INSEAD MBA Candidate, Lanre Shonoiki Shares His B-School Experience and Tips for Prospective Students

In Admission, Education, Interview by jtopz0 Comments

Lanre Shonoiki is an MBA Candidate at INSEAD. En route the world’s number one Global MBA Program according to the Financial Times, Lanre studied Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos, after which he spent two years as an investment research analyst at Vetiva Capital Management. He later spent three years in Offshore Drilling Operations at Transocean Support Services Nigeria Limited.

“Despite my hardcore technical education, I am passionate about art and I spend a lot of my leisure on creative writing and photography,” he says.

In this enlightening interview with TweakMyContent.com, he shares about his experience so far in business school and other inspiring details.  

Why did you decide to enroll in an MBA?

I entered University with aspirations of becoming a Chemical Engineer, aiming to consolidate my Bachelors with a Masters Degree in a top global school. My inflexion from this goal started in my fourth year in University while seeking a place for my SIWES industrial attachment. After the rush for oil companies, I tried putting in applications with manufacturing companies, where chemical engineers could find more relevant engagement. It turned out a depressing experience, not merely because of the difficulty of getting in without reference, but because of the level of underutilization and obsolescence I observed at many of the companies. This experience put the economy in perspective for me and I realized I had to be more than an engineer to contribute meaningfully to the Nigerian economy. Post-SIWES discussions with some of my classmates revealed similar experiences, emphasizing the disconnection of our education from our reality. On graduation in 2010, I took up a business-related role to complement my education and to understand how the Nigerian economy worked. I enjoyed my time there and found my calling in the middle ground between management and engineering. After discussions with a few mentors, I decided an MBA would be best for my development in this respect. So, I sought to gain some industry experience, save some money, and here I am.

You are at INSEAD at present, what prompted your decision to choose INSEAD? Would you make the same choice again?

Besides a solid reputation, two things were crucial for me in choosing an MBA program; duration and diversity. I wanted a short program because I did not want to be unemployed for too long. In addition, I am in a serious relationship and looking to get married soon and I also play a major role in supporting my siblings. Diversity was important to me because I wanted to experience different perspectives of different industries. Given that I am not the most socially savvy person you’ll ever meet, I wanted to learn in a system with no dominant culture. Amongst its peers, INSEAD stands out in these two respects, in addition to being more affordable and flexible.

Since my time here, I have come to appreciate the extra advantages of a two-year MBA and while alluring, they are still outweighed by the alignment of the INSEAD culture with my goals.

Which other schools did you consider in addition to INSEAD, and what did it take for you to get in?

In all honesty, INSEAD is the only school I applied to, from a shortlist of 5 top-rated B-schools including MIT Sloan, Columbia, and London Business School. In retrospect, this was a risky strategy but at the time, I felt very connected to the culture at the school. I refused to entertain the possibility of rejection. Having a strong application helped; a 730 GMAT, 5 years of work experience in diverse fields and deeply personal application essays. My main concerns were that I had neither finished top 10% of my undergrad class nor travelled much professionally. I reached out to students already on the program at the time to clarify my concerns and they fancied my chances of being admitted. So, I rested easy.

Lanre (far right) and some INSEAD Classmates

What extracurricular activities are you involved in?

I am on the leadership committee of the INSEAD Energy Club,  where I helped organize a Career Trek to Paris. Being part of the energy club has been interesting. Given the repressed state of the oil and gas industry, we are promoting awareness of other energy disciplines, especially with the rising popularity of renewable energy across the world.

My most notable extracurricular experience has been with the Africa Club. We organized the hugely successful INSEAD Africa Week 2016, during which I cut my teeth as an ad hoc DJ and a photographer. Our goal was to demystify the risks of doing business in Africa through perspective given by guest speakers from the corporate and public spheres. We also flaunted African culture through a fashion exhibition and an African dinner.

In addition, I was part of the organizing committee for the Robin Hood Campaign, aimed at raising funds for one of the scholarship packages. I am also a passive member of the Consulting Club.

How often can you interact with lecturers and professors outside the classroom? Is it easy to do so or stringent? How helpful are such conversations outside the classroom?

Personally, I keep my interactions with professors minimal but I have always had enjoyable experiences when I reach out.

The most striking thing about the professors is how approachable they are. I believe this is pretty much general to top MBA programs or western education in general. It is quite difficult to imagine a professor functioning effectively without an open attitude since opinions are frequently challenged in class in the spirit of learning. Professors are more than willing to entertain clarifying discussions after class and outside work hours. Some professors even invite students to their homes for dinners. I attended one of such dinners, where the conversation went beyond class discussions to useful life lessons and idea exchange on current affairs and potential business opportunities. I would bet the aha moments that launched some alumni into their current careers or businesses happened during such interactions. These informal interactions also give professors the opportunity to get constructive informal feedback on their delivery methods, while building networks they can pass on to future students.

Please describe your experience studying at the best global business school in the world?

Well, I got admitted into the number 4 global business school in the world and my first impression was pleasant. I started on the campus in Fontainebleau, a small town in the middle of the forest, south of Paris. Having come from Lagos, I find the idyllic atmosphere conducive for studying and reflection. The students are really down to earth and eager to meet people. The level of diversity is stimulating for networking both across geographical and professional divides. I have learnt so much outside class from sharing experiences with fellow students than I have within the classroom. It’s amazing how much some young people have achieved in their lifetimes.

