Passing the torch: in conversation with Tsepo Serakalala

The new President of the Black in Business Club, sets out his plans to explore intersectionality and build a culturally-educated community.


I was introduced to the Black in Business Club by its first Co-President, Cole Agbede. When I started on London Business School’s MBA programme in 2020, I joined the Africa Club and Cole was assigned as my mentor. He told me that he and his classmate Tabria Lenard were founding a club dedicated to the representation, wellbeing and advancement of Black individuals; almost instantly, I said I was in. From our first ever event – ‘Black at LBS’ – to organising a panel on allyship with writers from Harvard Business Review, my commitment to and passion for the club has gone from strength to strength. So when applications opened to take over as our new president, I had to put myself forward.

As the new President of the club, I believe I bring a unique perspective due to the different parts of my identity. I am Black, hailing from an African country and a low-income social class background. I’m also a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community. This encourages me to look at everything through a nuanced lens. While the Black experience will always be the club’s driving force, I’m also hungry to continue exploring how the intersectionality between race, sexuality, gender and social class comes into play.

A child of change

I grew up in one of South Africa’s poorest regions – the Limpopo province – during the end of apartheid (1994). It was a real moment of change, but as one can imagine, a system like that can’t be undone overnight. It was during this time that my family moved from Makhado, a rural village, to Louis Trichardt, a predominantly white, Afrikaner town where many were still committed to the ideals of the past government. Navigating this transition as a child, while living alongside people who were still invested in the old status quo, was a strange experience, but ultimately helped to shape my understanding of race relations from a very young age.

For the majority of my childhood I only ever saw Black people working in low-paying service jobs; they weren’t given the opportunities in work or education that white people were given. My parents were both teachers; roles that were few and far between. They always emphasised the importance of education and learning, and so I put everything into my school work and excelled in the majority of my subjects. Without the grounding my parents gave me and my resulting success at school, I wouldn’t have got to where I am today.

A new perspective

My parents couldn’t afford to send me to a good university, so I applied for a scholarship with Anglo American – a multinational mining company. The mining industry is huge in South Africa, so many organisations offer scholarships in relevant subjects. I was accepted and went on to do a Chemical Engineering degree at the University of Cape Town, which was a crucial turning point in my life.

“Seeing wealthy, successful, educated people who looked like me was a truly transformational moment; it gave me the confidence to know I could reach the same heights”

When I moved to Cape Town, it was the first time I’d been surrounded by Black people doing more than just service jobs. I was suddenly exposed to other careers I’d never heard of; investment banking, private equity and a range of industries that stretched far beyond my knowledge. Seeing wealthy, successful, educated people who looked me was a truly transformational moment; it gave me the confidence to know that I could reach the same heights as them.

It’s for this reason that I believe representation is important. As essential as it is to have more Black faces in an organisation, the real power lies in the chain reaction it causes. If you only see your own people in undesirable jobs, then that’s where you see yourself. But seeing someone who looks like you achieving something gives you a sense that it’s possible. This inspired me to embark on a career in investment banking, allowing me to travel to different parts of the world where I was exposed to different cultures, broadening my horizons further and helping me learn where I wanted to go in life.

Looking forward

Looking towards the next academic year, there’s a lot I want to achieve. The three areas I’d like to focus on and explore are community, careers, and complexity.

Along with continuing to build a sense of belonging for Black people within the LBS community, I want to help educate our wider community on the nuances of being Black at LBS, and in the world. I recently spoke with a Masters in Management student who had just joined LBS; she was telling me about the number of people who had commented on and touched her hair. In 2021, you’d think students would know better, but it’s clear they don’t. This is why it’s so important to continue reminding our community about cultural sensitivities; the more we do that the more people will understand how to be better and more active allies, which is something I really want to push.

When I joined the MBA programme, out of more than 500 students, only 11 were black. LBS truly is a diverse school, but in nationality. When it comes gender, social background and ethnicity, there’s still a long way to go. As Black in Business, we plan to work with the School to increase representation. Exploring how we can attract more Black applicants and where we should be marketing ourselves is another key focus.

“Our individual kaleidoscope of identities and experiences are what make us unique, and it is important that we explore the many parts of who we are”

Taking on the challenge

The formation of Black in Business in 2020 was a monumental moment for the School. Being given the chance to take the reins in its second year is a truly unique opportunity. It’s given me an amalgamation of feelings. I’m excited to be able to influence the LBS community in such an important way. I’m nervous: our previous Co-Presidents Cole and Tabria did such an amazing job building the infrastructure we have today. I’m also intrigued to see what interactions the position will allow me to have with different students, alumni, employers and educators. Above everything, I’m determined to make the most of this opportunity/platform.

Embracing our complex identities

For new students joining the School, I’d encourage them to embrace every part of their individual identities. Whatever those different parts are, it’s highly like that LBS will have a place to explore them. I’ve found that sometimes people avoid participating in certain clubs and/or events because they’ve been ‘othered’ throughout their life. For example, they may fear that joining a club dedicated to people of Black heritage will ‘other’ them even more. Our individual kaleidoscope of identities and experiences are what make us unique, and it is important that we explore the many parts of who we are. Being Black is one such aspect, and I want Black in Business to be the space at LBS that allows one to do just that. Ultimately, Black in Business is a safe space for anyone in the broader LBS community who is committed to building a more just and inclusive world.


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