Think - AT LONDON BUSINESS SCHOOL

Black in the real world

Four Black alumni describe their career trajectories post-LBS

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When you talk to London Business School alumni about their life and work since they graduated with masters degrees, certain patterns emerge. One is a pairing of ambition with altruism, both seeded out of personal passions and histories.

For Sena Logo MBA2014, Bamidele Omotosho EMBA2018, George Asamani MBA2013 and Taeya Abdel-Majeed MiFPT2015, the success of their careers has been paired with a personal desire to pursue the values they find most meaningful in life.

Asamani, who works as PMI’s Business Development Leader for Africa alongside his work after having founded and built music messaging platform DooWapp, speaks with particular relish when he describes the cooperate side of his career as, ‘[combining] the last few years of my corporate roles and my start up roles. They were either based in the UK or based in Africa. The role I have now is both: I am based in the UK, but the focus is Africa. Because my role is a leadership one, and Africa is [a new branch] to the organisation, it feels like a start-up.

“It feels directly linked to my purpose. I’m originally from Ghana; I was born in London but grew up in Botswana. My parents raised us as Ghanaian, no matter how long we lived outside Ghana… there’s a natural affinity. I’m someone who is passionate about contributing to the success of the continent.”

'My role feels directly linked to my purpose. I'm passionate about contributing to the success of the [African] continent'

No Guilt Bakes founder Abdel-Majeed describes a similar feeling when she began her current work for the CDC group (the UK’s development finance institution), growing The Africa list. ‘I thought, it’s meant to be. It’s Africa, it’s British, it’s development, it’s finance, I’m happy… and when The Africa list came along, it was great because I got to spend more time meeting and connecting leaders in the continent’s network of achievers. It’s been fantastic.

“At CDC, because the focus is on development, the joy for me is that I’m combining both that finance side and my need to talk to people; my need to grow things. I’m helping one cause. This has been home for me.”

As with her fellow alumni, a large part of Abdel-Majeed’s satisfaction comes from having found a place where she can feel truly herself. She describes how, in a previous banking role, “I remember there were times where I’d just feel like…am I too loud? Am I too anything? It sounds ridiculous, but I think it’s almost like gaslighting, where you think, is this appropriate? Where you laugh and everyone turns, and you go oh, sorry.

“I think I’m a relatively affable person, but someone said to me: you know, you can be a bit full-on. The thing is, I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. So I didn’t do the after-work drinks thing which was a big culture in my company. A lot of people used to get to know each other in these settings, but the only experience they had of me was when I was emailing them about a report that needed to get done. I used to feel very uncomfortable.”

At her interviews for CDC, Abdel-Majeed describes changing her hair each time as a small but important test of whether she would be accepted or not. “I just didn’t feel like having the conversation every time I changed my hair beyond: ‘You look good’; ‘Thank you’. It was important to me that I wouldn’t feel awkward in the company. And I still got the job.” Finding a space where she is comfortable gave her the boost of confidence she needed to launch and several businesses, including No Guilt Bakes in 2019.

“I’ve had to do a lot of work on knowing who I am and really being very confident in my core values, and what I bring to the table,” muses Logo, whose work at JP Morgan includes her role as EMEA Co-Chair of Black Organization for Leadership Development (BOLD), the firm’s Black Employee Resource Group. “Depending on who you work with and what you want to do, there are certain individuals, teams and organisations that would ask you to behave in a certain way, or to tick off certain boxes.”

‘I’ve had to do a lot of work on knowing who I am and really being very confident in my core values’

“I don’t believe in doing things against my core values for the sake of fitting in. Among other things, I believe in the value of hard work and integrity. I also believe in building authentic relationships. As a woman of colour, having to do that work and build that brand have been quite interesting. You’re always tempted to evolve or adjust to fit in. I have discovered this experience is not unique to myself – other black or minority professionals have shared similar experiences”.

“I’ve had to remain disciplined to have the courage to say, no, this is who I am. Although you may find yourself going against the tide as a result, the self-conviction of aligning to your core values is far more gratifying. It’s important that we continue to work within our organizations to ensure that conversations around inclusion stay paramount, and that you are able to bring your authentic self to work.”

But perhaps no one is feeling the pressures of bringing together two sides of their selves cohesively so intently as Dr Omotosho, whose work as the co-founder of African-inspired  beverage start-up Jellani is paired with his work as a doctor in the midst of a global pandemic.

“From a medical career standpoint, Covid has changed everything,” he says. “No one planned for it. It’s been very challenging for me, being a medic and also being an entrepreneur. We were about to go full-on with the business, and then Covid happened and there was a national need for doctors to go to work. I couldn’t not help out. It was almost like being drafted for some sort of war. It was a global battle against an invisible enemy. I had to wear that hat and try and balance my commitments for the business and my career.”

Though singular, his experience speaks to the balancing acts and unpredictability other alumni have described battling through in other contexts.

“At business school, you’re sort of cocooned. You’re supported by like-minded people. It’s a very fast pace, but you’re being sheltered. There comes a point where real life hits. You graduate, you have to run the business from day to day. You need to find a team. You need to decide whether you want to go full on, or find a career.

‘At business school, you’re supported by like-minded people. There comes a point where real life hits.’

“You have to make major financial decisions – particularly if you’re married, or have children… these are the real issues that are not spoken about sometimes. You have to be sure you want to go ahead with it, because there’s a lot of sacrifice involved. Not just physically. Emotionally. Psychologically. It takes a lot. They did say that at LBS, to be fair,” he laughs. “But it’s very different when you’re in the daily grind. The multiple phone calls; speaking to buyers. Having to take risks.”

Nonetheless, whether balancing tech, food, finance or cooperate work, the overriding advice given by Logo, Omotosho and Abdel-Majeed finds its core expression in Asamani’s words: “Persevere. If I don’t understand something, I’m not afraid to say it. I’m quite transparent. When I couple that with my perseverance, I can find out why something has gone wrong by being myself. When you’re being genuine and customers or investors see it, there’s a human connection.

“Some people are very good at becoming other people and taking on other qualities that they think other people want to see. But there comes a point where that might become draining. I’ve lived by being myself.”

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