Close readers of this blog since I returned from Nicaragua in May 2016 will surely have observed that I did not love my MBA program. In short, it is too corporate. That being said, it is coming to an end, and with an interesting and satisfactory conclusion for myself, at that.
Graduation is May 19. In 2017 I decided to decline a full-time job offer with UPS, where I interned. I spent a lot of time in 2017 and this year searching for a suitable role, and I am elated to have accepted an offer from Olam International to join their Future Leaders Program. Wondering what is Olam International? So was I on January 29 when I got an email from a peer at Duke inviting me to meet with Olam. Olam is a global agribusiness company that grows, buys, or trades more than 20 different specialty crop products and processes and sells them. The company operates in more than 60 countries on all inhabited continents. The Future Leaders Program is a management training program. Following training in Singapore (corporate headquarters), in the first six months, I will be sent on four or five assignments around the world to learn about the company’s different operations.
The second six months will consist of two three-month projects, again in new locations. After the first year I will be assigned to a permanent role somewhere in the company’s operations. It could be abroad or in the United States. While many of my classmates are in the process of searching for apartments, cars, and even houses in the cities where they are going to be working, I find myself in the market for a good duffel bag!
Another Peace Corps Volunteer (from Duke, though) that precedes me in the program by one year has been to Ivory Coast, Gabon, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, California, and Singapore for work, and he has not completed the program yet. There is more coming up for him, and while he says there is a lot of uncertainty in the program, he has enjoyed working with the company so far. In some ways, this feels like the Peace Corps again. I don’t know what is in store for me or really where I am going. I’m excited, and a little bit nervous about certain things, but overall very excited and optimistic.
While the prospect of another year abroad, at minimum, is daunting, I’m very excited for the opportunity. I hope that I will enjoy it and learn a lot. Olam seems to be the right company for me. They certainly are investing a lot in my personal development. I also made sure that they are an ethical company working on sustainable practices. Everyone I spoke to seems to think they are a successful and ethical company. I’ve been following them online for the last few months and I see a lot about sustainability efforts, from good agricultural practices and farmer well-being, to food traceability and good business practices in Africa. They recently received a bond from a cadre of banks with an interest rate tied to sustainability metrics. If the company hits certain targets the interest rate will go down. The name of the company after all, Olam, comes from the Hebrew Tikkun Olam, “healing of the world.” It’s a very important tenant of Judaism and I can’t say that it doesn’t resonate with me.
Now I know that in an older post I made fun of the business school practice to write an admission essay stating what industry you want to go into. Here’s an excerpt from my essay:
My long term goal is to lead a company that helps middle-sized agribusiness companies in emerging markets reach export markets and finance their expansion, while the businesses simultaneously sustainably source raw materials.
The full essay is copied below for maximum comedic effect. I’ll admit, maybe there was some merit to the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” fervor at the beginning of business school. However, I certainly took a roundabout way of getting to the end goal. I spent a lot of time also exploring aviation, transportation and logistics, technology and startups, as well as operations, supply chains, and procurement. As I’ve already expressed, I am very pleased with the outcome for myself.
My passport is currently with the State Department getting renewed and I am shipping out in mid-July to start my little tikkun Olam adventure. I have four more days of classes this week and no final exams. What does life have in store for me in the near term (other than finding that dream duffel bag):
- May 12 – May 16: Beach Week @ Wrightsville Beach, NC
- May 19: B School Graduation (Chapel Hill, NC)
- May 22 – May 30: New York
- May 30 – June 4: Washington, DC
- June 4 – June 8: West Palm Beach, FL
- June 8 – June 10: Minneapolis, MN
- June 10 – June 15: Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic (hopefully, if I get my passport renewal back by then)
- June 15 – June 18: Lexington, KY
- June 18 – Early July: California (I’ve got LA, San Diego, Monterrey, and maybe Sacramento, Nevada City, Tahoe, and Joshua Tree on the docket)
- Early – Mid July: Back to the East Coast
- July 16: Singapore, to being working with Olam International
My main goal is to spend time with my friends. Hit me up. Eric Insler – coming to a city near you, and the tickets are free!
O how I won’t miss wearing a suit!
Essay One (Required)
Please describe your short and long term goals post-MBA. Explain how your professional experience has shaped these goals, why this career option appeals to you, and how you arrived at the decision that now is the time and the MBA is the appropriate degree. (500 words maximum)
My long-term goal is to lead an international company that helps middle-sized companies, primarily those in agribusiness, reach export markets, sustainably source raw materials, and finance their expansion, while maintaining a focus on sustainability across the company. In the short term, I see myself working in product development or sustainable supply-chain management for an international products company, to gain the experience I need to lead a company with my targeted focus and goals.
Serving as a Small Business Development Volunteer in Nicaragua, I have seen small communities change for the better through the introduction of new business. New businesses generate income and jobs, both of which are in short supply in Nicaragua. One of my main projects has been working with a fish processing cooperative to help it expand its business. It currently has two employees, but in the next six months their business plans calls for hiring ten new full-time employees. I am a firm believer in the power of capitalism for good, and I want to launch a career that will ultimately allow me to continue to foster this type of grassroots development.
My work with the fish processing coop and other agribusinesses has fostered within me a passion for that industry. Nicaragua has an abundance of agricultural products, and since they are cheaper than other primary goods (wood, metal, textiles, etc.) many micro-producers create finished goods with agricultural materials. There is also an abundance of salespeople peddling finished foods – tortillas, drinks, soup, bread, tamales, treats – you want it, someone is walking around selling it. However, in Nicaragua the intermediate, truly value adding economy is entirely absent. Most intermediate processed goods – oils, flours, pulps, dairy, etc. – are imported, often from other Central American countries. Sometimes, the primary goods are sourced in Nicaragua, shipped over the border, processed, and then shipped back for sale. Other Central American countries are earning the largest share of the value-added profits. If developing countries such as Nicaragua could harness this potential by sustainably processing the fruits of her Earth they would be able to start growing a domestic business and manufacturing sector.
Managing triple bottom lines and international supply chains is a challenging task. Leaving the Peace Corps in less than six month, I do see myself standing at a crossroads. I highly value my career experience in banking and international entrepreneurship, but to excel and reach my goals I do feel that I need a strong foundation in management and the dynamics of medium-sized business growth, as well as supply-chain management. Kenan-Flagler particularly appeals to me because I will be able to select concentrations in Operations Management and Sustainable Enterprise, which complement each other very well for my personal goals. In particular, I am interested in the classes Sustainable Operations and Systems Thinking for Sustainable Enterprise. The Net Impact Club also seems like a group that I will gravitate towards, given the opportunity to participate in the Investing for Impact Competition and the annual FoodCon that Kenan-Flagler co-hosts.