2023 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Lara Adesokan, Rice University (Jones)

Lara Adesokan

Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University

Age: 44

“Positive person. Energy professional with 20+ years’ experience. Wife and mother of three amazing children.”

Hometown: Houston, Texas (current). Born in Ibadan, Oyo state, Nigeria.

Family Members: Husband: Niyi. Children: Tara (9 yrs.), Teri (7 yrs.), Tomi (5 yrs.)

Fun fact about yourself: I worked on an oil rig offshore in the UK North Sea for three years when I started my career after university. It was pretty much me as the only female and 122 male colleagues’ majority of the time. The whole experience was baptism by fire, but it’s been one of the most invaluable experiences of my career.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Braford, England: BEng Chemical Engineering and MEng Chemical Engineering; Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen Scotland: MSc Well Design and Engineering; Rice University, Houston Texas: MBA

Where are you currently working? Shell, Well Engineering Team Lead

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles: Mentoring, especially minorities and professional women. I am a board member of a non-profit organization that works with local and international schools to support less privileged children in getting an education. Some of the students we support are the first in their entire family to attend university. I am also a board member of an ERG, WAVE (Women Adding Value Everywhere) at my organization, Shell. WAVE is an ERG that supports profession women in achieving their potential while also advocating for an equitable work environment.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Getting an “A” (-) grade in accounting. Accounting was one of the most difficult subjects for me. I had successfully avoided it for most of my pre-EMBA education, which included one bachelor’s and two master’s degrees, but it was mandatory for the EMBA program. Having worked in a predominantly technical profession as a drilling engineer, accounting was not a subject I had to apply. But faith caught up with me, and I had to face the subject. It took a lot of studying, overcoming anxiety, support from my peers and family to encourage me to stick with it and not give up. I almost passed out when I received my final grade. I had to email the professor to confirm it wasn’t a mistake.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The achievement I am most proud of in my professional career is being able to have a successful career for over 20 years in a deeply technical discipline. I joined Shell right out of university and was almost immediately sent offshore as a drilling engineer to an oil rig in the UK the North Sea to begin my career. The work environment offshore was nothing like I had ever experienced, and it was sometimes uncomfortable as I was predominantly the only female company engineer on the rig. I stayed rotating for three years. I moved to the U.S. about 12 years ago with Shell and started designing and drilling multimillion dollar deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Like my entry into the oil industry after university, this was new and challenging. The majority of the projects I executed came out in the top quartile and best-in class category with most executed under budget and ahead of schedule. In addition to that, I have been the lead drilling engineer for three major oil field discoveries by Shell in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor was James Hackett. Professor Hackett taught the “Mission and Values as a Leader in Economic Activities” class. The goal of the class was to better understand how to use personal missions and values to pursue authentic (and virtuous) leadership at work while providing more meaning to our work lives and those of others. He brought his personal experience as a CEO of Anadarko to illustrate how one can be an authentic and effective leader without compromising one’s deeply held values. After over 20 years in my profession and exposure to different leaders, authenticity is the leadership quality I most admire. I learned a lot from his class, and I believe all I learned will help me become an authentic and effective leader in whatever capacity I find myself.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose Rice’s executive MBA program because I wanted to gain formal business education and leadership skills to compliment my predominantly technical experience — from an institution that ranked among the top in the United States. In addition to that, I wanted to enroll in a program that would make it conducive for me to juggle being a devoted mother of three children (all under the age of 10), a demanding career, and school. Rice was the perfect choice for me as it meant I didn’t have to travel far away from my family to attend classes. To further enhance my decision, I had positive recommendations from work colleagues who had attended the Rice EMBA program.

