Think at London Business School
Smoove CEO Jesper With-Fogstrup, EMBA2021, on leadership, fearless conversations and supporting more people to be out in business
By Laura Kennedy
I was very moved by one of Kamala Harris’ speeches during her campaign to become Vice President of the United States – she shared a story about her mom telling her: “Kamala, you may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.” This is something that resonated with me a lot, as I share the same vision. “Once you’re able to open a door, keep it open for everyone else.”
I’m Black, I’m African and I’m very proud to have been born and raised in Senegal. We all deserve to have a chance in life, no matter our colour, religion or gender. It’s great if you have ambition and you want to do big things, and that should be celebrated. You should be able to do it without feeling shamed for not fitting in.
I grew up in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. I’m the third child of a family of four, and graduated from high school with a diploma in Experimental Sciences with National Honours, before moving to Montreal for my undergraduate degree. There, I did a BA in Business Administration, with a major in Finance. Having done several internships to learn about the world of finance and worked for a year at BNP Paribas in compliance, I knew I wanted to work in finance, and particularly investment banking.
What I find most exciting about banking is how fast-paced it is and the learning experience it provides. In my opinion, it requires a good balance of analytical and technical skills, as well as client-focus, to be able to be a trusted advisor – which, thankfully, is aligned with my personality.
“Black and African girls can do incredible things, but just need more role models to show them what’s possible”
Getting into investment banking isn’t easy. I knew I’d need a Masters to refresh my technical skills and build a strong profile. I was impressed by LBS – it has such an incredible reputation and a network of impressive alumni. I could see the doors it would open for me. What swung it was that my brother was applying to LBS’s Masters in Finance. I’ve been following in his footsteps for a long time; we’re the middle of four children, and I’ve always looked up to him.
I’m now the first Senegalese student at LBS to do a Masters in Financial Analysis. It’s my dream to succeed as a Black woman in the world of investment banking, and LBS offers an opening into that world. At LBS, I’m looking forward to making a long-term impact by contributing to the student community and working to increase diversity – which is why I was so drawn to Black in Business.
I’m very lucky in that I haven’t experienced overt racism myself – the first time I felt isolated was on an international exchange programme in Glasgow. I was the only Black person in the majority of my classes. I began to understand the issues other Black students around the world could be facing and decided I wanted to change things.
When applying to LBS, I was surprised to see that only 5% of students in the MFA programme at the time were from the Middle East and Africa. I knew that LBS was a great school – and that more African talent deserved to have the opportunities a leading business school like LBS can offer. I had the idea to one day set up a scholarship for Africans, so everybody can be given a chance to get in – I even put that in my application.
When I joined LBS, I soon learnt that a group of students had set up the Black in Business Club. The club’s aim is to create an environment promoting the representation, wellbeing and advancement of Black students and their allies. I feel privileged to be Vice President for the Community Liaison Team. The role means I see the positive impact we’re having as a group – through things like working with LBS to establish new scholarships aimed at Black students. I love that LBS is so open to change.
In my view, you have to create your own space for yourself and seize opportunities wherever they present themselves – but growing up, I didn’t really have a female role model to look up to professionally. Women in my family have achieved professional and entrepreneurial success, but were celebrated more as wives than for their work or professional achievements. I believe it had a lot to do with the culture around women back in those days. Today, more can be done; education is a big issue in Africa. The more education available for girls, the better.
“It’s my dream to succeed as a Black woman in the world of investment banking, and LBS offers an opening into that world”
Since my teenage years, I’ve admired Christine Lagarde, a French politician, business leader and lawyer.She’s the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), and used to be Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She was the first woman to become Finance Minister of a G8 economy and the first woman to head up both the ECB and the IMF. I didn’t have anything in common with her, but 10 years ago, when she was appointed head of the IMF, I said to my mum: “I want to be like her, I want to be in her shoes.”
My view on female role models in Finance changed about a year ago, when I heard about Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The former Finance Minister of Nigeria, Okonjo-Iweala was recently appointed Director General of the World Trade Organization. She’s the first woman and the first African to hold the office. By being in such a high-profile position, one that’s so respected around the world, I’m sure she’ll inspire young Africans in the way Christine Lagarde inspired me 10 years ago, and that will definitely have an impact on our collective futures.
In finance, I continue to look up to successful Black people like Tidjane Thiam, an Ivorian banker who was CEO of Swiss bank Credit Suisse from 2015 to 2020. More recently, I’ve been inspired by Makhtar Diop, former Finance Minister of Senegal, who became Head of the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank, earlier this year. Nobody from Africa had ever been in these roles before, so it’s encouraging to see them succeed and show the world what Africans are capable of achieving.
Success, to me, is about uplifting and inspiring others. I believe in hard work and dedication, and doing your work in a humble way. Everything I do is done with good intentions and determination: never lose hope, never lose faith, and keep pushing.
“Influence is important, but money is also essential when it comes to pushing for positive change”
It’s such a privilege to wake up and do something you love. Even if you’re working long hours, if you’re learning something new, it makes such a difference. And if it comes with a lot of money, you’re not going to say no. Influence is important, but money is also essential when it comes to pushing for positive change. At the same time, success does require a little bit of chance. You can be the most intelligent person, the most determined person, and things won’t go your way all the time.
Once I’ve completed the MFA, I look forward to gaining experience in investment banking through an internship. I’m excited about graduating. It’s been intense and I’ve learnt so much during my time at LBS; I’ve built up technical knowledge and skills, I’ve learnt about corporate control, been introduced to modelling and coding, and there’s also the human aspect – the incredible network and support that makes the experience so special. I love the sense of community at LBS – the staff, the people at Career Centre, my peers – they’re always happy to chat, to help link you up with someone or just get to know you.
In 10 years, I want to be working hard in finance and inspiring my nieces and other Black and African girls. I’d like them to look up to me and have the drive to aim high – Black and African girls around the world can do incredible things, and need more role models to show them what’s possible.
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