2020 Best & Brightest EMBAs: Milkah Wachiuri, IESE Business School

Milkah Wachiuri

IESE Business School

“A very committed, passionate and loyal daughter, friend, employee, and mentor to many women.”

Age: 34

Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya

Family Members: My dad – Edward, mum – Grace, older brother- Simon and younger sister – Bilha

Fun fact about yourself: I wrote a letter to my dad when I was 9 years old and told him I would like to go to boarding school the next year and then wrote another letter to my mum and asked her to make sure she convinced him to let me go. Secretly, I only wanted to do it because I wanted the feeling of owning my stuff which comes with being in boarding school – and I cried like crazy for the first weekend once I got in. In the end though, I sailed well through it. I t was one of the most daring decisions I have made in my life as the boarding school experience built every inch of resilience and independence I have to date that has served me well in many instances.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Nairobi (Bachelor of Commerce in Finance)

Where are you currently working? Cellulant Corporation; I am the Chief Operating Officer looking after our Agriculture marketplace platform operations and driving growth on our platform on a mission to feed Africa.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work, and Leadership Roles: I love traveling. Right before I started school, I did a 4 week period where I ticked off almost three areas of travel on my bucket list to Niagara falls, Hollywood, and the Swiss Alps. I am also a mentor in different programs that I have taken up where I must say I have learnt more than I have given to the ladies ranging from high school to University and working with whom I spend time discussing their dreams and fears and charting possible paths through this.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During my GEMBA experience, I am most proud of managing to juggle a very busy school schedule, while changing roles from CFO and discovering what I wanted as the next steps in my career and my life. By the end of the year, I changed roles at work to COO. It was a beautiful yet very reflective year that was extremely busy but I managed to handle each very deliberately and eventually get to the end of my year feeling very accomplished and settled on both fronts.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At Cellulant, I have been blessed to be able to get involved in roles and projects that have pushed me beyond my limits. I am most proud of having made CFO of the group business looking after 10 African countries at the age of 28 years. In my tenure, I built the finance function reporting framework and a team of 40 staff. And eventually being the finance lead that helped raise $47.5mil series C round in 2018 – the largest of its kind in Africa for a tech business at the time. This year, I am most proud of taking on a new challenge in Cellulant as COO for our marketplace business and moving from my home country Kenya to live in Nigeria – I wake up each day knowing that my work will feed Nigeria where we currently run the marketplace and feed Africa eventually as we expand it. The sheer challenge of being part of the team building that gives me goosebumps every day.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The IESE GEMBA was a program above the rest – I chose it because it offered a leadership journey throughout the program which was the only program I saw with that level of emphasis on leadership. I love traveling, so it was great that 70% of the class was taught in a different location and continent which was an interesting way to experience school and the world. Finally, the case method was a sure winner as this allowed me to have a very participatory experience.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Being able to meet a phenomenal group of classmates from all over the world who were willing to share their world with you and their experiences without reservations. Profoundly, what I enjoyed the most, we had a coaching period as part of the program that really helped me to center my career objectives and path in a very structured and clear-minded way. I left those sessions with a clear view of what mattered to me and why.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? Apart from the great classes where many principles and frameworks were learned across various subjects, my biggest lesson during my GEMBA was that everything – absolutely everything – can be prioritized and accomplished if you put your mind to it. I learnt this just by the sheer ability to plan for school work and for work goals and making sure to keep critical balls in the air. The group that I was assigned to during the program made a decision to meet every Saturday at 3 pm BCN no matter where we were in the world or whether we had an assignment or not – I have applied that principle to work – commit wholly to something you care about.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? During my San Francisco module, I had a large project that I was driving at work. I had to leave for school in the middle of it and to still be involved while in the valley as we needed to present it to the board in the second week of my classes. I would wake up for classes that started at 7.30 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m. or class activities till 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. and then be in a meeting at 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. which is when the team at work were awake. Or, I would start my day early from 3 a.m. to have meetings then head to class. I had to muster the art of sneaking in sleep to stay energized and alert for class and work.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Be sure what your goals are on taking on the program – your resilience and resolve will be tested often and clarity on what your goals keep you very grounded.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? There literally, as we all came to learn, is never a perfect time to start. So if you feel you are ready, you probably – so don’t question it too much. It usually actually ends up that the gut feeling you had that it is about time – that gut is usually right.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Catalina Porojan – I call her my sister from another mother. We met when we had both come to experience the school for a day before finalizing the application and ended up both getting accepted and meeting in class and becoming very good friends throughout the program. She was an excellent friend and listener with whom we shared many of life`stories in both the good and trying times of GEMBA. A great participant and neighbor in class who was generous with her class participation and willingness to help.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I felt that I was at a crossroad in my career and I needed to choose a road that continued to build, challenge, and grow me.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to lead a tech business as CEO – have a huge payday from my shares and become an investor who can use her experience building other businesses in Africa which need both the money and the experience I will have amassed over time.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? A dedicated and committed straight shooter who cares a lot about her team.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  1. Learn psychology and become a certified executive coach and merge my work experience, tact of a trained coach, and wisdom of a psychologist to really coach people with a better understanding of who they are and understanding why their life`s experiences have brought them where they are and how to navigate that successfully.
  2. I would love to take a 6 months to 1 year break and travel the world

What made Milkah such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Milkah started the Global EMBA as the CFO at an African fintech business that operates in 10 African markets and is now changing to a new role within her company as the COO in charge of the Agriculture marketplace platform operations. A challenging position to grow the platform on a mission to feed Africa. Milkah was able to integrate all the learnings from the Global Executive MBA and develop her leadership skills to be ready for this new role. Milkah is passionate, positive and full of energy, with strong analytical skills and a very positive, open-minded, and joyful personality. She regularly gives her time to mentor young people about their career goals and growth as individuals.

Beyond her academic performance, with her strong personality, Milkah brought all these positive intangible assets to the class in a very humble way and with great ability to bring people together. She is definitively a great contributor to the GEMBA class of 2020 and I cannot wait to see all the positive impact she will have in the near future. She is a strong African female leader with huge potential to become a role model for women in Africa.”

Elena Santodomingo
GEMBA Program
Associate Director

DON’T MISS: THE FULL LIST OF THE TOP 100 BEST & BRIGHTEST EXECUTIVE MBAS OF 2020

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