Think at London Business School
The Black executive is still a relatively rare sight. Cole Agbede MBA2021 and Eliot Sherman discuss how to address the imbalance
By Eliot Sherman, Cole Agbede
These days Seun Akingbogun is an MBA student at LBS, co-president of the School’s Black in Business Club and a proud Londoner. However, Seun grew up in very different surroundings, some 4,000 miles away in Ibadan, Nigeria. “Most people know Lagos as the economic capital of the country, but the place where I grew up is a small city nearby,” she explains. “Ibadan has one of the best universities in the country, so when my parents met there, they decided to build a life in the city”.
Eventually, the family would move to the country’s capital, Abuja, where Seun spent six years of her life before relocating to London for her Science and Engineering Foundation programme at Queen Mary University of London and then her undergraduate degree at UCL, where she studied for an integrated masters degree in chemical engineering.
Along with her Black in Business Club co-president Fiere Habte Woldebruk, Seun wants to be the first point of contact for Black students at London Business School, building representation in the student body from the application process onwards and giving them “strong backing from their community - whatever they need”.
For the club’s Black members - especially those moving from abroad - being part of Black in Business also helps quell some of the culture shock they might feel. “It ranges from small things, like ‘where do I buy plantain?’ to ‘when does the recruitment cycle run to and from in the UK?”, she explains.
Embracing the school's international cohort is particularly important for Seun in her role as co-president. "I know the amount of culture shock I experienced when I first moved here. Fiere grew up in London and I've lived here for 12 years so we understand the things people might struggle with, even those small everyday questions".
Discover fresh perspectives and research insights from LBS
“I would love to see more Black women in finance because more diverse teams lead to better teams.”
Seun completed a year studying abroad in France, at the École Nationale Supérieure des Industries Chimiques (ENSIC) in Nancy where she co-authored a paper on carbon capture. Then, after taking part in a programme designed to give STEM students exposure to careers in finance, she decided to settle on investment banking as a career. After internships and a graduate role, Seun moved to the French bank BNP Paribas where she worked as an analyst and then an associate in relationship management.
On her experience as a Black woman working in finance she says, “I would love to see more Black women in finance because more diverse teams lead to better teams.”
“I have always worked in front office roles and been one of, at most, three Black women working in teams of hundreds of people globally. For me, this often meant having to do more to fit in or bridge the culture gap and find mentors or sponsors from the same cultural background, who can understand the nuances of situations you might be faced with.”
Seun also has experience in working on her own social enterprise. As part of UCL’s business accelerator programme she was awarded a grant for her business, which combines traditional Nigerian garments, Ankara, with more versatile fabrics like chiffon and jersey. She wanted to give something back by making her business a social enterprise which would help families below the poverty line in Nigeria. Although Seun put the business on pause she is now in the process of restarting it, focusing more closely on charitable objectives.
She eventually moved into a sustainability role at the bank, where her role was very varied. “my day-to-day included working with stakeholders to create frameworks, advising clients on sustainable best-practice and educating them on sustainable finance products. I loved the variety of the job and also the fact that it has real-life implications, as sustainable future is something that will impact everyone.”
However, the “experience gap” between Seun and people in the investment roles she wanted to move into was, she says, still significant after four years in the industry - leading her to research an MBA.
Seun was keen to stay in London. “Nigeria will always be home, but London is also home to me now, and I wanted to build my career here,” she says. She sought out people from similar backgrounds, namely other Black students who had lived in the UK for some time and planned to stay, and who were now studying at LBS, to get their opinions on the course. Such discussions led her to apply and ultimately accept a place, a decision she has not regretted.
“The best thing about LBS is the people,” she says. “I could never have imagined I would meet the people I have met. There’s a proverb in my native language, which translates as ‘there’s more than one way to the market’ - it means that are multiple ways to do something. Meeting more people opens my mind and broadens my perspective - it’s invaluable.”
For many of Seun’s classmates, she is the first close Black friend that they have ever made, leading to lots of questions about her background. She believes that clubs like Black in Business help to educate all students, and encourage people to understand each other’s reality.
Conversations about hair, for example, might sound trivial to some students, but for Black women like Seun it is a key issue when thinking about how they may be perceived in an office environment.
“When someone asked me why this is such a big thing, I had to explain that some companies find certain hairstyles unprofessional, and how much time it takes to change hairstyles. The person I was speaking to was shocked but ultimately it gave her a different perspective. That’s so important, especially when we’re talking about people who will be the business managers and leaders of tomorrow, who can make more holistic decisions in the future”.
Seun says “Working with fellow president Fiere has been amazing, and we have a lot of the same goals. We both want to make sure our Black-heritage members are the most prepared - and have the most information - about their future careers as possible, so they can be the best version of themselves. Outside companies are increasingly working to be more diverse and inclusive, so we want to work with them on their initiatives, too.
“We also want to work with London Business School, so that future cohorts are even more representative - for example asking questions around how the interview process takes place for courses, or how many Black interviewers LBS has".
“Black History Month is a great way of promoting and showcasing the work of Black in Business, and starting conversations that will hopefully carry on for the rest of the year.” says Seun.
“My biggest hope is that people take the learnings and the energy and incorporate them into their lives every day,” she says. “I want people to stay engaged, and I want to help more people like me to form a community”.
As for her own future, during her time at LBS, Seun has realised that she would like to focus on a career in Venture Capital (VC), she explains: “Before I left BNP Paribas, I knew I wanted to transition into an investing role but at LBS I have come to realise that a career in VC is for me. It’s is a combination of elements that are naturally aligned to my strengths and interests.
“I was fortunate enough to intern this summer at OMERS Ventures and MMC through the Future VC programme, which is designed to help improve diversity in the sector. Both experiences were amazing and helped me to realise that a long-term career in VC is my next step.”
And her final words of advice for future Black women finance leaders, “Don’t spend a second being anything other than your authentic self. Don’t be shy to ask for what you want, no one else is!”