Africa MBA Scholar, Michael Adesanya Shares His First-Year Stanford GSB Experience

In Admission, Careers, Interview by jtopzLeave a Comment

Michael Adesanya begins his second and final year as an MBA candidate at Stanford Graduate School of Business in a couple of months. In this in-depth interview with, Michael, the first of two boys raised by their mum and graduate of Chemical Engineering, University of Lagos, tells us about the journey so far; his reason for enrolling in an MBA programme, how it has been in there, how he manages student life, marriage and fatherhood, his current internship at PepsiCo, and plans for the future. He also gives valuable advice to potential applicants looking to get into a top B-school.

TMC: Please tell us a bit about yourself – educational and personal background.

Michael Adesanya: I am the first of two boys raised by my mum. I attended Mayflower School, Ikenne and University of Lagos. I graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering in 2010 and joined Accenture immediately for a 3-month internship. I then joined Procter & Gamble (P&G) Nigeria in 2011, where I worked for 4 years, before joining the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) as an Africa MBA Scholar.

Summarise your first year at Stanford GSB in a sentence!

An intellectually rigorous and inner-self revealing experience that exposed me as a ‘local champion’, but reassured me of my potential as a global icon.

What was your biggest accomplishment/risk taken in your first year at Stanford?

That should be running for Student Association President with my friend, Yaya Khoja, another Male International Student as running mate in a very diversity-focused Stanford GSB. It was a wrong political move but a very rewarding learning experience. It was emotionally draining, like any political race, but it gave me an opportunity to let my classmates know me better. It exposed me to my first ever “political debate” –  did well on some parts and goofed on some – but my classmates were so gracious to give me constructive feedback which has helped me a lot. Though we lost the elections, I count it as the biggest achievement of my first year at Stanford (of course, that’s second to the arrival of my baby).

Why did you decide to enroll in an MBA program? Did you have any other school in mind? Or, was it Stanford or nothing else? 

I was enjoying my experience at P&G – performing well, learning from great mentors and friends, and earning a very decent pay – until I felt I wanted more.

Samuel Eto’o – the popular Cameroonian footballer, for example, was the all-time leading goal scorer at Mallorca; then he joined Barcelona where he had the opportunity to work with world-class coaches and teammates. Today, he is the most decorated African footballer, making a huge impact both on and off the pitch. Though he was a decent footballer at Mallorca, joining a world-class Barcelona gave him the right platform for more far-reaching achievements and impact. Same way top athletes dream of winning gold and train with world-class coaches, I dream of making a “change-the-world” kind of impact and I know such requires world-class training and platform. An MBA program at one of the top business schools in the world was the answer for me.

At the beginning, it was Harvard Business School or nothing. I didn’t know much about Stanford GSB until a friend I consulted to help guide me through my HBS application told me about the Stanford MBA Africa Fellowship and the GSB. After going through the school’s website and learning more about their program which focuses on graduating leaders that will change lives, change organisations and change the world – exactly what I wanted – it became Stanford or nothing. So I didn’t bother applying to any other school at all.

Considering the extremely low (highly competitive) acceptance rate at Stanford GSB, how did you feel when you received the admission offer? Has the school lived up to the hype/prestige?

Stanford GSB prides itself in its low acceptance rate which was one of the reasons I chose to attend the school. I was on a queue boarding a flight to Abuja from Lagos when I received the popular “Derrick Call” from the Admissions Director, Derrick Bolton, who broke the good news of my admission to the GSB. He also told me I had been selected for the Stanford Africa Fellowship. I boarded my flight immediately after the call and was in the sky – literarily the best description of how I felt – on top of the world. I couldn’t be more proud and thankful.

Yes, the school is worth the hype, and even more!

Michael (bottom left) and a cross-section of classmates

What were your essays about, and how did you go about writing them? Can you share any personal favourite tips on writing an MBA Admissions essay?

My essays were very simple and sincere. I remember giving a friend my essay to read after my admission and he exclaimed, “And they gave you admission?!” That was how simple they were. I wrote about my love for Sagamu, and the role I plan to play to shape its future. I wrote about my mum and her sacrifices for our education, and a brief story about my small fashion start-up (MLKollections) and my sales experience at P&G Nigeria.

I strongly believe there are no tips to guarantee you admissions into top business schools. You just have to do everything right first – dot all Is and cross all Ts. Make sure you write a great essay that best describes you and your aspirations; excel in the GMAT/GRE and hope to be the fortunate one that fills the admission spot. That said, my favourite tips for writing MBA Admission essays are:

  1. Know yourself and your exact aspirations
  2. Start early
  3. Seek professional assistance

Your LinkedIn profile states that you are currently interning at PepsiCo. How has that experience been; any key learning you hope to apply in your career/personal projects in the future? Any other engagements planned before you resume your second year?

