2019 Best EMBAs: Vanessa Okwuraiwe, Washington University (Olin)

Vanessa Okwuraiwe

Washington University, Olin Business School

I am determined, resourceful, a good communicator, curious and compassionate person keen to make a difference in the world.”

Age: 46

Hometown:  I have lived around the world so keeping it simple: British born Nigerian, now making a home in St Louis, Missouri.  

Family Members:  Loads, but I’ll mention my kids and husband.

Fun fact about yourself:  I’ll eat anything! I love exploring different cultures around the world through food, so I am yet to say no to anything that is fresh, spicy and interesting.

Undergraduate School and Degree:  University of Kent @ Canterbury (MA – Development Economics), Edo State University Nigeria (Bsc Economics)

Where are you currently working? I’m a Partner at Edward Jones. The financial services industry has an opportunity to attract younger talent and more diversity to help serve clients. I lead the strategy that is focused on ensuring that we are at the forefront of creating an environment that enables our next generation talent to be informed and educated about our industry and the opportunity they have to be financial advisers helping individual investors to achieve their financial goals.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: I serve on the executive board of the St Louis Community College Foundation—our goal is to help remove some of the financial burdens that students face through scholarships. Education is such an important force in individual and economic development—an area where I am passionate. Additionally, through our efforts at Edward Jones, I enjoy being part of the United Way which supports more than 160 nonprofit agencies and the Arts and Education Council, which uses art to inspire kids and enrich our local community.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I have enjoyed the learning experience immensely—especially getting to know my classmates, an excellent group of people from diverse backgrounds. I am proud of having made some deep connections through this program that go beyond the classroom.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Having international experience has allowed for me to be culturally dexterous, which is hugely beneficial professionally and personally. Being in the financial services industry across two continents has enabled me to contribute significantly to initiatives that are focused on providing tools, processes, and services that help individuals achieve their long-term financial goals.    There is a lot of satisfaction that comes with knowing individuals can live out their dreams because of the decisions we have helped them with.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My professors have been brilliant—it’s hard to choose one!

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?  The Innovation and Entrepreneurship course was my favorite because it was brilliant to learn frameworks and systems necessary for being creative and innovative and then implementing new ideas successfully for the growth and survival of a business. The learning can be applied to either a startup or a mature organization, and I immediately started to apply these principles in leading change in my area.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program?  I knew colleagues who had gone through the program and raved about the experience. Being in St Louis, I had a chance to meet some of the professors through my work. Even though I did research other business schools, choosing Olin was an easy decision. The facilities, courses, the structure of the program, and location made it the best choice for my family and me.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I enjoyed learning from the professors and my peers. There was also great dialogue about how decisions are made in different companies. Having a diversity of thought in the classroom was a treat.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education?  On one occasion, I had to travel to Denver for work and would have been out for almost a week. I decided to take the family along so the kids wouldn’t miss me too much (and vice versa!) Although the kids ended up being ill for a bit, I still had to work, do a conference call with my study group, and turn in my assignments. It was a hectic week, but I was pleased we were together as a family through it. In spite of it all, everyone had a good time. I was knackered at the end of it though!

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program?  Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. There is a lot to learn. It is challenging, and you’ll be a much better leader as you go through it.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?

Myth: You will need to sacrifice anything fun during that period.

Reality: It is hard work, but it is also important to prioritize time with family and friends.  This rejuvenated me and kept me focused on the right things. I couldn’t commit to many social events, but I did make time for a few.

What was your biggest regret in business school?  I had none.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I enjoyed my classmates and being part of the cohort was brilliant. Andrea Steinbrenner is one whom I particularly admired for her perspective on business, desire to help others, humour, and a leader who is always seeking to get better.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that with the speed of change in the business world. The skills and competencies that had got me this far needed to be expanded to enable an even more strategic contribution in my work and community.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal?  To be a stronger leader who inspires and helps others to be their best selves and enables communities to feel empowered to eradicate poverty through economic development.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you?  A leader with a global mindset who encourages diverse perspectives seeks to understand and helps lead change.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. I’d love to travel more extensively across western and southern Africa.
  2. Perfect my language skills!

What made Vanessa such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“I’ve had the pleasure of instructing Vanessa in several courses at Olin (Business Analytics and Innovation & Entrepreneurship), and she has been an exceptional student in all cases.

As an individual, she possesses a unique combination of ability, breadth of knowledge and insight that afford her an innovative view of business. As a professional, she has a collection of experiences, global mindset and the position to push her company (and, indeed, any company she chooses to work with) forward.

She displays the grit and determination to see important, and difficult, initiatives through to completion. In short, she’s a person of vision and influence. And as an added bonus, Vanessa exudes a cosmopolitan charm that only magnifies her talents.”

Samuel Chun

Professor of Management Practice & Assistant Dean of Executive Education

Olin Business School, Washington University


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