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Real Humans of IESE’s MBA Class of 2022

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Awethu Kafu, IESE MBA Class of 2022

Age: 27
Hometown: Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, South Africa
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Cape Town, Business Science (Finance)
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Investment Banking (4 years, financial services sector)

Why business school? Why now? 
I’ve always wanted to sharpen my business acumen and cast a spotlight on my leadership skills and style before advancing too much in my career and business school affords one the opportunity to do all of this whilst simultaneously learning and building networks with people from all over the world. Funnily enough, I always thought I was too young to pursue an MBA (I thought it was something you did post the age of 30) but I have been fortunate enough to be granted this opportunity quite early. I was also just “thrown into the deep end” at work and told to swim so whilst I only have four years of work experience I have seen a lot of things and gained a lot of experience in a short amount of time. A great example has been navigating the uncertain terrain that came about with the COVID-19 outbreak where I had to think very creatively about solutions for clients whilst concurrently protecting the bank’s balance sheet.

Why IESE? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? 
IESE is the best business school in my opinion and has so much to offer its candidates that it was just a no-brainer for me. I had been researching business schools for a very long time (at least five years) prior to deciding to apply and none spoke to me until I discovered IESE. Every school has a unique DNA and with the top business schools you are getting very similar offerings so you really just look for “that spark.” The differentiator is in the school’s DNA. IESE has a strong culture of “we lift each other up” and from the time I expressed an interest in joining there was always someone willing and ready to answer any questions that I had and to share their experiences but also to listen to me and understand what my ambitions are. The culture of not only striving for excellence but also leaving positive change really spoke to me as well as this is the type of leader I aspire to be one day. I read somewhere that “when you choose IESE, you choose to embrace excellence and to see the bigger picture.” I could not agree more!

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2022?
First of all, my classmates at IESE are exceptionally smart, talented, and just overall amazing people. I feel so lucky to get to learn from all of them over the next two years! I have been fortunate enough to work in and with developing markets and I tend to think about growth as something that needs to be more inclusive as opposed to just a positive change in year-on-year profits. I tend to think about the wider repercussions of decisions and always see the “bigger picture” in that respect. So I think this will be my differentiating contribution

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
I’m a big foodie and often go back to good restaurants just to try out and tick off all the dishes on their menus! I also enjoy traveling and taking Africa to the world during my travels. I’ve added a picture of myself wearing Ankara prints (a West African fabric) in Paris. This is just my small way of showcasing African talent and beauty to the world.

Post-MBA career interests?
It’s either Private Equity or back to Investment Banking. I liked the impact that I had on the South African economy in my previous job especially when COVID-19 broke out and businesses were looking for funding solutions to help them weather the storm. I really saw how my efforts directly translated into companies being able to retain staff, keep their businesses open, and in some instances helped some clients achieve their acquisitive growth ambitions.

Advice to current prospective applicants:
One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
I came to Barcelona to see IESE and meet the people here before I decided to apply. That helped to really inform my decision about joining the school. I actually came to the school, just sat in the canteen and people-watched. Everyone was so kind, some even greeted me and the people at the coffee shop kept checking if I was fine and that my coffee had not run out. I felt at home and knew that this was where I belonged. If you are conflicted about which business school to attend I would encourage visiting the school to get an idea of the stuff that cannot be summarized into words or communicated via a brochure – the energy and vibe of the school.

One thing you would change or do differently?
I would have started studying for the GMAT much earlier because it was a major scramble towards the end where I was not getting the scores I needed to be able to secure a spot! I had to keep rewriting and that pressure each time I wrote was not ideal but eventually, everything worked out

Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
The GMAT! Coming to the IESE campus helped me a lot because it just made my dream so much more real and tangible so I just knew I had to go back home, work hard, and secure my spot in the class of 2022!

What is your initial impression of IESE’s students/culture/community?
Kind, caring, non-competitive. Here we rise together!

One thing you have learned about IESE that has surprised you?
I honestly thought I would be another number in a lecture theatre listening to the professor tell me about something on his/her slides but the lectures here are very interactive and we are divided into very small groups to make sure that everyone contributes and is heard. It is almost impossible to not speak in a class (and if you are quiet the professor will notice and ask you for your opinion!).

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Making it to second year! I’m used to working hard but somehow working hard in studies feels a bit different and more exhausting!

Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Interacting with my classmates, building, and growing together. I have already met some amazing people who have great ideas and are just so inspired to make their mark on the world and leave things better than they found them. Looking forward to eventually meeting and interacting with every single person in my class!

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.