What is the biggest lesson you gained during your MBA and how did you apply it at work? The biggest lesson I gained during my MBA program was that I was stronger physically, mentally, and emotionally than I thought, and I can do anything I put my mind to. With feedback from my cohort and professors, I also learned that I was a natural leader with executive presence. At the beginning of the program, I was nominated and elected as a class president. When I was nominated, I was worried about how I was going to be able to add this responsibility to my already full plate of work, kids, and school, but I thought I could learn while in the position to be a better leader. I took on the challenge and it has brought out leadership skills I didn’t even know I had. Another lesson I learned while facing difficult subjects was that when faced with a challenge, rather than being overwhelmed, I needed to take one day at a time and to utilize all the support around me. I am applying the lessons I gained by being a role model to anyone that may doubt their abilities, and I am practicing being a compassionate leader who invests in my team and empowers them to deliver more than they ever thought they were capable of doing.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? While considering enrolling for the executive MBA program, my biggest concern was the effect of the studies on my three children. So, before I applied, I sat all three of them down (at the time they were 8, 6, and 4 years old). I explained to them that mummy was thinking of going back to school so that she could learn some skills that would help her develop and give her more opportunities professionally (and personally) in the future. I told them that enrolling meant I would be away from home every other weekend and I would not be able to attend birthday parties and other social events. I then asked them if they thought I should enroll, and they unanimously said yes. I was extremely surprised by their response. The moment they said yes, all my bottled-up fears about going back to school went away. From that moment, I also realized that, although they were young kids, they were big stakeholders in one of the most important decisions in my life. Their support helped me to cope with the challenges of going back to school and gave me the courage to persevere when times were tough. This experience taught me the importance of being inclusive when seeking opinions and the value of support from friends and family when trying to make key decisions.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? My advice to any student looking to enter an executive MBA program is not to overthink it. Instead, write down reasons why you think you need the MBA and share the idea with your trusted stakeholders that know and support you (if possible). Also, if still in doubt (or just do it anyway), reach out to the school for advice. Once you start, take one day at a time, and keep asking for any required support.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? The biggest myth about going back to school is that it is impossible to juggle while working in a demanding job and having young kids at home. The truth is that in pursuing an important building block, you will learn to ask for help and prioritize your commitments. At work, you will learn to delegate effectively, trust your team and communicate effectively. At home your hard work, perseverance and commitment will be a wonderful example for your children, and you will be a role model for your whole family. Since I started the executive MBA program, I noticed that at work, my confidence and efficiency has improved. Best of all, at home, my kids are more independent and take the initiative to study daily and do their homework. I believe the reason my children are more independently motivated is partly because they see me study daily, face the challenge of learning new things, and not give up even when times are tough. This was a benefit that I never envisaged and will be a life-long lesson for them.

What was your biggest regret in business school? The biggest regret in business school is that, after graduation, I will miss seeing my cohort, (now lifelong friends) every two weeks. I will miss the banter, the exchange of opinions, ideas, and the laughter. On the flip side, I am excited to continue these friendships after graduation and witnessing how will utilize the skills we gained and pivot to the next levels of our careers.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Segun Ogunsanya. Segun, in my opinion is an understated genius. He is one of the smartest people I have ever met. In addition to his smartness, he is also very kind, patient and always available to coach classmates whenever they reach out. He is very business savvy and combines his professional experience with entrepreneurial opportunities. I look forward to working with him in the future in some capacity.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? With almost 20 years of professional work experience, I chose the executive MBA program because I wanted a program that would give me the opportunity to improve my business acumen and leadership skills with students who had similar levels of experience and maturity. I also wanted an in-person program to improve the opportunity to collaborate and network. With three kids, financial commitments, and a demanding job, taking time off work was also not a viable option. Putting all the above reasons demonstrated that the executive MBA was the right program for me.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate long-term profession goal is to continue to develop my leadership skills and attain a role in management as a vice president (or the like) in my organization. I plan to utilize my technical and problem-solving skills — and now business acumen — to generate long term value for my organization. Most importantly, I want to be a confident and authentic leader who supports and inspires others to dream big and achieve goals they never thought possible.

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

“Lara is a special person. Our time together ranks highly in my experiences with EMBA students at Rice. The course she took with me is oriented toward sharing personal and professional perspectives on leadership, values and mission through paper submissions and classroom discussion. It provides an uncommon opportunity to gain insights into a student’s moral beliefs, leadership instincts, personal priorities and team-orientation.

Lara is an uncommonly kind, well-spoken, thoughtful, and diligent person. She is dedicated to being a better leader and putting the lessons she has learned at Rice into practice in her work at Shell.

As a former oil-field engineer, I cannot overstate how challenging her career must have been. African female drilling engineers are very rare, and to have progressed to her current position at Shell is a remarkable accomplishment.

She is the kind of person I would love to work with. She is passionate about her mission, her professional work, the success of her teams, her family and building enduring friendships.”

James T. Hackett
Adjunct Professor, Executive MBA program — Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University
Lecturer, Graduate Liberal Studies program — Glasscock School, Rice University


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