By Janine Coughlin
I had a dream, when I was growing up, of being able to set up my own company,” says Mercy Gardiner. Having spent almost a decade at Microsoft, where she was in charge of Sub-Saharan Africa, an opportunity to relocate to her home country of Ghana three years ago reignited that dream. So in 2013 she enrolled in the CEIBS Women Entrepreneurship & Leadership for Africa (WELA) Programme in Accra.
“I learned quite a lot, especially from the case studies we did in class,” she says. “We had a lot of Chinese entrepreneurial cases and it was amazing to me that most of the entrepreneurs started with nothing – you know, basically $200 or $500. That really inspired me. I thought look, I can start from where I am now. They also brought in a couple of Ghanaian women entrepreneurs who shared their experiences with us.”
This opportunity to learn from Chinese entrepreneurship case studies is often mentioned by participants of programmes offered by CEIBS’ facility in Africa. WELA is an Executive Education programme geared specifically towards women with an eye on launching or growing their own business. Participants travel to Shanghai for a module that includes company visits, networking opportunities with Chinese executives, and courses at the CEIBS Shanghai Campus. EMBA students also enjoy a Shanghai module, but unlike WELA participants are not limited to only females looking to launch or breathe new life into a start-up. They may not have a heavy entrepreneurial focus but they too usually mention how valuable they find the cases on Chinese start-ups. They also talk about the opportunity to network with professional peers, who are among Africa’s best, in a rigorous learning environment.
Sometimes WELA enrolees later go on to an EMBA. That’s what Gardiner did in 2014. She said the Shanghai visit with her WELA cohort cemented her decision to enrol in the CEIBS Africa EMBA. “By the third or fourth day of our trip, I thought ‘you know what, I’ve been thinking of doing my Executive MBA and the decision has now been made. CEIBS is the school to do it with’,” she says.
For Michèle Feze, who enrolled in the CEIBS Africa EMBA in 2014, it was a way to reinvent herself professionally. A chemical process engineer by training, she had worked at Shell for many years, but found herself at a crossroads when the company divested from Africa and she had to find a new job.
“Working at Shell was a good experience,” she says. “Basically I was managing a business unit. Being a head of a department, I had to manage my costs, so I did a bit of auditing work. I had to learn some accounting for the job because I had to do my budget, I had to follow a budget and apply for an investment budget as well. I had done all these things on the job, but when I would apply for a job, for strategy positions, I didn’t have a degree to certify that I was able to do them. Within Shell people knew, but outside of Shell it wasn’t so clear. So that was the main reason for applying to do an EMBA.”
The Cameroonian had done her undergraduate and post-graduate studies at universities in France, and when she began exploring b-schools, she initially considered INSEAD. After learning about CEIBS, the fact that it had a programme based in Africa made her decision easier. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to attend a Chinese business school in Africa, close to home, while at the same time I would be in contact with my African peers from other countries. In terms of exchange of ideas, that is more interesting than interacting with mostly Europeans because we don’t face the same realities in terms of the business environment and culture,” she explains.
Travelling to Shanghai in September 2015 for a course module with her classmates was a real eye-opener she says. In 2015, for the first time ever, the Shanghai module included two joint courses that brought the CEIBS Africa EMBA participants into the classroom together with the school’s Global EMBA participants. Besides the coursework, company visits and networking opportunities, Feze enjoyed being able to explore Shanghai, “to experience first-hand the tremendous development that has occurred in a very short period of time and how China has been able to combine its inherent character with modernity.”
Currently the Head of Internal Audit Department for SABC, a large beverage company in Cameroon, Feze believes her practical experience combined with what she has learned during her CEIBS EMBA studies have given her a platform to apply for a CEO position. Eventually, she would like to transition to a role in which she can coach executives and entrepreneurs. Her ambitious goals resonate with many of her peers from across the region.
“In Nigeria, people are well qualified,” says Ademola Adewumi who explains that in the banking industry, getting an EMBA or other advanced degree is de rigueur for climbing the corporate ladder. Shortly after beginning the CEIBS EMBA Programme in 2014 he relocated to Ghana to take a position as Group Head of Corporate Banking for FBN Bank Ghana. “So far, what we have studied in the EMBA Programme has helped me a lot. Looking at things from an international perspective and a local perspective, everything comes into play.” For now, he intends to continue applying what he is learning to his current job, but down the road he may look to start his own business.
As for Gardiner, she has already begun to make her entrepreneurship dreams come true. Soon after beginning her EMBA, she left Microsoft and founded an IT company called Devapps Ltd, which provides services for enterprise resource planning and customer management software.
“CEIBS has given me the additional knowledge, the courage, and the inspiration to step out and do what I really wanted to do,” she says. “Just two weeks ago I signed my first business contract. I’m pretty excited.”