, I joined the conversation and invited myself along, which led to me meeting one of my best friends at LBS. I spent my birthday in South Africa, went travelling through Kenya with my Zimbabwean friend, and even went to Russia for the first time – all with people I’d met at the LBS. These are all experiences I could never have had at a US school, purely because at LBS you’re surrounded by people just as globally and culturally curious as you are.

During the pandemic, I’ve learnt how important it is to be adaptable. It would have been easy to feel trapped in this virtual world, which at times can leave you feeling isolated. But once you realise that things won’t return to the ‘normal’ you once knew, all you can do is figure out how to adapt. For me, it meant thinking about the doors that have opened rather than the doors that have closed. When the pandemic hit, there were things I was looking forward to like treks and events that were then delivered virtually or cancelled. Rather than seeing this as a missed opportunity, I created my own new opportunities – like reaching out to an LBS alumna who works at SSENSE MONTRÉAL, a luxury ecommerce platform. I wanted to learn from her experiences, so I connected with her on Zoom and ultimately pitched her ideas for internships, which is something I would never have done pre-2020.

Looking towards the future of business, remote working is a powerful foundation that all organisations can build on. Those who’ve embraced it and adapted successfully have demonstrated an agility that every business needs to aspire to. The changes we’ve seen since the start of 2020 were always bound to happen at some point; the pandemic has just accelerated their arrival. Being open and flexible will be key moving forward, and will really set more innovative, future-focused businesses apart from their competitors.

I’m all about commerce, culture and community – so whatever I do in my career, it has to include those three values. I’ve never taken the most structured path; I don’t have my next 10 years all planned out. But I do know that post-graduation I’d like to establish a global career in luxury retail, focusing on the future of how people shop. I also want to make an impact on the Black experience in retail. I’m likely to be one of the few Black women in the position I end up in, but I don’t want to be the only one. Whatever I’m doing, paving the way for people like me is one of my biggest priorities.

 

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