Hailing from Johannesburg, Ajith Sebastian is currently the president of the Net Impact Student Club and a board member of the Africa Student Club. After joining the HEC Paris MBA in January 2017, he recently sat down with Susanne Hofmarcher, a Marketing and Recruitment Manager, to discuss his MBA journey and vision.
What made you decide to pursue an MBA, and why did you choose HEC Paris?
I always planned on doing an MBA and I completed my GMAT back in 2012. However, it was only in 2015 that I started applying to business schools. Thinking back, I simply was not ready to take the next step and, at the time, the opportunities at work excited me. In my last role for Barclays Africa, I worked in the corporate banking section and had a very broad exposure to businesses across Africa. This helped me develop my understanding of different business strategies across the continent. However, if we talk about Africa, it is a continent with strategy approaches as broad and diverse as its people.
There were many reasons why I chose the HEC Paris MBA, including Saint-Cyr, the MBA Tournament (MBAT) and the alumni that I met. However, there were three other elements that I found persuasive:
- In the search for an MBA, European Schools were my focus point, because of the shorter program length and the age demographic of the schools – I thought that this MBA population was a better fit for me and would be one where I could learn as much as I could contribute.
- My first exposure to the school was when I met an HEC Paris representative at an MBA fair in Sandton City. I asked her the same question I had asked every other school at the fair: “Give me one reason why I should not go to your competitor school?” She was the only representative that refused to say anything negative about their competitors. The conversation we had was more focused on whether HEC was a good fit for me. That got me very curious about the school. I started meeting a few more people, and slowly but surely it was either HEC Paris or nothing else.
- I am very conscious that my experience is predominantly in Anglophone Africa. Hence another reason to come to HEC Paris: to position myself well in order to bridge the gap between Anglophone and Francophone Africa.
Congratulations on becoming the president of the Net Impact Club! What are your ideas for the club’s direction?
We will definitely continue working on case competitions, as this has been an amazing learning tool for us. I took part in an international case competition on impact investment. We worked with four different entrepreneurs and pitched to an investment board about how we would fund these entrepreneurs. It was the fastest learning curve I had ever experienced--going from reading a basic pitch in the morning all the way to presenting term sheets to the entrepreneurs and seasoned investors by the end of the day.
What are your career objectives post-MBA?
I’ve been interested in Venture Capital investment firms for a while. And since joining HEC Paris, I am specifically looking at impact investment.
What would you consider the future employment trends for MBA graduates?
My vision of employment is one where MBAs actually go out and start their own businesses, whether it comes in the form of entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship. They push the cutting edge of what’s new and they are the ones who create the new jobs. There are thousands of MBAs graduating every year worldwide, taking jobs within companies. But what happens when there are fewer jobs available? The MBAs will be challenged to apply leadership in order to create something new.
How about career opportunities for MBAs in Africa or within companies that operate in Africa?
I think the trends will be the same as what you find globally. However, the opportunity for entrepreneurship – particularly in terms of businesses that can employ a large number of people – can have a big impact on the structure and nature of the African job market.
I’m also very curious to see how the agriculture industry evolves, given the amount of fertile land that is still underutilized on the continent. I see it as a massive opportunity.
During the HEC Africa Days, one speaker talked about a “momentum” African MBA graduates from international business schools have and will still have in the future. One can observe increasing interest by Europe-based companies who operate on the African continent. Do you agree?
Absolutely. There are many people who fit that profile. Nigeria is a great example too, where a lot of leaders in the biggest companies are MBA graduates who spent a year or two working for a company overseas before moving back home. I expect that we’ll see more and more of that development across the continent.
You are currently in the Fundamental Phase of the 16-month MBA program. Do you already know what options you want to pick for the Customized Phase?
I will probably pursue a fieldwork project in the last months of my MBA. It would be interesting to work for an African investment fund. And I may consider pursuing a certificate in Social Business from HEC Paris.
The ROI of an MBA program is an important part of the decision-making process. How did you approach this question, also given the volatility of the South African Rand?
The one thing I’d say to everyone is that there is funding available. There are many channels – scholarships, grants or even loans. I personally funded mine through Prodigy Finance. I see it as an investment in myself, in the same way as I see going and buying a house or investing in a certain stock. The big difference though: the performance of my investment is up to me. It’s a risk that I have to take and I am more than happy to place that trust in myself.
Any general advice you would give someone who is considering an MBA degree?
My advice is to go through the application form. Just writing out the essay questions is a big learning curve about yourself. It tests whether this is what you really want, what you are really looking for.
The second piece of advice is to talk to alumni. That way, you can see not only what they accomplished, but whether you would actually like to have studied with them.