How are you doing? I hope you are safe and healthy as you read this post.
Months into the COVID-19 travel restrictions and work-from-home realities that have become the new normal this 2020, we and our organisations have started to adapt and move forward. It hasn’t been easy, but we take each day as it comes, doing the best we can.
One thing that gives me hope is my LinkedIn feed! I’m particularly struck by the number of my connections who have started new jobs in this period. And of course, some of these are members of the ALUSB community!
So I got to thinking: How are people starting new jobs remotely and how are employers onboarding their new hires?
Step up Akshay Vishwanath ‘20, a newly minted MBA, proud Kenyan and rising leader in conservation. In June, Akshay joined Maliasili as Manager, East Africa Portfolio, and kindly agreed to an interview with me to talk about his experience:
Q: OK, so let’s set the stage. You completed your MBA at ALU School of Business in March 2020. You were ready for a new professional challenge. What kind of opportunity were you looking for?
A: I reflected a lot towards the end of the programme, as part of the final MBA Leadership Lab term. I identified three main objectives for my next professional move and for the kind of African leader I wanted to be:
- To play a part in supporting the growth of indigenous conservation organisations.
- To improve the financing of conservation across the continent.
- To play a bigger role in the advocacy and social justice side of conservation.
Maliasili was an excellent fit, given its mission to support the growth of local, entrepreneurial, people-centred conservation organisations in Africa.
Q: You applied to Maliasili just as COVID-19 restrictions started to impact regular business operations. How did this impact your recruitment process?
A: The Maliasili team was already working remotely across the continent and the US. They adapted quickly and were able to remain focused on the growth of the organisation and so the recruitment progressed. My start date was delayed by one month, but this was to ensure that I had a full plate of work when I started.
Q: Tell us about the onboarding experience. You were joining Maliasili’s Kenyan office, but due to COVID-19, starting remotely and working from home.
A: I started with two others. A completely remote, online onboarding was new for the organisation and also for the new hires! Maliasili had to adapt and conduct our onboarding in unprecedented times.
When you change a job and join a new organisation, you normally make a mental shift. Usually, this happens as you move into a new office space and experience a new commute. Sometimes you move home and city! You turn the page and you start a new professional chapter.
This time everything was virtual. My new employer made a great effort for us to initially understand their team culture, dynamics and organisational culture. They made sure we understood the quality and standards that were expected as part of delivery. Doses of humour and fun infused everything. Whereas other organisations usually begin by providing a lot of reading material for you to familiarise yourself with the organisation’s goals, strategy, operations, successes and on-going work, I felt that Maliasili flipped it. They put more focus on team dynamics and organisational culture first.
“My new employer made a great effort for us to initially understand their team culture, dynamics and organisational culture.“
Q: So how has your first month been?
A: I spent my first three weeks in the new job understanding the organisation and team. Maliasili eased me into the job and organisational culture.
Q: So we’ve heard a lot about what Mailiasili did. What about you? What did you do to adapt to this new way of starting a job?
A: A big part of it is to go easy and not put too much pressure on yourself. Take a day at a time. Make a conscious effort to maintain your curiosity and hunger for the new job and all the potential that comes with it.
I was also conscious that my new employer was in unchartered territory too, and that we were experiencing these unprecedented times together.
Q: Any final tips to share about how a new employee can start remotely, successfully?
A: Here’s my advice: It’s about mindset. As the global health crisis continues into the second half of 2020, we are aware that things are not going to be the same. So throw the rule book out of the window and get comfortable with the fact that the world as we know it has changed.
But it’s ok. We adapt. Adjust your expectations and roll with it. Sometimes new chapters in our lives will be super creative and innovative, but things will also go wrong. Be ready for anything.
Don’t compare what is going on now with how things were done in the past or what you’ve experienced before. Experiment and figure things out – everyone has room to make mistakes. Be bolder, feel like you can apply yourself. You are not alone, there are many of us experiencing this across the world. Feel more confident to be your best self, knowing that mistakes are more accepted in these times of adaptation.
And I can’t stress enough; place emphasis on your new organisation’s team dynamics and culture. Spend time getting to know people on a 1-2-1 basis and schedule time to have fun together. When you finally meet in person, I am confident that you will slot right in.
“… throw the rule book out of the window and get comfortable with the fact that the world as we know it has changed.”
Want to read more stories from our ALUSB community? Here are some links to get you started:
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Author: Vani Nadarajah, ALUSB Director of Admissions
Emmett P. Tracy combines an erudite academic portfolio comprising a BA from Williams College, MBA from INSEAD, and a Ph.D. from Trinity College, Dublin, with an executive professional portfolio including Chief Executive Officer, KaffeeHouse Digital and Dean at Hult International Business School.
