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Real Humans of Facebook: Bankole Makanju, HBS ’17, Product Manager

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No matter what you like to do most on Facebook, at least some part of the social media giant is likely integrated into your daily life.  And, while you peruse pictures of your family and friends, there are other people hard at work off-screen optimizing and delivering various products.  In this edition of Real Humans: Alumni, we hear from a product manager at Facebook and graduate of Harvard Business School in 2017.  Read on for Bankole Makanju’s journey to and through Harvard, and what he more than “likes” about Facebook.

Bankolé Makanju, HBS ’17, Senior Product Manager

Bankole Makanju, HBS ’17, Product Manager at Facebook

Age: 32
Hometown: Lagos, Nigeria
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Lagos, Nigeria. Electrical / Electronics Engineering
Graduate Business School, Graduation Year and Concentration: Harvard Business School. Class of 2017.
Pre-MBA Work Experience: 4 years. Startups, Management Consulting.
Post-MBA Work Experience: Technical Product Management, 2 years.

Why did you choose to attend business school?

I chose business school to expose myself to an international education, gain new experiences, and to take advantage of the available funding opportunities.

Before my MBA, my education and work experience was exclusively in Africa. Going to business school offered a chance to live outside Nigeria and benefit from the credibility of a world-class institution. My mentors had MBA degrees and thought it was a good way to broaden my horizons.

Second, I liked consulting, but I wasn’t sure if this was because it was the best fit for my skills, or because I had not tried anything else. If I looked around and decided I wanted to come back to consulting, I’d have an MBA and a great experience under my belt.

Finally, my company offered a conditional MBA scholarship, which would help with the cost. In addition, I planned to use funding availability and cost of living as top criteria to choose where I would eventually attend to lessen the financial impact.

Why HBS? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Harvard is a globally recognized brand. HBS Alumni are prominent in Nigerian business circles and I have been fortunate to work with some of them. These alumni speak fondly of their time there and helped me consider HBS highly. As I got deeper into my MBA research, I discovered professors and classes I wanted to attend. I learned about academic resources and funding opportunities, including grants and other region-specific scholarships for Africans and students of African origin. Furthermore, HBS is able to convene the right people on the topics I care about. For example, the HBS Africa Business Conference attracts over 1,200 attendees and is the largest student-run conference on Africa.

All of these factors helped put HBS ahead of other schools as I decided where to apply and attend.

What about your MBA experience prepared you for your current career?
As someone looking to try new things, I enrolled in classes that provided hands-on experience with the industries I was interested in. These experiences were valuable, similar to the day-to-day jobs I was exploring. Moreso, the classes were also with teacher-practitioners, who shared their real-world experiences and helped bridge the gap between theory and real-world applications.

For example, I spent a semester working on a deal with a top private equity firm and another working on an entrepreneurship idea funded by HBS. In both cases, I conducted primary research, hired contractors and had plenty of exposure to senior-level thinking on issues with real-world impact. These experiences helped clarify what I was really interested in and good at compared to things that only looked good from the outside.

I also got to learn from my peers with experience in these industries. I was able to probe to understand what the day-to-day responsibilities really are like and decide if it could be a fit for my career.

Finally, I got involved with the Africa Business Conference, becoming the co-chair in my second year. Through planning and executing the conference, I learned first hand what it means to have responsibility without authority, a common feature of working in product management.

What was your internship during business school?  How did that inform your post-MBA career choice?
I spent my summer internship at a private equity fund in Dakar, Senegal. Going into business school, I wanted to work in West African private equity, and sought experiences investing in French West Africa. I was fortunate to get a lot of mentorship during my time there, and got  to work on different projects across the investment lifecycle. However, the more time I spent working in private equity, the more I realized I wanted to solve a different kind of problem. I was more excited working in an operational role than being an investor.

Why did you choose your current company? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to work?
I’m an immigrant, so the company’s visa policy was an important factor. Outside that, I wanted to work in technology, learning and building products for global customers. There are not many people like me in technology and I wanted to be a part of changing that and making sure these technology products reflect their diverse customer base. I was looking for a place that cares for its people, and allowed me to work on challenging problems with room to grow. Finally, I wanted a location that works for me and my partner’s career. My job meets all those criteria.

Advice to current MBA students:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of the job search?

Use the alumni network. Don’t neglect the Executive MBA students or the non-MBA alumni. Even if it is just to make the connection, feel free to reach out and ask for advice or who they think you should speak with. Most people will give advice and make connections to their network.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
Realize that the first job or role out of business school is unlikely to be your forever job, and holding it to that standard is unreasonable. For my first job out of business school, I spent a lot of time on details about the role that were ultimately less important. I would have been better off focusing on the company’s prospects and opportunities for mobility within the company and industry.

–Were there any surprises regarding your current employer’s recruiting process?
No, none at all. I had done a lot of research including talking to current and former employees.

–What piece of advice do you wish you had been given during your MBA?
Your personal life is just as important. For most people, professional success is empty without meaningful relationships. Figure out what this means to you and optimize for relationships as much as you do for your career. It’s okay for one to take a backseat to the other for some time, but be sure not to neglect one for the other for extended periods.

What’s the best thing about working for your current employer?
Facebook attracts very smart and thoughtful people who think carefully about our impact on the world. Second, it’s the impact Facebook is able to have on people and small businesses through products like marketplace or Fundraisers on Facebook. For these reasons, I’m excited to be building the next generation of products with the people I work with.

Lauren Wakal
Lauren Wakal has been covering the MBA admissions space for more than a decade, from in-depth business school profiles to weekly breaking news and more.