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The following essay was submitted to the Harvard MBA program by our client. The client was accepted to the program.

Saving Lives

Four years of intense training led to this moment, and I knew what to do without thinking. As squad commander in the elite Air Force Commando Unit, I served my country during a war. I received notice that a platoon of 50 soldiers was under heavy attack, and my squad had to save them.

I had ten minutes to process the situation, devise a plan, assign tasks, communicate status to superiors, and make life-and-death decisions. We had exactly sixty seconds to execute the mission with complete precision. Bullets sailing overhead, my mind was completely focused on leading my brave men and saving the trapped soldiers.

I felt the full weight of the situation only after all soldiers were safe and able to return home to their families.

As a squad leader for three years, I often had to get my men out of dangerous situations. Planning a mission to save so many lives during wartime made this experience the most substantial in my military service.

Creating Synergy

Flying to Microsoft Headquarters, I couldn’t believe my luck! Selected as lead developer on the Microsoft Unified Communications Sync Server project, I convinced my manager to permit me to initiate collaboration with our American counterparts and persuaded a senior colleague in Washington that working with us would benefit his product.

When I first got the assignment, I knew that working with Americans could add significant insight to our development. A history of failed collaborations by senior marketing managers made my managers reluctant to approve the plan of a junior engineer like me. Undeterred, I reached across two continents and ten Microsoft ranks and convinced a senior software architect in Redmond that working with us would develop their product while stabilizing ours. Everyone finally agreed, and I went to lead the collaboration in December 2007.

In Redmond, I established relationships transcending this project, aligning both teams’ development processes and paving the way for future joint ventures.

This accomplishment gave me international experience and exposure to senior colleagues at an early stage in my career. That the partnership benefited both people and products makes it my most substantial contribution in a professional situation.

Validating My Vision

Leading a software development team to overcome obstacles and build a floral service website is an accomplishment that confirmed that creating state-of-the-art consumer products was what I wanted to do with my life.

After a month of work on our final computer science project at the University, we discovered we were going in the wrong direction. We were frustrated, but nothing gets me going like a challenge. I had a plan, and I knew I had to lead by example to motivate the group. I was always the first one in the lab and never the first to leave. I constantly improved my own task, the graphical user interface, demonstrating that I required the same commitment from myself I asked of them. Each time we met, I focused on one of the guys with a smile on his face and leveraged the opportunity by making him an ally to help me get the others motivated. I even stressed the fact that this project gave us experience with new technology that would be very beneficial in upcoming job interviews.

My team chose me to present the final project. We got a perfect score, but I received something even more substantial: a vision of my professional future.

The following MBA admission essay was submitted by our client who was admitted to the MBA program.

I have always had a burning desire to create music. One day, I decided to form a band the likes of which had never been seen in my country. I would be singer and lead guitar. I brought together a group of five musicians to form a unique multi-cultural rock band. My colleagues and I named our band ‘Koridon’, which means “poet” in ancient Greek.

As the plan entered reality, of course, I had to make some compromises; I did get the role of lead guitar, but I learned I was a better manager than singer. Koridon assembled every Friday morning for a five hour rehearsal. It was my job to ensure that everyone shows up on time, and with musicians that’s not an easy job!

After a year of rehearsing we started giving concerts. We recorded a five-song demo album. When I heard that the local radio station was holding a ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition, I promptly sent them one of the songs.
We were thrilled when we got the news that out of 100 competing bands, Koridon was one of 5 that made it to the finals!
The final competition took place during a live broadcast on the local radio. Three professional musicians acted as judges, and the radio listeners voted for their favorites. Koridon won First Prize!

I plan to have many much larger-scale achievements in the future, but this moment of local fame will forever hold a special place in my heart.

I re-joined Old Mutual to promote inclusive growth in emerging markets by leading a new team responsible for financial reporting in Africa. In order to reach my goals I needed to tackle a few challenges. I had to recover our clients’ trust and strengthen relationships, build a unified team culture to reduce the 50% annual staff turnover rates, and find a way to work more effectively internally with adjacent teams in remote locations.

I regained clients’ trust by initiating and implementing “Value Focus Sessions” that created a shared understanding of the value each party brings. I decided to promote team unity by initiating a workshop to socialize and clarify responsibilities and team vision. Thereafter, we operated more efficiently, embracing diverse backgrounds and reducing the time to complete a valuation from 12 to 9 days. To overcome the physical distance, I rotated employees between locations and implemented a SharePoint portal to encourage engagement across locations.

Given the challenges faced, I consider the successful outcome of my efforts in building a high-performing team that doubled in size to 12 people in 2 years to be my biggest achievement. After a year, our culture score improved by 40% to the second highest score in the business, retention improved to 100%, and we took on an extended scope of work and clients. I learnt that if you are highly motivated and capable of unlocking the power of great teamwork, you will achieve winning results.

Working at KPMG gave me a chance to grow and learn how large organisations work. The moment I was given the responsibility to structure an end-to-end proposal for one of the largest banks in South Africa starting up a life-insurance business, was in many ways the climax of my experience as a consultant. Given the hard work I put into the proposal, bringing in experts from other fields to develop a unique proposition, and benchmarking against similar projects, I was disheartened when it was rejected. It turned out that my proposal did not reflect a comprehensive understanding of the client’s specific needs, as I did not engage sufficiently with the appropriate client stakeholders beforehand. This failure had implications on my performance as I was unable to meet my financial targets for the year.

I learnt that the key to building sustainable relationships is to invest in mapping the internal dynamics and strategizing an end-to-end engagement plan with key stakeholders in the process. In my current role, I spent time understanding the organisational structure of our Nigerian business to identify and engage with key stakeholders before proposing a solution to address their low sales volumes, which was consequently implemented by management and resulted in a 20% increase in revenues.

Michigan Ross School of Business

Michigan Ross School of Business

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