Harold Okwa

Harold Okwa

Nationality: Nigeiran

Position pre MBA: Managing Director

Programme: Modular Executive MBA 2017

What motivated you to do an MBA and why did you choose Cass Business School?

5 years after my undergraduate studies, I actively engaged in sales, trading and marketing roles within the downstream oil and gas industry. I experienced consecutive career successes but determined that the high oil price was unsustainable.

I decided to pursue my entrepreneurial ambitions, utilizing my transferable skills whilst experiencing new industries. This motivated me to pursue an MBA, refining my business administration skills.

Cass Business school was the best choice for me because of the flexible Programme structure within the business capital of Europe; London.

The Executive MBA was perfect as it enabled the convenience of working on my start-up company in Nigeria, and taking a direct 6 hour flight for a once a month class session. The modular nature of this program enabled me to tailor my electives based on specific needs and pursue my learning across international locations.

What are your career goals and what do you hope to achieve after you have graduated?

My career goals are the founding and management of successful companies in the Real Estate and Agriculture industries. I believe in these two industries as vehicles for the sustainable growth and development of Nigeria, West Africa and Africa, generating employment opportunities whilst adding value to society.

Before my EMBA programme, I had founded a real estate company; Vestates. Since I started this programme, I have applied the lessons learnt to my start-up, through strategy, marketing and team building. This has resulted in a significant year on year increase in market share.

After graduating from Cass Business School, I desire to fully apply the knowledge learnt and harness my professional network to lead, manage and grow very successful businesses. A key thing I hope to achieve is to develop an international reputation for applying disruptive business models in the emerging market that is Africa.

How would you describe your overall experience of the MBA so far?

So far, the MBA programme has been exciting and very engaging. I have had the opportunity to meet very interesting people of varied experiences across diverse industries.

I enjoy the personal interactions and coursework sessions within small groups. This has enabled me to learn a lot from my colleagues on this programme. Overall my experience has been excellent and I can’t wait for the next stage.

How do you balance you work and personal life with academic studies?

My day to day routine involves an early start at 5am and exercise to commence work at 7.30am. I finish work around 7pm, then engage in my MBA study till 11pm. Even while maintaining a commitment to work and study rigor, I ensure I create time for family and friends.

My advice for anyone considering to participate in this programme is go for it. A strong time management structure is key, as you can easily feel like 24 hours/day are insufficient.

What has been the most rewarding experience for you so far?

I have enjoyed a lot of key experiences during this programme but the most rewarding thus far, is the professional development weekend.

This was perfectly scheduled for the end of our 1st teaching block examinations. It was a good time to reflect on how the course so far has impacted our careers, businesses and development.

The weekend also highlighted techniques and ways to bring out the best in ourselves such as optimizing our strengths and minimizing our weakness. It also presented the opportunity to interact and network with other members of the MBA Programme.

What has been the most challenging aspect?

The most challenging aspect so far, is arriving at Nigeria and in a short while realizing it is time to return to London for further MBA classes. Time appears to fly by quickly and every moment I seem to be on the move or on a plane.

I have learnt to always engage with my business and CASS study work wherever I am. This could mean engaging with my team (staff) at the office through emails or over the phone, or reading a course case study in the airport lounge.

How would you describe your fellow cohort?

My fellow cohorts have been amazing so far. There is a great mix of people of different countries, industries and varied work experiences. Generally, I have interacted with some of my cohorts more than others, as we are on the same coursework groups or professional development sessions.

During induction weekend we were told that there definitely would be some misunderstanding and disputes. This has not happened, as everyone respects other people’s opinions and contributions.

I also believe the social interactions we have at the end of every course day, in London, have created a deeper bond between everyone. I would say they are all great people individually and within the general course team.

What has the learning experience been like? How are classes and taught and what sort of expertise do the academics bring?

The learning experience so far has been very engaging, striking the right balance between conceptual work and practical interactions.

Each module is adequately shared between class teaching and group based coursework. There is a lot of pre-reading that is required prior to the course weekend, but the material is provided a month ahead. This gives me the opportunity to plan this study around my work schedule.

The academics are very experienced in their fields and within industry. They regularly invite external speakers who bring real world experiences on issues like implementing a new marketing strategy, and staying ahead of competition.

This teaching and engagement along with the professional development courses offered by the careers service, have deeply enhanced my overall learning experience.

What are your thoughts on living and studying in London and does Cass’s location bring any added benefit?

I do not live in London as my business is based in Nigeria. However, the few days I come in for study once every month have been enjoyable.

This culturally diverse capital is home to over 300 nationalities and its where 75% of the world’s top 500 businesses are based.  Cass’ location at the centre of London offers the key benefit of an unparalleled access to different business environments, from start-ups to global corporations across diverse fields.

What advice would you give to a prospective student thinking of doing an MBA at Cass?

Go for it! I am convinced that it is a good move, especially if you have reached the point in your career where you desire a change, or a new challenge. It is a great opportunity to a take a step back, and re-assess your medium to long-term career goals.

My advice is to decide at the start of the course to fully engage with all it has to offer. Make an effort to network with your cohorts and also draw parallels between the learnings from the course and your career or businesses.

Lastly, ensure you implement adequate time management to ensure the workload never seems overwhelming.

If you reside abroad, how practical is it to fly to London every month for your course?

I live in Abuja, Nigeria and regularly take a six hour direct flight or sometimes fourteen hour indirect flight to London for the course. I try to arrive at London a day before the course start, every month to ensure I am regularly rested for the course.

On the rare occasion I have had to travel through the night and attend classes early the next morning, it has been very exhausting and challenging.

To remain productive, I always take the opportunity to read my course materials or adequately rest on the flight. Sometimes, I have been able to network in the waiting lounge which have yielded new business opportunities for my company.

How does your weekend look when you are in London for your course?

Generally I fly into London on a Thursday afternoon for class start the following morning. Classes typically commence at around 9 am and finish at 6pm, with regular short breaks included.

These breaks are usually spent with one’s group discussing either the latest course work due that weekend or the following month. After classes on Friday, we usually head to the closest pub down the road to socialize.

The schedule for Saturday to Monday’s classes are similar, beginning at 9.30am and ending around 6.30pm. After the course weekend ends on Monday evening, I head directly to the airport to catch the 11.30pm flight to Nigeria. Occasionally, I remain in London for a day or two to spend time with family and friends before leaving.