Tuesday, December 18, 2018

INSEAD Class of December 2018: One Year to Change my Life

We packed up our lives in Lagos one year ago to go on an adventure in the sleepy old town of Fontainebleau
It is over, just like that. There was one final weekend, one intensive push to chart a path to growth for a digital company in China, and it was over. The most challenging and the best year of my life so far had come to an end.

It felt like a lifetime; it felt like a few weeks. It felt like one beautiful experience after another; it felt like an obstacle course. It felt like a gusher of learning; it felt like drinking from a fire hose.

But all good things come to an end, and when this goes up - I’ll be taking the stage as valedictorian at the INSEAD graduation in Fontainebleau and trying to sum up this amazing year in a few minutes.

I thought I would post this here, for myself, my community of friends and family, and the people who say my stories inspire them. The content is different from what I say in the speech in that it is much more personal.

All my objectives for this year were exceeded.
E9, you're too fine! My section from the first two periods.
The learning was incredible. Despite reading very widely, taking random courses, and asking loads of questions prior to the year at INSEAD, I have learnt many new skills and material this year. I think some of the more interesting learnings were in areas I would usually not gravitate towards – like Process and Operations Management. I don’t think anyone could have paid me to learn about Queuing Theory before this year, but I have managed to learn a lot about optimizing waiting lines. Whether I am talking to friends about their businesses, pondering benefits of an acquisition while reading the Financial Times, or tweaking the prediction model I built for Champions League Fantasy Football – it is undeniable that I know a lot more than I did last year.

I met many brilliant and kind people and made many new friends. Time flows in weird ways when you’re doing an intense one-year MBA that sometimes has you in class on Saturdays and Sundays. A day feels like a week and a month can feel like only a few days. Strong friendships form quickly among people who are paddling furiously to stay afloat. I’ll miss the spontaneous discussions that seemed to happen everywhere: at lunch, on trips, and in people’s homes. One of my last on-campus lunches started with us discussing a classmate’s invention of a glue that patches holes in beating hearts, moved on to the ethics of gene editing, and closed with a discussion on elections in Portugal and Nigeria. Oh, and of the four people eating together – your boy was the only one without a PhD. I will really, really, miss my darling 18D community. I’m glad Busola and I are moving somewhere where we can stay connected physically and continue to build these amazing friendships.

It was also very challenging. INSEAD’s z-curve grading system reported grades relative to everyone else, so you could see your performance relative to the class just by looking at your grade. A 3 meant half of the class performed better than you. I invite you to mentally assemble a group of 500+ overachievers, and then imagine what the grades must have looked like. Coming from being a local champion, it was a bit too much to take in initially.

The setup! One night before exams in P1
I spent two months living on painkillers, graduating from Ibuprofen to (prescribed) codeine and opium-based drugs, and discovering in the process that Callie Reis, Ritika Thakur, and Antoine Molas were angels. Eight visits to the dentist and many hugs from Ayomps over summer fixed it, but that felt like hell while it lasted. Lastly, having lived most of my life with the initial goal to be financially self-sufficient, it was difficult to be burning through cash and living on the edge. Your savings in Naira disappear very quickly when you’re spending in Euros, so I had to raise money twice this year. That was hard – and I’m grateful to my ‘village’ for coming through for us.

People often want to know about the career benefits, and yes – those were there too. I closed the year with opportunities I would not otherwise have gotten had I stayed on in Lagos or done a part-time program. I’m not going to sugarcoat it though: it was not easy. I have spoken to more than a few people who expect the world to fall at their feet because they have an MBA, and I’m saying this because I don’t think the world works like that. Companies don’t just get on a queue to hand offers to MBAs, even when it’s from a top business school. I spent many hours refining what I wanted to do and what my pitch was, thinking through my value proposition and how best to demonstrate it, and turning in tens of applications. I was also fortunate to sometimes just be in the right place at the right time. I’m glad Busola was there to offer hugs when the “sorry but no” emails and calls came in, and boy – they came in! Nevertheless, I’m grateful to have ended the year with the good problem of deciding where to go.

A few random things. I really like wearing suits! I loved working with the leadership of the Africa Club to organize an amazing Africa Business Conference in Paris. I loved, loved, loved our Bulgaria and Serbia trip and will always be grateful to Jovana for inviting us into her home. I learnt to barbecue – and it turns out I can be good at cooking when I approach it like a project too! I will miss my long walks in the Fontainebleau forest. And E9, my dear, dear section – E9 you’re too fine!

I’m going to avoid the irresistible trap of listing everyone in my ‘village’, but I’ve got to talk about Busola and our families. I’m a breathing list of idiosyncrasies, and it’s really something how Busola works with that and helps me keep it all together. For someone so extroverted and mission-driven, it could not have been easy to reach the decision to do INSEAD with me – and I’m glad I get to continue supporting her ‘becoming’ too.
Busola is the real hero of this story.
My journey to INSEAD started a long time ago, when my parents pulled off what can only be described as a miracle given the circumstances and instilled in us a belief that we could rise above our limitations. My siblings were very supportive, with Simi serving as a sounding-board as my thinking on career evolved and Fehintolu filling my confidence tank till it spilled over. Busola’s family was very supportive, with frequent check-ins – especially with my favorite Weirdo – and loads of moral support.

That’s it! It’s a wrap. It’s time to take all that learning, this privilege, and the famed INSEAD network – and put it to work advancing business as a force for good.

Merci 18D. Merci INSEAD. Aurevoir Fontainebleau. Busola and I are counting down already until we can start a named scholarship for married students from Sub-Saharan Africa.

#18DidItBetter. The END.
Only one member of our family (of two LOL) can win a competition that requires you to run around shooting people with a water gun.
The squad, from our thoroughly enjoyable trip to Bulgaria and Serbia. Thanks KO!
From the Building Business in Silicon Valley trek; my favorite thing over summer.
The Fantastic Five.
Nigerian. Ukrainian. Briton. Israeli. Brazilian. My study group from the first two periods.
One of the Africa Club dinners. Spot the damage Fonty's Lebanese barber did to my hairline :-(
Map reading in the Fontainebleau forest
The view from INSEAD's beautiful campus during summer
Busola went into the forest once too!
No words.
With Angel Callie.

With Mary-Ann in Croatia. All three '18D' Nigerians were involved in making this picture.