A learning experience with business impact: Meet two Trium EMBA participants class of 2018
TRIUM Global EMBA’s 61 participants are halfway through their six immersive courses in an experience which is taking them to three continents over 18 months. This unique collaboration between three world class business schools (HEC Paris, NYU Stern School of Business and LSE) is providing this latest cohort a unique educational experience geared to shape them around the needs of 21st century senior global executives. We meet two of the EMBA’s luminaries, Uchenna Agbo and Kiyomitsu Abe, to reflect on the course’s impact so far.
Uchenna and Kiyomitsu stand proudly in the footsteps of close to 1,000 alumni who gravitated through the 18 months of the EMBA program called TRIUM (a word derived from Latin for “three”). Yet, none of these senior management leaders might have enjoyed the unique exchanges this degree has been affording for the last 17 years. Travel back in time, and you stand alongside the first cohort in London, dazed by the earth-shaking early morning news from New York on that September 11, 2001 - the day they were to start the course’s first-ever module.
That the founders of the EMBA decided to go ahead with this unique degree is testimony to a philosophy diametrically opposed to what 9/11 represented: a vision of the next generations of global business leaders which, as The Economist wrote, “would need to have special breadth of understanding in order to navigate the newly “flat” world that seemed to be emerging.”
An Answer to the De-globalization Trend
The TRIUM Global Executive MBA program brings together carefully crafted courses distilling HEC’s expertise in strategy and marketing, NYU Stern’s know-how in finance and LSE’s acumen in political economics and geopolitics. “Learning from three of the world’s most prestigious business schools placed me at the epicenter of innovative and cutting-edge cross-cultural management,” wrote Swaady Martin-Leke (Class of 2012) who has gone on to found the home-grown African global luxury brand Yswara. Ranked world number one in the 2014 Financial Times EMBA rankings, and consistently in the top five, TRIUM has perfected a program that scrutinizes in an unparalleled way global business through socioeconomic, geopolitical and technology filters.
“We’re living in an era where ‘de-globalization’ has become more popular in some government circles,” admits Kiyomitsu Abe who began the Class of 2019 last September. The 43-year-old helps run seven companies within Japan and Indonesia. His Abe group has over 70 years of experience in sectors as diverse as manufacturing products for infrastructure facilities for the Olympics, five star hotels and traditional Japanese shrines to interior design of café and shops. Kiyomitsu’s vision is resolutely global: “I don’t agree with protectionism and I feel TRIUM shares my globalizing vision, more aided by technology and the new world ways of trade and commerce. This course has brought together participants to create a body with very diverse yet complementary components.” The businessman sits back reflectively: “It makes us and the world better. That’s why I chose this MBA! Everyone here is very positive and forward-looking.”
Uchenna Agbo is equally well-traveled and worldly-wise. The vivacious Nigerian exploded onto the IT and mobile telephony scenes in Africa and the Middle East almost the day after she graduated from Middlesex University in 2002 with an MSc in Business IT. For seven years, the London-based consultant worked with major corporations in Europe and was at the heart of projects like migrating the business of gaming from traditional to online. Then, in 2009, Uchenna decided to return to her homeland to, in her own words, “make an impact”. At 42, she is hoping TRIUM will help her TrustVAS company “bridge the gap between the banked and the underserved”. “I see us our cohort as an example of positive inclusion, diversity and business social engagement. I hope we will counter the de-globalization movement which some governments are pushing at the moment and make inclusiveness a hip thing.”
Modules with Immediate Impact
After years of top-level management, both Uchenna and Kiyomitsu are keen to step out of their respective comfort zones and expand their own activities through the combined academic firepower that TRIUM offers its participants. The six immersive course modules over 18 months are geared to improve their skills not only in business-related issues, but also appraise the impact geopolitics, disruption, general culture, leadership and new technology have on their management style. “Things are changing so quickly worldwide,” insists Kiyomitsu. “Brexit, Trump, the demographic changes in my native Japan. This course provides us the tools to adapt our business policies and strategies in light of what these transformations means. I’m interested in business activities in the context of megacities and with TRIUM’s courses in New York, London, Paris, Silicon Valley and Shanghai, we’re ideally served!”
Since the course kicked off in September 2017, the participants have been forging the long-term TRIUM Capstone Project which is the beating heart of the 18-month course. But it did not take long for Uchenna to put the lessons learnt during the initial modules to good use. Since 2016, she has been marshalling her privately-owned and funded company TrustVAS with a strong 15-person team based in Lagos. They have been working with a patented method to strategically drive financial inclusion through wealth inclusion. “All the TRIUM courses have so far been impactful in running my business. For example, I’ve put to immediate use lessons learnt on leadership. Same goes for my communication skills, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking to you like this,” she adds with a laugh, and then pursues. “The opening module in London was an excellent introduction into looking at business from a political angle, something we are just starting to do in Africa. Our work in Silicon Valley for the second module was an amazing package, driven by charismatic teachers like NYU Professor of Corporate Finance Aswath Damodaran. It brought home the disruptive nature of technological change for us in the digital era which we would do well to learn in my country. So, I’ve seen changes in myself already, even if we’re barely halfway into the degree.”
Diversity is the Name of the Cohort Game
The two experienced executives have also been impressed by the pedigree of their fellow-students. It was one of the reasons which pushed Kiyomitsu to apply for TRIUM rather than the other EMBA places he was offered. “The other participants really have outstanding track records and we’ve learnt plenty from each other,” he says. “My 17 years in business have been essentially in Asia and I’d reached a point in my career when I wanted to take stock of my family firm and see how I can expand it beyond our continent. With 28 nationalities represented here, it’s been a fantastic crash course into other business cultures and has priceless value.” The COO of Abe Kogyo Ltd appreciates the direct and speedy leadership qualities in the West, which he hopes to gel with consensus and mediation, keywords in management circles back home. “We’re at a crossroad just now. Japan is booming and we’re heavily involved in building for the 2020 Olympic Games. But we need to become more productive to make up for our aging demography. We also need to learn how to build up our tourism industry from countries like France. At present, we host 28 million tourists a year and we’d like to reach 40 million by 2020. I’m convinced TRIUM is providing me the knowhow to tackle these challenges.”
The diversity of nationalities has also fueled the TRIUM experience for Uchenna Agbo. “Our cohort is quite diverse but it is VERY inclusive,” she says with the firmness that characterizes someone who has founded major companies like Nairtime Holdings Ltd and launched operations in seven countries across the Middle East. “It’s a real one-for-all, all-for-one atmosphere where we support each other, learn about other business cultures. Some of us have strong characters, some are funny, some are both. But there are only positive vibes here.” Anything she’d like to add to the program? “Why yes! A module in Nigeria. Our economic capital is home to one of Africa’s best business institutions, Lagos Business School and I think TRIUM can benefit from the fantastic teaching staff it has there.”
A year ago, one of Uchenna’s compatriots, Rolake Akinkugbe, Head of the Energy and Natural Resources of the FNB Merchant Bank, characterized her TRIUM experience as “helping to connect the dots in business, make sense of real-world phenomenon … and reposition your own leadership or management strategy to take advantage of new economic opportunities.” Only halfway through their TRIUM journey, and already Uchenna Agbo and Kiyomitsu Abe seem to have applied the experiential impact of one of the world’s richest and most rewarding of any executive MBA programs to their own professional environment.