Student Profiles: Acquiring Skills
Soji Maurice-Diya í10
Co-leader: Black Business Alliance
Summer internship: Kraft
I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. Growing up I got to travel quite a bit, and I got a sense both of the greater world and how Nigeria fit into it. While I came to America for college, I always believed someday I would return to help make Nigeria a better country.
I started as an undergrad at the age of 16, at the Saint Louis University. I majored in applied mathematics, but I was also good at art, so afterwards I searched for a way to incorporate both. I decided on architecture. I earned a masterís in it at the University of Florida. Towards the end of my time there, I realized I saw architecture as an interest, not a career. Very little of what an architect does gets built and that really bothered me. I wanted a career where I felt the work I did had an impact. I accepted a position as a strategy consultant at Ernst & Young focusing on helping clients solve major construction problems. We were engaged in large commercial projects ranging from hotel reconstructions after Hurricane Katrina to helping a large construction company evaluate why its job costs were spiraling out of control.
I was there for almost three years and learned a lot but soon realized I wanted to expand my horizons. My job was interesting but limited by its focus and I wondered how working in other industries would be. And I really wanted to gain a better understanding of the art of management.
Nigeria is very wealthy naturally, but the country is a testament to bad management. Not even the rich have dependable electricity; for the poor itís much, much worse. If I wanted to play a role at some point in reversing this, I believed I needed to go to business school. After speaking to both alumni and students, it became clear SOM was the place for me due to its public and private focus.
This past summer I interned in an internal consulting role at Kraft Foods. I got the job through the National Black MBA conference, which I attended as a member of the Black Business Alliance. The club is phenomenal; the members all help and nurture one another and thereís a very strong network of alumni.
One of my assignments at Kraft was to assess the emergence of store brands as serious competition for some of its flagship products. As I dove deeper into the problem, I found that I was really calling on what Iíd learned so far at SOM. The multi-disciplinary nature of my education was crucial to a successful understanding of the issue. I was able to create a well-received comprehensive action plan that had implications for different facets of the business ó legal, finance, marketing, operations, and strategy ó and it was clear my supervisors at Kraft appreciated my ability to see the problem from so many angles.
A company such as Kraft might seem a big step from Nigeria, but I see it all as part of a long process. While Iím here in the United States, Iím acquiring skills, Iím building networks, Iím gaining an important perspective on the problems that afflict my home country. I want to make sure that Iím credible when I return. I have no illusions about how hard change will be in Nigeria. But Iím determined to be a part of helping the country. I think itís going to take people in my generation to get the ball rolling. The job is big, but the task is exciting.
Last interviewed on October 9, 2009.