Name: Mawuse Ziegbe
Year of Graduation: 2014
Country of Residence: Australia
Current Employer: Camper
Please tell us about yourself.
I am a very non-traditional MBA. Before the MBA, I was an entertainment writer and journalist. I worked in NYC for 5 years, primarily as a writer and researcher for BET’s “106 & Park,” a culture-defining live television show that spoke to African-American youth. It was a show I grew up watching and I was very lucky to eventually get hired as a Show Writer and Researcher, scripting the show and researching and writing interviews for everyone from Kanye West to Mariah Carey. I also had nightlife columns for NBC and legendary independent marketing company Giant Step where I could further develop my writing and interviewing skills. I later moved on to MTV News as a reporter, interviewing artists like Justin Bieber and Missy Elliott, and then returned to my hometown for Boston.com, which was then part of The New York Times Company, as a Content Producer.
For years, I loved being a writer in NYC during my 20s: it was parties, meeting my favorite artists, talking about music 24/7, crafting punchy articles, and running around New York like a Black Carrie Bradshaw with far less access to designer outfits. However, I wasn’t convinced of the long-term prospects of entertainment writing. Traditional media like magazines and newspapers were wrestling with their core value proposition in an increasingly digital world and I just didn’t see a future for myself. I was always curious about living abroad and getting my MBA. Editorial roles are often very separate from the commercial side by design. This is, in part, to maintain editorial integrity, so I wasn’t exposed to much of the business in my previous career. I wanted to get a solid foundation in business while also living in Barcelona, one of the best cities in the world. I was able to do this at IESE
Currently, I am the Country Director for Australia and New Zealand for Camper. It’s great for me because it is general management, which means focusing on different challenges everyday. One day can consist of commercial lease negotiations, guiding a team member on their professional goals, analyzing a distribution opportunity, managing sell-in with a wholesale partner, doing a deep-dive on new footwear technology, and more. I’m also lucky to have an incredible local team who work so hard and inspire and motivate me every day. They make my job so much easier.
When I’m not working, I’m rollerskating (because, disco forever), struggling through beginner yoga (still), and devouring fashion magazines and biographies. Sara Gay Forden’s The House of Gucci and André Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches are must-reads.
What an interesting journey – from the US to Spain and now Australia! Did your MBA meet your expectations? Can you share any highlights or surprises with us?
IESE exceeded my expectations. I was blown away everyday by the insights of my professors.
There is solving the case – getting the numbers right – and then there is resolving the case. Does this solution speak to all of the needs of the business problem at hand? What about the long term? What about the people we’re managing? IESE did an incredible job of challenging me to add nuance to my commercial approach.
Highlights include, but are not limited to, Professor Elena Reutskaja‘s first year marketing class which consistently upended my worldview, Professor Jose Luis Nueno‘s marketing and media class and Professors Andrea Baldo and Fabrizio Ferrarro‘s strategic luxury class in my second year which refined my career focus and still provide lessons in my current role. Terrifying as he is, Jan Simon‘s Wealth Management course changed my life.
I was surprised how valuable learning from my teammates and colleagues was. I came from entertainment – which was 90% writing (and re-writing) scripts, producing live content for top-rated shows, and debating the lyrical merits of various rappers – so I really needed the support from my team on subjects such as accounting and finance early on. The class discussions with an international group forced me to consider solutions outside of my upbringing. For example, in the US, we fire people for nothing, but hearing inventive ways to motivate and align team members, improve professional relationships, and come to a common goal from my peers was very insightful.
On a personal note, my mother passed away during my second semester of first year and all of my professors and the IESE staff were so lovely and accommodating. Dean Heukamp spoke with me when he learned of my situation. Professor Reutskaja counselled me on my communication with my mother’s doctors. I cherish the humane way I was treated, and I try to let this same approach inform my management style and interactions with others.
Glad to know the IESE community has had this impact on you. Now in your post-MBA career so far, how has your MBA helped you?
My MBA has been invaluable. Hard skills such as how to interpret a P&L, analyze a commercial opportunity, or effectively negotiate I use every single day. More broadly, IESE made me a much more thoughtful and considerate leader. We had a very technical Decision Analysis case with Professor Rafael de Santiago in my first year that I initially struggled to understand. In class, however, he revealed that the numbers were actually related to internal documents at an organization that later suffered a catastrophic loss of life. The lesson was to always remember there are people behind the numbers. We have to look at our commercial obligations holistically and prioritize the people we manage. I’ve heard this echoed by other IESE professors. This approach very much guided me during the pandemic with a team of 30+ who required a human touch during an extremely challenging time
Looking back, did you manage to achieve your post-MBA goals?
I didn’t have very clear goals going into the MBA aside from doing something different. After I interned at adidas between my first and second years, I formed the very specific goals of joining an MBA rotational program for a European retail/fashion company and becoming a Country Director. I’ve been fortunate enough to achieve these goals.
On a personal level, how has your MBA experience transformed you?
My MBA experience transformed me in immeasurable ways. I used to be very intimidated by quantitative analysis but now I manage a multi-million dollar subsidiary that constantly tests my quant skills. I’m not so myopic in my understanding of other cultures and ways of doing business. I have lifelong friends from IESE and a community with which I always feel connected. I’m still in touch with educators such as professors Baldo and Nueno whose guidance, insight, and mentorship I still benefit from to this day. I spent 2 of the best years of my life in the most stunning city.
If you were to do the MBA again, anything you would have done differently?
If possible, I would have done it for 3 years.
Probably many of our graduates will agree with you! Finally, any advice for prospective applicants?
IESE, like any MBA, is what you make it. Be in the moment and take your time with the cases. Not every MBA program has the case study method and IESE’s approach is excellent and one of the many invaluable features of the program. Develop a relationship with Career Services so they can support you properly. I joined my current company by staying in touch with M. Angeles Losa (one of our career advisors) and letting her know I wanted to do retail. She gave me clear, actionable advice for all of my recruitment processes. When Camper didn’t hire someone from the US, which I understood they were searching for, I created a strategy deck for the US market and M. Losa sent it to the CCO. A week later I had an interview, and within a month I had an offer. That was 7 years ago and I’ve since had 3 roles across 2 continents in Camper. You have to manage the MBA like any investment. But if you put the time and effort in, IESE is definitely worth it.
For American applicants, don’t underestimate the location. The cost of living in Spain is very affordable – it’s a perfect place to study and get a top-tier MBA. I’m originally from Boston and I did my undergrad at University of Pennsylvania. Trust me, Barcelona nightlife easily trumps those cities.
Thank you Mawuse for sharing your story!
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