At ALU School of Business (ALUSB), Dr. Tracy consolidates academic administration, risk management and global strategy to position ALUSB as a leading, pan-African Business School.
Last week, Director of Admissions, Vani Nadarajah, interviewed Dean, Emmett Tracy. Read on to glean insights into the career path, motivations, and personality of ALUSB’s Dean.
Could you give us a snapshot of your academic and professional background?
A lot of my career has been driven by measuring risk at different inflection points, and I have taken a number of significant shifts in my professional and academic trajectory.
In a sense, my background boils down to decisions driven by managing probabilities at different points in my career – in academia and business. Going into academia, I identified the risks involved in considering different areas of study, and then, within the business environment, I observed and evaluated risks in starting and running a company that traversed countries and continents, from Morocco, Ireland, France, Italy and Mauritius to Kigali.
But I have always felt confident in the risks that I have taken and a lot of that stems from the work that I did in business school, which helped me grow in a confidence to analyze situations. Also, I have been fortunate to spend time with a community of people on whom I can rely – many of whom I met during my MBA.
My business school experience now involves helping students identify and evaluate their own risks in the decisions they make at this significant stage in their careers, usually by factoring in income and opportunity.
What led you to ALUSB and why sub-Saharan Africa now?
ALUSB is full of risk-takers, not least Fred Swaniker. I have great respect for the risks Fred has taken, and how calculated they are. ALUSB started a few years ago as an idea, and the school has grown into an extremely successful community of people who are going to change the continent. They are risk takers in their own right. Being part of this community of people who are able to take risks that transcend sectors and geographies, makes me really proud.
What kind of students would you like to see admitted into the ALUSB MBA Programme?
When I take part in the admissions process, one of the biggest things I look out for is open-mindedness, inclusivity and a commitment to diversity.
The ease of changing geographies today means that the opportunities are there to engage with diversity in different markets. The mindset of openness to engage in these differences has to be there. Usually, there are indications of this mindset when prospective students are asked what they expect to see in their classmates and what their classmates expect of them. I find it a good sign when students gravitate towards thinking about other people, not just about themselves.
Where would you like to see ALUSB MBA alumni in 10 years?
I would like ALU MBAs to be running businesses that embrace diversity, employing people from Ethiopia, South Africa, Greece, the Middle East… I want them to be game-changers in the sort of way people think about businesses on the continent – not just regional or overly localised, but as economies that are major players on the global stage.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Pay greater attention to the details.” My dissertation supervisor used to warn me about moving too quickly and always encouraged me to pay greater attention to details. It was excellent advice.
3 items on your bucket list?
1. Writing at least one book per decade.
2. Deep-sea fishing.
3. Learning Swahili.
Favourite book, if so?
The ‘Meditations’ by Marcus Aurelius. “Poems” by Constantine Cavafy is another book I travel with constantly.
Favorites are tough. But the Irish love quotes. One that I use a lot – “Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” It is from one of the last works by George Bernard Shaw. People forget Shaw was one of the original founders of the London School of Economics. Incredible.
Who are your mentors in leadership – and why?
Multiple members of my family. I have been extremely fortunate to come from a long line of educators and leaders in education.
What drives you? Where do you get your motivation from?
I came to a point in life where every day was about learning something new and striving towards a sense of virtue. In Western philosophy, this could be understood as a sense of ‘Stoicism.’
“The point of everyday is to learn more. Everyday is a successful day if you’re learning something new and expanding a sense of understanding.”
Words cannot express how proud I am of you, that you have made it successfully to the end of this grueling program of business leadership transformation and earned the right to be called the FOUNDING GRADUATES of ALUSB. You caught the vision, married it with your passion, you were selected among thousands, you have persevered, you have grown as leaders, you are equipped, and you shall continue to soar. Every one of you has been transformed from the competent managers that you were two years ago into competent Pan-African business leaders. I am honored to have played a part in your future success, of which I am confident.
To those whom much is given, much is expected. The journey that you started with ALUSB is not coming to an end; it is changing in its nature. You are now no longer students who are being transformed by our program; you are now graduates whose accomplishments and leadership will shape the brand and design of the program. Most importantly, your leadership will shape Africa. As you celebrate this milestone, I urge you to remember why you chose this program, and why this program chose you. We chose each other because we are passionate about changing Africa. Africa needs you desperately to make Africa great. Make Africa great by creating thousands of new jobs. Make Africa great by inspiring others to become better leaders. Make Africa great by consistently demonstrating V3 leadership.
I am so proud of you.
Make me prouder.