2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Cynthia Obioha Marcus, IESE Business School

Cynthia Obioha Marcus

IESE Business School

Age: 36

“A driven leader with a global mindset, dedicated to building sustainable organisations and empowering others.”

Hometown: Grew up in Aba, a city in Nigeria. Currently living in Dubai, UAE. Previously lived in London, UK.

Family Members: Gbenga Marcus (Husband) and the Obioha & Marcus families

Fun fact about yourself: After earning my degree in Computer Science, I ventured into the wedding industry and ran a business where we hand-made custom accessories like hair fascinators, fans, and jewelry sets. I also provided consultation services to couples. Many years later, this experience came in handy when I had to design my lavish bridal outfits, as well as my husband’s and the bridal party’s, for our wedding that happened a few months ago. I was really pleased to see the finished works.

Undergraduate School and Degree: I earned my Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science with First Class Honors from Covenant University in Ota, Nigeria. I also completed the Advanced Program Management professional certificate program at Stanford University.

Where are you currently working? I’m currently employed at Meta in Dubai, UAE, serving as the Head of International Product Growth and Insights for the Middle East and Africa region. In this role, I lead a team of highly motivated and impact driven people who are focused on defining strategy, identifying and executing growth, retention, and engagement opportunities for our apps in emerging markets and beyond.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Founder of The Bloom Story Organisation in Nigeria (2016-present): As a not-for-profit initiative, we organise annual gatherings for 100 children from various orphanages and underserved communities. These events provide a luxury-feel, inspirational and life-transforming experiences for the children. Bloom has created a successful network of over 70 local vendors and 250 volunteers who have made our Bloom Party events possible through their (and the public’s) generous donations of funds, products, and services.
  • Non-executive board member at Redfloats Energy Limited, Nigeria
  • Founder and host on Time with Neriah, an online learning platform where I facilitate discussions with professionals from various industries.
  • Departmental Representative for the Department of Computer and Management Information Systems (CMIS) at Covenant University in the graduating year from 2009-2010
  • Deputy Head Girl at Federal Government Girls’ College, Owerri (2002-2003)
  • Held leadership positions in the school church choir and the computer club
  • Extracurricular activities include mentoring young adults, particularly women, hosting people for food and thoughtful conversations to build connections, travelling, exploring new cuisines, and pursuing branding and design interests.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of my proudest moments during business school was leading my team to win a simulated $200,000 pre-seed funding during our module 5 in Silicon Valley. It was part of the Entrepreneurship, Venture Capital and Deals course, and our proposed idea was based on deep tech, aimed at empowering young adults in developing markets to advance in their careers and personal lives. The win, which was to fund market research and testing, made me optimistic about the potential of the problem we were solving. More importantly, it gave me the confidence to keep thinking about innovative solutions to address the challenges that matter most to me and my target markets. While the funds were not real, it was still a thrilling experience for me as it was my first funding pitch for a startup idea.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? This would be the courage to explore and enter new markets. It taught me the importance of adaptability and taking calculated risks. I have built valuable relationships with people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives and learned new cultures. This has enriched my professional and personal life.

I found this particularly helpful in my interactions with my classmates from diverse countries and the people we met with as we travelled around the world. I had the right dose of information to spark a conversation and learn even more from them.

Who was your favourite MBA professor? Several professors stood out to me as favourites, each bringing unique perspectives on topics ranging from leadership and entrepreneurship to finance, communications, design thinking, digital transformation, and networking. I found Prof. Santiago Álvarez de Mon’s classes on Managing Oneself to be particularly inspiring, as the cases he presented showcased individuals who overcame immense challenges to achieve success in their respective fields. It made me think about my individuality and  mental strength, and how to be a better person for the world.

As a woman passionate about women’s empowerment, I was particularly drawn to Prof. Marta Elvirarta’s classes on Getting Things Done: Power and Networks. Her teachings and the cases she presented showcased the achievements of powerful women leaders and how they did it. It was through her that I was introduced to Cristina Ventura Serra, an inspiring IESE GEMBA graduate whose case we discussed. Cristina’s determination and go-getter attitude left a lasting impression on me, and I am proud to have her support and guidance.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? During my search for the right Executive MBA program, I was looking for a combination of excellent academic standards and a truly international business perspective. I wanted practical experiences in diverse countries that would differentiate my experience from other Executive MBA programs. It was also important to me to find a program where the timing would be favourable for my schedule.

Fortunately, I found exactly what I was looking for in the IESE Global Executive MBA. The program not only provided me with top-notch academic resources and a diverse network, but also exposed me to a global business environment that exceeded my expectations.

IESE is a leading business school with strong and exemplary values which I am excited to be connected to.  Props to Elena Santodomingo for the amazing guidance through the decision-making process and Ermias Mengistu for the support!

