I used to always call myself the accidental banker, and later the accidental investor because I honestly never thought at 30, I would be completing almost a decade working in these industries.
I was, from high school, more the ‘save the world, economic development’ type (is that a type?!?!).
I first got into banking by doing an internship at Standard Chartered Bank, London in a department that oversaw the bank’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. The internship program was the brainchild of the then global CEO who went to my high school; a high school that was very proudly, anti-corporate and anti-banking but pro making a change in the world. My supervisor was an ex-Oxfam employee who was quite adamant that banking provided an effective tool to making a difference in the world. After a summer doing this, it seemed clear he was correct. It was also the summer before I started by university career at Middlebury College doing a double major in Economics and Chinese with a minor in African studies.
I got into finance mainly because it is one of the few industries where you can effectively quantify every dollar put into the system. I knew I wanted to develop entrepreneurs, companies, and economies and as a private equity professional I feel that I achieve that daily. I can trace everything I do from when I walk into the office at 9am to when I leave 12 – 15 hours later to a positive change somewhere else. I see the positive effect of every investment we make in the expansion of products and services and additionally the supporting of so many livelihoods across the continent.
When I left my undergrad (Vermont, USA) and my MBA (Oxford, UK) there was no doubt in my mind that no matter where I was based, the work I was doing was going to be firmly centred on the African continent. Not only because it is the continent with some of the fastest growing businesses and markets, but also because of the massive innovation and boundary breaking that is constantly taking place. Africa has and will continue to provide a compelling investment case for global and local investors.
Some of the key lessons I have learned in my career is that you must know without a shadow of a doubt why you want to go into finance. It seems like a natural thing to do if you are intelligent and work hard. It provides a steep learning curve and often an opportunity to travel often and work with different people in different industries.
What they do not tell you often is how hard it is; from ridiculous work hours, cancelled family trips and the enormous responsibility of helping to make decisions that have such a large impact on so many people.
When all of this is happening, nothing is as important as knowing that you’re sacrificing for all the right reasons and that you have a long term goal that is bigger than just monetary gain. I’ve enjoyed the past decade because I can without any reservations say I think I’ve made a positive impact on the continent and hope to continue to do so.
Buhle Ndlovu, Oxford MBA class of 2017-18Back to top of article