As for academics, the delivery of knowledge is based on real-world experiences, as contributed by both professors and students during case discussions. The conversations often get really engaging and it’s sometimes easy to forget that one is in class. Still, coming from a core engineering background, it has proven quite fast-paced for me. A one-year MBA is a condensed affair; there is a lot to learn, forget and relearn.

What role does career services in INSEAD really play in helping students find jobs?

About 500 students pass through each of two cohorts every year, carrying a huge wealth of experience, network potential, and life lessons. The Career Development Centre primarily serves as a repository of career navigation experience for guiding subsequent cohorts. This is crucial since many INSEAD students are on average looking to make two of the three transitions; geography, industry, and function. Each student gets assigned a career advisor, and together they map out the best plan of action for making the desired transition. My first few conversations with my career advisor were very reflective. We explored aspects of my professional aspiration that I had not even factored into the overall picture of my career plan. I have established good chemistry with my career advisor and it feels very much like having a life coach.

Lanre (far right) and classmates at INSEAD embark on community project

How would you describe the social scene, compared to your UNILAG experience?

I was totally off the party scene in UNILAG. In six months, INSEAD has more than made up for all that. INSEAD is renowned in the MBA community for the frequency and quality of its parties. Due to the international nature of the INSEAD community, the parties are highly varied, often reflecting the culture of the organizers. This is especially true for the national weeks, which run across the academic year. Countries and regions with significant INSEAD representation each get a week of cultural expression, corporate events and socializing, often culminating in grand parties. To my surprise, I’ve found that parties are actually one of the best networking settings. After a few rounds of drinks, everyone is pretty relaxed and ready to divulge. For less informal quick conversations, there is a café cum bar on campus where you can grab a few beers with a classmate or alumnus.

There’s a fitness centre on campus, featuring a gym, a sauna, and hammam. Sports facilities are also available adjacent to the campus. Rugby and football sessions are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while the basketballers meet on Wednesdays.

There are several student recreational clubs ranging from wine tasting to music band rehearsals. For those with travelling aspirations, the Schengen Visa grants you access to popular tourist destinations in Europe. Weekend ski trips are common at the peak of winter, while road trips and music concerts dominate summer.

Outside school settings, Fontainebleau is a popular tourist destination because of the amazing Chateau de Fontainebleau. In summer, there are lots of tourist activities like live music and fairs. For the less party inclined, the Chateau has a garden and park where one can relax and enjoy nature.

Lanre and fiancée, Busola as tourists

Lanre and fiancée, Busola as tourists

 

Lanre and fiancée , Busola at a Roland Garros final

Have you been able to develop relationships with the alumni body? Are they helpful in terms of sharing information you need and answering questions you have?

My relationship with the Alumni body started even before I was admitted. The pre-admission interviews are usually facilitated by INSEAD alumni in the applicant’s home country. Right off the bat, they had lots of helpful information on the MBA program itself and making the most of my year at INSEAD. Since I started the program, my primary means of reaching out to Alumni has been through LinkedIn. Given how busy their professional schedules may be, it may take some time to get a response from an alumnus, but they always do get back to you. Besides this, there are also on-campus events like the annual alumni reunion and corporate events that bring Alumni back on campus. These are great opportunities to get face time with Alumni and share from their experience. Most of my career decisions since January have been influenced by useful information from the Alumni body.

What resources does the school offer to help students launch ventures?

The school has incubator programs through which students can exchange entrepreneurial ideas. Entrepreneurship boot camps are held early in the program, over two weekends. In addition, there are startup pitch competitions, through which students can fine-tune their business presentation skills. Prizes range from mentorship opportunities to cash prizes. INSEAD also has an entrepreneurship development centre, which serves as a mentorship platform for students. Successful entrepreneurs often hold talks on campus to share their experience and lessons. On the academic front, INSEAD has a rich range of electives focused on different aspects of entrepreneurship, like the famous New Business Ventures and Your First Hundred days.

In what ways does INSEAD help students upon graduation?

The INSEAD-student relationship is a lifetime bond. For one, correspondence with the Career Development Centre continues even after graduation as expedient for graduates still in search of their calling or those looking to change career paths a few years down the road. Besides this, being a part of the Alumni body also means that graduates are constantly connected to the INSEAD community, which as we believe is so much more than the brick and mortar of the campus.

Is there anything you would like to change about the school?

If I could change one thing about INSEAD, it would be the length of the program, just so I can enjoy the fun for longer. Just kidding. It is not as much something I would change as it is something I wished were different. Unlike most of its peers, INSEAD is not a full University with an Undergraduate Program. So, I sometimes miss feeling the heft of a full-scale campus. This may not matter to some people, but I sometimes feel like we missed out on admitting some potentially great students who came on campus visits and couldn’t “feel the prestige” as they must have felt elsewhere. That said, I love the INSEAD campus for its uniqueness. I personally find the “ambient prestige” a drag on my creativity and self-expression.

Photo credit: Lanre Shonoiki | Busola Obayomi (@boosowlar on Instagram)