Growing up in Kenya in a “modest peasant family” with 12 siblings, Wharton’s executive MBA program was not always on John Gachora’s radar. Now back in Kenya as group CEO of NIC Bank, a leading financial services provider in East Africa, we caught up with John (WG’02) and asked him to tell us more about the alumni impact of his Wharton journey and career. Here’s what he said:
My parents were peasant farmers in Kenya and I was the eighth born of 13 children. I first came to the U.S. through an exchange program in high school with Brooks School in Andover, MA. While attending the Brooks School, I became interested in and visited MIT because a friend from high school had gone there. When I returned to Kenya, I applied and was accepted with a financial aid package. I was the first of my siblings to attend college.
I went on to earn a Master’s degree at MIT in electrical engineering and took a job with Credit Suisse in New York. When I became a vice president in the Asset Finance Division, I realized that I wanted to earn my MBA to better understand finance and organizational behavior as well as gain more leadership and management skills.
Wharton EMBA Alumni Impact
Wharton’s executive MBA program was very attractive for several reasons. The quality of the people – the faculty, students and staff — was amazing. With the students, I saw a diversity of experience across both industry and geography. And at the end of the program, I’d end up with a full MBA from Wharton. That was very compelling because I always knew that I would one day return to Africa, and it was important to get a degree from a world-renowned institution like Wharton. And, while I was working on Wall Street, I knew that when I returned to Africa I probably wouldn’t be so specialized, and Wharton would provide me with a broader management skillset.
One of the best parts of Wharton’s EMBA program was indeed the people. It wasn’t uncommon to be discussing a case study and have a student in the class actually have been at the company at that time, which certainly added greater insight to the discussion. Other times, I’d read about someone in a textbook and then meet them at Wharton. The same thing was true of the faculty, who are often mentioned in the media and on Wall Street. To meet them in person and learn from them was a tremendous opportunity.
Another highlight was the enrichment from classes. I came in quite green in terms of people management, but when I left I felt like I could manage any group of people. Similarly, when I took Prof. Stuart Diamond’s Negotiations class, I felt afterward like I could negotiate my way into anything, and I have tried to carry those skills forward with me.
It was also a very challenging program because you’re doing a full MBA on top of your job. However, the bigger challenge may have been leaving the comfort of Wharton. Coming back to school later in your career, you have a whole new appreciation for it. I still miss being in the program.
After graduating from Wharton’s East Coast program in 2002, I worked for two more years at Credit Suisse before moving to Charlotte, NC with Bank of America where I became a managing director and head of the Financial Engineering team. Later, I was recruited by Barclays to work in South Africa as the head of corporate and investment banking for Sub-Saharan Africa. Last fall, I moved back to Kenya to become group CEO at NIC Bank.
Looking back, Wharton has certainly made a significant impact on my career. I became a better people manager, made lifelong friends with people I continue to learn from, and gained the confidence that I can do anything. No challenge has been insurmountable.
Wharton also gave me the tools to adapt to different cultures and an understanding of best management practices that are applicable anywhere. It’s been gratifying to be able to contribute to the development of financial services in Kenya and East Africa in general. I apply my Wharton knowledge every day. Once you leave Wharton, your degree commands respect globally.