MBA Connect Story: One Day in Africa - CUHK MBA

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MBA Connect Story: One Day in Africa

Hiroki Ishida (Full-time Class of 2012)
Manager, Asia Africa Investment and Consulting Pte. Ltd.

The image some people have of Africa as a continent where it is hot and there is poverty and fighting, is not necessarily incorrect. However, my experience in Nairobi, Kenya, has been different.

Nairobi lies at an altitude of approximately 1,700 meters and the weather is pleasantly cool throughout the year. A lot of construction is underway, most of them done by mainland Chinese companies. Keiko, my wife, is fortunately enjoying our life in Kenya.

My company manages a fund called “Toyota Tsusho Creating Shared Value (CSV) Africa”. Although there are many financial players in Kenya and other African countries already, this is Japan’s first venture development fund in Africa.

I am in charge of sourcing, due diligence, valuation and monitoring on the ground. So far the fund has invested in a large-scale agricultural business in Zambia and a leather-good sewing business in Ethiopia.

Could you briefly talk about yourself and what you did before joining CUHK? What motivated you to pursue an MBA degree at CUHK?

Before entering the CUHK MBA program, I worked in a bank in Japan for seven years, getting experience in sales, operations and planning. For the last two years, I worked in the human resources department, in charge of employee training programs. We welcomed more than 300 new employees every year, who needed training.
It was an enjoyable time, but I was really interested in working overseas and this job did not provide the opportunity. At the end, I decided to move to China, as it is one of Japan’s most important business partners. I figured that I needed to acquire several skills if I wanted to find a job there, and I thought getting an MBA would be very helpful. I also hoped to form a network I could rely on while working in China.

Can you bring an example for how CUHK MBA helped you in your career?

While doing my MBA, it was a great opportunity for me to work as the accountant of the Student Association (SA). In my class of about 90 students we had 15 nationalities and people with many different industry and professional backgrounds. SA had weekly meetings where we discussed what we were interested in and, accordingly, how to make the program better. Then we made proposals and talked to the other students and the office.

As an active member of the association, I learned so much from the SA activities. To do a good job, I had to continuously develop my communication, organization and leadership skills and put into practice what I had learned. Although in real business life it may be more difficult to pull a team together because people have their own agendas, but I believe that the program has prepared us in ever so many ways to run our own businesses or excel in our jobs.

What advice would you give to those who are considering an MBA?

Don’t think that joining an MBA program and spending a good sum of money on it by itself guarantees success. It can only become a springboard to accelerate your career if you put a lot of your precious time and effort into it.

To be honest, I did not expect to work in Africa after finishing my MBA, as my objective was to go to China. However, I am really pleased because I enjoy my job and life here. Without the CUHK MBA, it would have been difficult to get such a special and exciting opportunity.

What is mainly required from me are communication, negotiation and people skills to work with people who might have different ideas, leadership skills to lead a team, and knowledge of finance and consulting, for which my MBA has given me the foundations. Of course, there are some requirements very specific to Kenya or African countries in general for which the MBA has not necessarily prepared me. But it has given me the foundations to bridge the gap between what I know today and what I will need to learn to be successful in the future.

What is in a workday for you and how do you spend your free time in Nairobi?

I normally start my day with fresh juice, made from banana, mango and avocado from Kenya. (Very fresh!) Then, very early in the morning, I go to a language school to study Swahili with my wife. Once the class is over, I go to my office or visit potential companies to invest. However, traffic is a major problem in Nairobi. People here have to spend a couple of hours every day in a car. I think it is probably worse than in Shanghai, but better than in Delhi.

There are many national parks in Kenya and even Nairobi has one. By plane, it will not take more than an hour to get to any of them. On holidays, I like to visit a national park to see the animals or just for relaxation. It is also nice to go to other countries in East Africa. I went to Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas with my wife this year. It was an amazing experience.

What is your next ambition now, as you have graduated and found your dream job?

I’m looking for a hands-on opportunity to work for a company in which we will be investing. I believe that working in a particular field over a long period gives people better development opportunities. My mentor in Kenya has been working here for more than 50 years and he has accomplished so much. He advised me to “keep on walking”. Nairobi is actually a very nice place to live, so I would like to stay here for another five to 10 years, if I can find an exciting job.

What is the biggest challenge in your new work/life and how do you intend to solve it?

I keep thinking about how I can add value to the companies we invest in, other than money. Unfortunately, I do not have enough management experience yet to advise them. So, all I can do for now is to think of the needs of these companies and collect some relevant information from abroad which they might find useful. (For example, if something happened in Japan that could happen in Kenya.) It is also important to provide some interesting and meaningful information when I meet some senior executives, if I want to meet them again.

As an active member of the student association during your MBA, do you still keep in touch with any of your classmates?

We don’t keep in touch very frequently. However, I joined my classmates’ wedding parties after graduation and my classmates also came to Japan to join my wedding. Apart from that, I welcomed them with my Japanese classmates from CUHK MBA when they came to Japan. So far, I have no classmates in Africa, but I would like to welcome them in Kenya. Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether I could do business with them or not. However, I want to keep in touch with them.