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The case method of learning, which is employed at IESE, reiterated to me the importance of asking many “whys.” This approach challenged me to think critically about the underlying drivers of business decisions and strategies, which has been incredibly valuable in my work. For example, leveraging the tools provided in the Design Thinking for Business Innovation course led by Prof Joaquim Vilà, I have been able to work with my team to uncover deep needs for users in our markets and generate even more insights. By asking “why” and digging deeper, we are also able to tell better stories about the work we do and communicate more effectively with our stakeholders.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? Juggling work, family, and education can be challenging. One particular experience that comes to mind is when I planned my wedding within three months in Q4 2023 while also managing active modules at school. The wedding planning process was an additional responsibility that required a significant amount of time and effort, but I knew I couldn’t afford to let my professional or academic responsibilities slip. To manage everything, I relied heavily on the support of my fiancé and our families, who helped with the wedding vendors and other preparations.

In addition to the wedding planning, as the founder, I was also a lead volunteer for The Bloom Story’s event in December, which was only two weeks before the wedding. I communicated my situation to the leads and volunteers, and they stepped up to drive the planning, which was a great relief for me. I’m glad we built a functional system prior to then.

I delegated tasks where necessary, ordered my priorities, and communicated effectively with my support system. In the end, I was able to complete my work responsibilities and coursework while planning my wedding, and the event turned out to be a success. Effective communication and time management delegation are key to balancing multiple responsibilities, and with the right support system, anything is possible.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? If you’re considering an Executive MBA program, it’s important to be well-prepared for the journey. First, you should deeply understand your “why”: what drove you to consider an executive MBA program. It will help you stay committed during the rigorous days ahead.

Research the programs you’re considering and reach out to current students and alumni as they can provide valuable insights and help set the right context for you. I did this and found it really helpful.

Additionally, you should prepare yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally for the demands of the program, and define clear objectives; this will help you to stay focused on your goals.

Finally, when you eventually get in, network, network, network with your classmates, alumni and even professors and faculty. Time flies by really fast. Therefore, take advantage of it from day one to learn and build your professional network.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? Some people at a certain age think it is too late to go back to school. Learning should never stop. I appreciate seeing various age groups in my class. They were smart people occupying various leadership positions in their industries, with many years of experience yet humble enough and motivated to learn.

“Onye kwe Chi ya ekwe.” This is a saying in my native tongue, Igbo, transliterated to ‘Where there’s a will there’s a way.’ I went back to school, despite my initial fears and doubts. I saw everything around me adjust to accommodate and enable this new responsibility for me. An unwavering support system at home and in my workplace emerged to make it happen and I am thankful to them. I’m proud that I took the leap. I look back and see how much I’ve learned within such a short timeframe.

What was your biggest regret in business school? To be honest, I have no major regrets from my time in business school. Of course, there were moments of stress and doubt, but looking back, I see those as opportunities for growth and learning. If I had to pick one thing, it might be that I wish I had pursued an MBA program sooner in my career, with some years of experience already bagged. The IESE GEMBA experience has been incredibly rewarding and has given me a new perspective on business, leadership, and myself. I’m enthusiastic about expanding my knowledge and personal development outside of the formal academic setting.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Filipa Matos Baptista is a great classmate and friend. Her commitment to her personal and professional growth is admirable.  I recall watching her prepare for a speech we were asked to present during our Managerial Communications workshop with Prof. Conor Neill and Tony Anagor. She did so diligently. We were encouraged to provide feedback to one another in our group, she iteratively incorporated the feedback she received. Each comeback was even more solid. She would stay in a private corner, rehearsing over and over again and the result of this was seen in the well applauded final speech that she delivered.

Filipa and I paired up as peer coaches in our first module during Prof. John Almandoz’s thought-provoking Leadership course. As her peer coach, I observed her vulnerability in her sessions, openness to guidance and commitment to action plans. I have since then seen her evolve personally and professionally. At the same time, she also coached me and I found it beneficial to my growth. Although the peer coaching exercise was designed for that module, we discussed our desire to continue coaching one another and we continued our sessions through the rest of the modules and beyond.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? The decision to pursue an Executive MBA program was driven by the desire to have a more personalised and immersive learning experience for me. Having previously taken online courses, I found that they lacked the in-person interaction and engagement that I craved. Additionally, as a busy professional with years of work experience, the condensed format of an Executive MBA program was better suited to my needs. While part-time MBA programs may have been an option, the demands of my work schedule and personal life at the time made the Executive MBA program a more feasible option.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate long-term professional goal would be to build organisations that solve problems, make a meaningful impact, and have long-term sustainability whether it’s through starting my own venture or leading teams within existing companies.

What made Cynthia such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“When I first met Cynthia during the admission process, I was impressed with her level of energy, passion, drive, and ambition to grow, to learn, to make a difference and have an impact. She came comes across as an exceptional candidate for the program. Juggling work, family and studies is always a challenge in the GEMBA, and Cynthia succeeded at finding the right balance; in spite of her busy work schedule at Meta, she was always active in class contributing to team work and getting involved with her peers. With her expertise in tech companies such as Google and Meta were she is currently Head of International Product Growth for the Middle East and Africa region, her passion to help develop women in business in Africa through non-profit initiatives, she always contributes to the class discussion and her peers experience in the program.

It was a privilege to have her as part of the IESE GEMBA and I cannot wait to see what she will do in the future!”

Elena Santodomingo
Director, Executive MBA, IESE Business School


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