I am currently a Marketing Intern at PepsiCo and it has been a great experience so far. It’s given me an opportunity to understand the US market and consumer landscape. I am using data to understand the millennial consumers’ psychographics and how to best to incubate brands with them. This, I think, will be very valuable to my fashion business in future.

On other engagements, I will be working for a fashion start-up in Bangkok for four weeks before resumption. This is one of Stanford GSB’s program, known as GMIX, aimed at exposing students to global markets. One goes to a country in which one has never lived before to work for a company in one’s field of interest, without paying for the experience and exposure. I am excited and looking forward to it.

How have you managed the student life, marriage, most recently, fatherhood? How supportive has the school/program been to your spouse, and what does she currently do?

In the past one year, a lot has changed in my life. I got married, became a student again and now, I’m a dad. It wasn’t too tough for me to manage for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I am married to the most supportive friend and wife a man can ask for. She strongly believes in my aspirations and she’s been able to clearly picture her role in it. I wouldn’t be a happy and comfortable student without Stephanie. I resumed a week earlier before Steph joined me and all my new friends knew some part of me was missing – my wife, her care and her food! Steph understands the expectations of graduate school – she was once a Graduate student – and she has adjusted so well.

Secondly, I cut down on social activities as much as possible, even though, being an introvert, I need to socialize more for a change. There are loads of social events at the business school – parties, fun trips, weekend getaways, etc. I attend only a carefully selected few, and spend more time at home with my wife and our son.

Thirdly, which ties into your second question, Stanford is a very supportive community for families. There is the Bechtel Centre responsible for significant others. They have programs lined up including some advanced courses at Stanford. For example, Steph got a Bechtel Scholarship to take a Project Management course in winter quarter among other programs she has benefited from.

As a rookie dad, I have no worries. My classmates are in it together with me. All my son needs for the next 6 months has been provided by our friends. They also love to take turns babysitting when they are free. It’s a really supportive class and community.

If there was anything you would like to change in Stanford, what would it be? 

Maybe bring Stanford to Nigeria! (laughs). On a serious note, Stanford is a very dynamic institution. It evolves fast, leveraging its unique location in the heart of Silicon Valley to incorporate new trends. So it’s hard to say this is what I’d like to change about the school. Also, note that I am still overwhelmed by what I see here as per someone who schooled in Nigeria.

Stanford is very big on diversity and inclusion. This means you cannot say or do things as you please because you might just make someone feel uncomfortable in the process. I, sometimes, felt ‘caged’ because of this in my first few weeks and months, but it has been a major learning point in my journey towards becoming a truly global leader.

What are your expectations for the second year?

Having taken some essential foundational business courses in the first year, I plan to focus on courses that will help develop softer skills in the second year – strategic and political communication, business leadership perspectives, and maybe learn a new language (Mandarin or French). For extracurricular activities, I think I may give a shot at the annual GSB Show, a theatrical performance of dance, music and, acting. It’s a big deal here, trust me because it takes long hours and weeks of rehearsals! I will also attempt LOWkeynotes, a sub-30 minutes talk on a favorite topic; another big deal that takes like 50 to 100 hours of practice. So my second year is packed!

What are your medium and long term goals, post-MBA?

Work for 2 to 3 years immediately after graduation to pay off my student loan, then join my brother to face our start-up full time.

How would you advise our readers who are looking to get into a top B-School like Stanford? Is the MBA programme for everyone?

Top business schools were a far-fetched goal at some point until I decided to just seek guidance and give it a shot. Today, I am ticking off my to-do list. So it IS possible if you really want it, though it requires your full attention.

On the other hand, Business school is not for everyone. It’s not a pre-requisite for success in business and life. So I’d advise you do some thorough research and self-reflection so as to know if it is right for you at all or the best time for you to go for it. I talk to some folks who want to attend business schools whereas they should be gaining hands-on work experience. So I’d advise you ask yourself the right questions before embarking on the journey.

Any other thing you would love to add?

I love Stanford GSB. I love my classmates. I’m having the best time of my life.


Photo credits:

  • Birthday celebration pictures – Benjamin Fernandes
  • Campaign photo with running mate – Khalid Naji
  • Family photo – Brooke Prouty
  • Michael in the library – Charles Huyi
  • Class photo – Unknown